Pasadena is everyone’s hometown on New Year’s morning. Especially mine. It is a cold, damp and exhilarating ritual to be there in the milling, holiday crowd-and that has been my assignment for most of the years since 1949.
I have been a reporter in the midst of the pre-parade preparations, enduring the hardships of the night and waiting for the first light of dawn. It is the only time of the year that I wear gloves and a scarf on television.
Covering the Rose Parade has been a great KTLA tradition that continues today. Bill Welsh and Dick Lane announced the first telecast in 1947. Over the years, Dorothy Gardiner, Dick Garton, Ken Graue, Tom Hatten, Steve Allen, Dick Enberg, David Letterman and Richard Simmons took their turn. Bob Eubanks and Stephanie Edwards have hosted the telecast for the past eight years and they are returning for this year’s, the 102nd annual Tournament of Roses Parade.
The Rose Parade is a re-enactment of the old traditions. For example, I know from experience that the cold will break during the night and it will be clear and crisp at daybreak.
There will be about a million people in Pasadena to see the parade and tens of thousands will be curbside, wrapped-up in blankets, camping out all night. Each year they somehow survive without getting pneumonia.
A few thousand viewers in the East will see the television pictures of the San Gabriel Mountains framed against the sparkling winter sky and bright sun and move to Southern California. It has always been that way.
There have been changes, however. In 1953, before videotape made such things easy, KTLA found a way to air the parade twice. We televised the parade once at the beginning and once as it neared the end. I remember a police escort, with flashing red lights, racing us through the streets of Pasadena. It took us to where the parade route turns off of Colorado Boulevard. We picked up our microphones and announced the parade all over again.
Stations were extremely competitive in those years, each trying to find the best camera locations. KTLA scooped them all in 1959, having Tom Hatten ride a camera truck televising live pictures from the very front of the parade as it moved down Colorado Boulevard. New rules went into effect the following year-cameras were never allowed to precede again.
Also in 1959, KTLA was the first to cover the parade by helicopter. It was the first of the flying television stations featuring a minicam that gave viewers a remarkable overview of the festivities. Yet the entire time we had that copter, we were never able to put a videotape machine inside. The tape machines were so large back then they could not fit inside a helicopter. Now, I have a combined camera-and-videotape unit that fits in the palm of my hand.
The Rose Parade came of age when color television became a reality. The first colorcast was on KTLA in 1955. However, it was almost a washout. The skies were so gray and overcast that the temperamental new cameras had trouble reproducing the bright, vivid colors of the parade. Our engineers, trying to get the most out of their bulky new cameras, were only partially successful that historic day.
It is a tradition that rain never falls on the Rose Parade. Once we had a major downpour for most of the night. Almost everyone in Pasadena was soaking wet. I interviewed the president of the Tournament of Roses Assn. during our pre-parade telecast and asked if there was any chance the parade would be canceled because of the rainstorm.
He said, “No, the parade would go on.”
Just as I finished the interview, the skies opened up, the sun came out and there wasn’t a single drop of rain on the parade. Another tradition was left intact.
One old problem seems to have been resolved. For many years, decorated floats on their way to Pasadena were easy targets for drunken drivers. I used to check the floats to find out how many had been hit for my morning broadcasts. Now, officials caravan most of the floats early and provide extra protection from the errant motorists.
In the early years we were much more relaxed. We just kept on talking until we said all we had to say, then we would throw it to another announcer for his long report. There was little preparation. We just talked about what the camera was showing.
Today, we work to keep the viewers interested and involved. Now, on the parade “Rose Parade Countdown,” we have several reporters and many pre-taped visual stories to add to the live segments that report the last-minute preparations before the parade begins.
Now, we have wireless microphones, so we can walk around without tripping over cables. We have smaller, compact cameras everywhere, instead of the three or four “big ones” we had in the ‘50s.
I always take a brisk walk at daybreak for a first look at the floats. It is easy to see the changes that have taken place over the years. Television has made the biggest impact. The floats have become much bigger, more intricate and elaborate, because of it. The worldwide exposure and the competition among the designers and decorators has resulted in the magnificent floats we see today.
The advent of computers has given animation and life to the floats that was not possible only a few years ago. Not only do the computers animate the various floral figures, but they tell the designers exactly how many flowers they need to cover their floats. It is a modern version of painting-by-numbers.
One of the great bonuses of being a television reporter in our community for so long a time is you get to experience the changes. I was able to share the times when the parade was a local Pasadena tradition, then a Los Angeles one and now a worldwide icon.
Stan Chambers is one of the hosts of “Rose Parade Countdown,” KTLA’s pre-parade show, which airs Tuesday at 7 a.m.