The KTLA Morning News – 20 Years And Counting


Reporters Eric Spillman, Willa Sandmeyer and Ron Olsen and  producer Steve Weakley in Malibu, to celebrate the 20th anniversary of the KTLA Morning News

A tip of the hat to the KTLA Morning News on its 20th anniversary.   A very big tip, cause back when it got started, some of us wondered if it would last.  In the beginning, the ratings were so dismal that some thought the people in the front office might just shut it down due to a lack of interest.   Then came the great Ventura flood in February of 1992, an event that prompted viewers to turn to KTLA for coverage — except that now they weren’t just tuning in for the News at 10 with Hal Fishman.   Now they were watching Hal at night and then getting up the next morning with the KTLA Morning News.   The seven month-long dry spell of wondering whether the show would survive was over.  The format and style featuring Carlos Amezcua, Barbara Beck, Sam Rubin and Mark Kriski took off with a shot and just kept going.  It worked so well, that it was copied by other stations nationwide.

I remember Kriski, arriving in a battered old Trans Am from Canada.  And Sam, coming off a job writing for the Nat’l Enquirer.   And executive producers Nick Van Hoogstratten, followed by the legendary Joel Tator, along with producer Ray Brune and director Lenn Goodside, all working to put something new together.  Something that had never really been done before.  They were in uncharted territory.

        Ray Brune-Ron Olsen-Joel Tator-Nick Van Hoogstratten-Gary Reyes

I wasn’t a regular on the show, but did pop in now and then as a backup on the anchor desk or reporting from the field.   Some mornings I’d be in the studio grabbing a cup of coffee and unexpectedly find myself on camera.  One morning I arrived bleary-eyed for coffee only to find myself on camera with  the Chiquita banana lady.  It was weird, but it worked, and on balance that’s probably what makes the show work.  If it feels right, they’ll take a chance and just do it.  I think that was probably a big part of Joel Tator’s magic touch as a producer.  And his legacy. Letting people have fun with what they were doing.

               Lynette Romero-Carlos Amezcua

That was the case when Joel  saved my bird.  Literally.  We have a pet cockatiel named Crackers.   One day, he got out and flew away.   My wife, heartbroken, called Joel who then called me and said “Ron, we’re going to get your bird back.”  I didn’t think he would.  I thought the bird was probably dead and gone.  Joel, thought otherwise.  And so, finding my missing bird became the cause celebre of the Morning News.  They had Jennifer York out searching the Valley and beyond in Skycam 5.  Kriski, put up a photo of the bird during his weather segments, despite his bird phobia.  (Inside info folks – birds freak Kriski out.)  Mark was also kind enough to announce that I was offering a reward for Cracker’s safe return but that it wouldn’t be much because “Ron is a cheap guy.”

It went on for several days.  People started calling me with bird sightings.   Birds thought to be Crackers, were being spotted all over the place.  There were offers from breeders to to replace our missing pet.

Long story short, we got the bird back.  He had flown for about a quarter mile, hit the ground and been attacked by a cat, but  he was alive.  The cat took the bird to his owner who then delivered Crackers to a vet who treated his wounds.  After a couple of weeks to recuperate, Crackers the bird arrived on the KTLA lot in a stretch limo for a guest spot on the Morning News.  It was a hoot.

        Video Journalists James Ramos & David Lopez                                            

There were some very big and very serious stories as well, like the Malibu Fire, the Northridge Earthquake and the North Hollywood Bank  shootout.  The Morning News crew switched gears to cover it all, and they did it without missing a beat.

Hundreds of talented folks have gone through the ranks over the past 20 years, most you’ve never heard of.   You’ll see a few in these photos from Saturday’s  20th anniversary celebration on the beach in Malibu.   Kudos to Toni, Carlos, Joel and the “KTLA Morning News Board of Directors” for pulling it together.    Great job, great party and what a privilege to be associated with such a vital, creative and nice bunch of people.  See you all again at the next one.

PS:  Crackers the bird is alive and well and living the good life in California’s beautiful San Fernando Valley

6 thoughts on “The KTLA Morning News – 20 Years And Counting”

  1. I totally forgot about your bird, “Crackers.” Reading your words about your bird and the MORNING NEWS brings back a lot of great memories. I have been very fortunate to have spent the last 20 years of my career working on the MORNING NEWS.

  2. As always Ron, a joy to see you and a true ray of sunshine to read your account. To correct you, Kriski showed up in a black ’78 Trans Am that was crashed into by motorcycle stunt drivers in a segment that went a bit wrong… and you failed to mention maybe the real reason behind Joel’s dedication to finding Crackers. The reason was Joel’s own Neil… a gigantic parrot (or mackaw or whatever you call those gigantic birds you see on a pirate’s shoulder) that has been Joel’s roomate for over 30 years. I believe his formal name is Neilson… after the ratings… but Joel will have to tell you about that. It is the people that populated that party that make it all worthwhile… and you are a big part of that “family”.

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