TV helicopters have been in the news this week and last. Two crashed into each other in Phoenix killing 4 people. Today, the bird for KDFW crash landed.
I’ve worked for two tv stations when they first got choppers. And I let both news directors know, I had no interest in going up.
My decision not to fly had less to do with fear though and more to do with what I saw ourselves doing up in the sky.
In Huntsville, WHNT became the first station in the market with a helicopter. We were the #2 station at the time and the “Sky19” along with the first satellite dish in town helped us become the #1 station in a couple years time. There were reporters in the newsroom who couldn’t wait to go up. I suppose liveshots from a helicopter make a resume tape sizzle. But I’ve never been inclined to strap myself in one of those birds.
A few weeks after 19 got the chopper, one of our reporters and photographers had a close call. While flying over high school football games the helicopter stopped running. If it weren’t for a nursing home underneath, Kevin Osgood and Matt Green might not be here today. I was anchoring that night and we blew out nearly all of our news that Friday night to talk with both of them live about what happened.
I did go up once. We had the chopper in the parking lot in downtown Huntsville. At around 4:45 there was scanner traffic that an inmate from the downtown jail had escaped. I was about the only reporter in the newsroom and my news director literally begged me to go up and shoot a look live of the search. After a few glances hoping to see someone else volunteer, I reluctantly agreed.
The pilot took me up, I shot a look live report in one take and we set it back down. We weren’t up for more than 5 minutes. I ran back inside with the tape and we led the newscast at 5. The timing made it look like we were live up there.
But that was it for my flying days. I was asked a few times to go up at WREG but I stood my ground and stayed there.
I suppose there is some fear. I don’t like flying in small planes and certainly feel no more secure in a helicopter. But the biggest reason for me to say no to flying is I know how they use those choppers. Once they buy or lease it, they have to use it. During ratings months, it was a given that the helicopter would be used for a live shot in every show.
Story on potholes? Use the chopper. School’s out for the summer? Chopper. Day after Thanksgiving shopping? Use the chopper.
One of those stories makes sense, the others don’t. Why put a reporter in a helicopter for a live report on potholes? You can’t see the potholes from up there. But it’s been done.
Joe’s got a good discussion on this subject over at his blog.
We don’t have a helicopter at 2 but if we ever get one, I’ll let the young reporters fight over the opportunity.