"It's time to go."
During the late stages of an honored career that spanned more than six decades, KTLA-TV Channel 5 newsman Stan Chambers rarely considered those words in regards to stepping away from the job and station he loved. He was continually energized by covering news all around Southern California and having a front-row seat to some of the most memorable events in Los Angeles history. Plus, he was having too much fun.
FOR THE RECORD:
Stan Chambers: An article in the Aug. 11 Calendar section about KTLA-TV newsman Stan Chambers' retirement misspelled the last name of the late newscaster George Putnam as Puttnam. —
But Wednesday, the seemingly tireless 87-year-old Chambers, who covered numerous floods, fires, earthquakes and other catastrophes, will tell his beloved colleagues, friends and viewers that he is leaving the only TV station he's ever worked at, closing a chapter on a resume that began in 1947 and logged more than 22,000 stories.
His retirement is likely the final link to a broadcast era where newsmen such as the late Jerry Dunphy, Hal Fishman, George Puttnam and Bill Welsh became local celebrities with their authoritative but personable demeanor.
"It really is hard to leave," Chambers said earlier this week at the Sunset Boulevard headquarters of KTLA. "But it just gets to a point where there are so many things you want to do that you can't do when you're working. Still, this has just been the best job I could have ever hoped for."
He is a bit thinner and walks a little slower these days: "I'm coming up on 88 pretty fast," he said with a chuckle. But his face, dominated by gleaming eyes, still displays the enthusiasm of someone one quarter his age as he reflects on his past.
"I really do feel part of Los Angeles," he said. "I can go anywhere and have memories of what happened. I can say, 'I was there,' or 'We did this.' It really is a special feeling and I will miss it terribly. I'm sure that's why I put this off for so long."
The newsman is scheduled to announce his departure during "The KTLA Morning News" on Wednesday. He will also appear during the station's 1 p.m. newscast, which will include a short retrospective of his career. A one-hour special saluting Chambers will air on KTLA Aug. 23 at 8 p.m. and repeat Sept. 5 at 11 p.m.
Chambers was an eyewitness to many landmark events: the 1961 Bel-Air fire, the 1965 Watts riots, Robert F. Kennedy's assassination in 1968, the 1971 Sylmar earthquake, the South Central riots in 1992, and destructive fires in Laguna, Malibu and other locations. He's also reported on the station's signature broadcast of the Tournament of Rose parade almost every year since 1949.
A huge picture of a young Chambers — wearing a hard hat, getting ready to report on a raging oil refinery fire in Long Beach in 1949 — dominates the lobby of KTLA. It was one of the station's first live shots. "That guy in the picture is all nervous, waiting for his cue to go live," Chambers said, laughing.
But the story that still stands out as the defining moment of his career remains his coverage of the tragic death of 3-year-old Kathy Fiscus in 1949. The little girl fell down a well shaft while playing in a field in San Marino. With equipment that would now be considered primitive, Chambers and colleague Bill Welsh provided 271/2 hours of continuous live coverage, reporting every step of the ultimately unsuccessful rescue effort.
Few residents had televisions in those days. But following that story, sales of televisions greatly escalated. "All of a sudden, TV, which could bring pictures into your living room, was a huge deal," Chambers said.
And even after thousands of stories, he said he has never been bored, seeing each story as an exciting experience.
"There is a challenge with every story, and I just love that creative process of putting a script together, editing a piece and getting it on the air," he said. "I've always felt a great satisfaction in that. It's always fresh to me."
Station officials praised Chambers' longevity and work ethic.
Said KTLA News Director Jason R. Ball: "Stan probably has the record for the longest career in American television news. It's unheard of in this industry for someone to have a career lasting 63 years, and he's seen the entire history of the news business. He is synonymous with our station — he's seen everything: the first live broadcast, the first live remote. He was there when we made the switch to digital."
And even with a reduced work schedule, Chambers has remained a regular presence on newscasts. "He comes in almost every day and does about a story a week," Ball said. "He knows how to use the digital playback machine. He has a natural curiosity as a reporter. And despite all these years in the business, he doesn't have a jaded bone in his body."
USC journalism professor Joe Saltzman called Chambers "a legend in local television news" and "the last shining beacon in a business that had grown increasingly dark and degraded. We teachers of broadcast journalism have been able to use Stan as the perfect model of what a TV journalist should be, to show students what a real-life reporter can achieve if he or she practices good journalism, even in a medium that in recent years has corrupted the meaning of good journalism."
Admirers of Chambers can also be found outside local boundaries. NBC's Tom Brokaw wrote a foreword for Chambers' 2008 autobiography, saying "I'm in awe of your career." A tribute to Chambers by the Society of Professional Journalists in 2005 included a letter from former First Lady Nancy Reagan that read, "Stan has contributed so much to Los Angeles over the course of his career. Actually, I'm surprised a national network didn't woo him away long ago."
Chambers said he was never really approached by a network or local station to leave KTLA (owned by the Tribune Co., as is The Times): "It's probably because I had a big 5 stamped on my forehead," he joked.
Though he is cutting back, Chambers told his bosses he still would like to do occasional stories. "He is always welcome here — whatever he wants to do," Ball said.
Chambers said he hopes to spend more time with his family, including his 11 children, and also to golf a bit more regularly with his wife. He's writing another book, "but who isn't writing a book?" he quipped.
But he knows he'll miss the daily routine: "I love the city, I love the viewers, I love being in front of the camera," he said. "I'm just glad I was able to be part of peoples' lives."