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Top Tenures in Local TV

KTLA Los Angeles icon Stan Chambers is retiring after a stunning 63 years at the station, reports the LA Times. He’s 87.

The Times writes:

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.”

It’s an extraordinary run for Chambers, and one would have to believe it’s the longest tenure in local TV, though I’m more than happy to be proven wrong. (KTLA News Director Jason Ball says Chambers “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…”)

Indeed, Chambers’ time at KTLA dates back to the ’40s.

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.

The importance of having that sort of long-term presence in a market can’t be understated. My new “Market Eye” profile is on Seattle-Tacoma, where a big part of leader KING’s success is Jean Enersen’s 42 years on the air at the Belo station, says GM Ray Heacox.

“I believe Jean is the longest serving lead woman anchor in the country,” Heacox told me. “She may be the longest serving among males too.”

(In case you’re remotely interested in how the editorial sausage is made, I had the phrase “local news nirvana” in the Seattle profile’s dek, a tip of the cap to the region’s grunge roots, but my editors whacked it. Oh well.)

Next week’s Market Eye focuses on the Tri-Cities of TN-VA, where on-air tenure seems to be particularly huge. WCYB’s morning guy, Johnny Wood, has been on the station for 40 years.

Long tenures on the other side of the camera–increasingly rare in the shrinking local TV economy–don’t get the acclaim that those who appear on air do. At WJHL in the Tri-Cities, Ed Jones has rung up 42 years in an engineering capacity at the station.

The station itself has only had two GMs in its 57 years. “I don’t think you’ll find that in too many places,” says the current one, Jack Dempsey.

(And yes, Dempsey is a distant relative of the eponymous boxer.)

Michael Malone, senior content producer at B+C/Multichannel News, covers network programming, including entertainment, news and sports on broadcast, cable and streaming; and local broadcast television. He hosts the podcasts Busted Pilot, about what’s new in television, and Series Business, a chat with the creator of a new program, and writes the column “The Watchman.” He joined B+C in 2005. His journalism has also appeared in The New York Times, The Philadelphia Inquirer, Playboy and New York magazine.