LOS ANGELES (AP) — Los Angeles television news pioneer Stan Chambers, who had a front-row seat to earthquakes, fires and the life of the city since the 1940s, died Friday, according to KTLA-TV, the station where he was a reporter for more than six decades. He was 91.
Chambers died at his home in Los Angeles after a long illness, said KTLA News Director Jason Ball.
Chambers' lengthy 1949 reporting about the effort to rescue 3-year-old Kathy Fiscus, who fell down an abandoned well and died, is recognized as the first live TV coverage of a breaking news story.
"He was a great journalist. He was a great man," Ball said. "He was one of the nicest people I have ever met."
Mayor Eric Garcetti said Chambers was a newsman in the truest sense.
"His dedication to producing the best story possible led to innovations that define the newscasts we watch today," Garcetti said. "Stan was a gentleman, a gifted storyteller and one of those rare L.A. icons whose impact was felt by generations of Angelenos."
As a part of KTLA since shortly after its 1947 birth as the first commercial television station in the West, Chambers saw TV unshackled from the early days of primitive technology to emerge as a dominant medium.
In his first two years at the station, Chambers was a utility player, from salesman to news anchor. Then, on an April evening in 1949, he was dispatched to San Marino, 10 miles north of downtown Los Angeles.
Station manager Klaus Landsberg and reporter Bill Welsh already were in place with two TV transmission trucks. Fiscus was trapped deep in a narrow well; crews were drilling to reach her.
As the rescue effort dragged on, it was carried internationally by radio, newspapers and, eventually, by newsreels. But Los Angeles watched the story unfold for 27 hours on live TV, minute by minute, ending when the child was found dead.
"Nothing like that had ever happened and, certainly, I had never been through anything like that," Chambers recalled in 1998. "When it was over, we had no idea of the impact. The reaction was overwhelming. To this day, I still bump into people who say 'Oh, I remember the Kathy Fiscus telecast so well.'"
In "News At Ten: Fifty Years with Stan Chambers" (1994, Capra Press), Chambers cited critical reaction to the story: "Television grew up in a hurry last week," one newspaper said.
For Chambers, it was the real start of a career that would put him on the air for every major story to hit the Los Angeles area in the latter half of the 20th century.
Defining stories included the Watts riot and Robert F. Kennedy's assassination in the '60s, and the Rodney King police beating case that led to the 1992 Los Angeles riot.
"The worst had to be the ('92) riots," Chambers, a Los Angeles native, later recalled. "I was in a helicopter watching my city burn. ... That was a very emotional thing to go through."
Chambers, who retired in 2010, has a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.
The Associated Press Television-Radio Association renamed its Extraordinary Achievement award for Chambers following his retirement from KTLA. The annual award honors lifetime achievement by broadcast journalists in the Western U.S.
Chambers is survived by his wife Gigi, 11 children, 38 grandchildren and eight great-grandchildren.