Jerry Foster came back from Vietnam with extensive experience piloting choppers. How he turned that into one of the pioneering careers in aerial coverage of local news is a terrific longread brimming with 1970s nostalgia.
Homer Lane’s big idea in 1971 was really two insights in one. The skinny general manager at KOOL-TV Channel 10 in Phoenix figured his reporters could beat the competition to a story if they rode in a helicopter. And Lane—a penny-pinching executive who looked out at the world from behind an uncertain mustache—figured the pilot could also do a few traffic reports along the way.
Lane had heard about the freelance pilot across town because Foster was featured in a radio report, “Death in the Desert,” that told the story of that grandmother and those kids who died near Carefree. Lane called him and offered him a job to fly for KOOL. The career of Jerry Foster, helicopter newsman, was ready for takeoff. The station bought Foster a cheap gyrocopter with a tiny plastic bubble cockpit, a slapdash machine that was manufactured by McCulloch Motors as a sideshow to their main product, chainsaws. Foster called it “the Pollywog” because it looked so funny. He could fly anything, of course, but the problem with calling in traffic reports as he circled above Phoenix and its clogged thoroughfares was the thudding concussion of the engine and rotors, which made his report impossible to hear.
This idea of doing traffic reports for television was shaping up to be a fiasco. But Foster wanted this job. Dianna was pregnant, and he needed stability. Foster’s daring solution was to soar in altitude just before broadcast time, then disengage the engine (the way you might put a car in neutral) and watch the Pollywog go into a glide, an arcing fall that gave him about 30 seconds of silence to voice his traffic report—while hurtling toward earth!—before re-engaging the engine and pulling up at the last second. More than once he misjudged the length of his report, and as he was about to slam into the roofs of speeding cars he’d suddenly cry out, “This is Jerry Foster, gotta go!”
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