One day in L.A., a helicopter changed television news forever.
- By Stephen Joiner
- Air & Space magazine, May 2009
Courtesy John Silva
(Page 3 of 6)
Ten days later, the Bell was trucked back to Van Nuys. Though saddled with nearly every ounce of the allowed 368 pounds, it aced the CAA's weight and balance test. On July 3, 1958, pilot/announcer Larry Scheer took the stick and John Silva occupied the cameraman/engineer position. The Telecopter lifted off and flew southeast over Hollywood, climbing into a line of sight with Mount Wilson. Silva deployed the antenna and began transmitting, and Scheer established two-way radio contact with technicians at the dish.
From the mountain came the word. But no picture.
"We were getting terrible vibration from the helicopter," Silva explains, "and the heat was horrendous." Knowing that an inflight failure would be hard to replicate on the ground for analysis, he made a snap decision. "I said, 'Larry, I've got to go out there.' "
Scheer brought the cyclic to neutral and suspended the -47 above the palms and pastel stucco. "I told myself, I am not going to look down," Silva recalls, "and backed out the door." Hunched on the right skid with no safety belt, he unlatched the cabinet containing the TV equipment, checking each component until he reached the microwave primary tube. It was dark. Bad vibrations.
Silva inched back into the cockpit and Scheer swung the helicopter toward Van Nuys. With Morby, White, and a Paramount machinist, they worked into the night further insulating equipment from the shake and bake. Next day, take two. At 12:48 p.m., with the roofs of Hollywood bungalows framed in the viewfinder, the two-way suddenly squawked: "We've got you!"
For the next three weeks, the team kept it all a secret.
On July 24, the station held a closed-circuit private preview at the Los Angeles Police Academy in Elysian Park, at which journalists, police, and fire officials watched, astounded, as two 27-inch monitors showed a live aerial shot of the interchange between the Hollywood and Harbor freeways. Four days later, at 6:30 p.m., KTLA preempted regular programming. In living rooms from the desert to the beach, the City of Angels from a thousand feet above—the gray-scale, low-rise L.A. of old "Dragnet" episodes—scrolled across television screens.
Regular broadcasts began on September 15, 1958, with Scheer piloting and Harold Morby as cameraman/engineer. "We had to fake it at first," Morby says today, "until we learned enough about it to work together as pilot and cameraman. I discovered pretty quick that I couldn't make fast pans and zooms when we were in motion."