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Sharing is Caring…Then, Firing. Fewer Local News Choppers for Gotham?

2 Stations Cover Madoff Live, Just 1 Chopper Overhead

Sure, in the beginning it sounds like common sense.  It seems like good business.  Why hover two choppers over Bernie Madoff when one will do?  The suits at FOX and NBC were surely satisfied Thursday as the despicable Mr. Madoff made his one-way trip into court in Manhattan, a bevy of birds overhead to capture any fleeting movement that the army of stills and shooters on the ground might somehow miss.

Could the Baddest Bird in Gotham Be Grounded?

Could the Baddest Bird in Gotham Be Grounded?

When WNBC's Chopper 4 needed to refuel, Channel 4 never lost a second of live overhead pictures--in HD--thanks to new BFF WNYW, with its sleek SkyFOX HD sharing live images with both stations.  "It's a great plan to share assets and save money," a FOX spokesperson told the New York Daily News' Richard Huff.  Well, yes.  But talk to the local newsers who fly those birds, they'll tell you what's good for business almost certainly means somebody will lose their job.

"If the plan works out, one of the stations' helicopters would be grounded completely and the two stations would share the remaining copter's costs," Huff reports.  It's exactly what's already happened in markets like Phoenix and Chicago, where "sharing" quickly morphed into "eliminating."


Latest Layoffs: WNEP Grounds Chopper, Cuts Pilot

John Ruland and Skycam 16 in an Early WNEP Promotional Photo

John Ruland and Skycam 16 in an Early WNEP Promotional Photo

WNEP/Scranton is officially out of the high speed chase business.  Next time a goofball in a stolen car decides to make a run for it and delight producers at MSNBC, Skycam 16 will sit it out.  “In today’s economy, the helicopter has become a luxury we can’t afford,” WNEP GM Chuck Morgan told the Times-Tribune.

The station didn't say how much it'll save by cutting Skycam 16 and laying off pilot Randy Freeman, but the Times-Tribune reports the cost-cutting leaves WNEP without one of its biggest and most enduring promotional draws:  "Skycam 16 made its debut in 1984 and quickly became WNEP’s most recognizable symbol. The helicopter is often flashed across the screen at the opening of the station’s news broadcasts. A photo of Skycam 16 appears at the top of the WNEP Web site."

WNEP's decision to surrender the skies follows a rash of bigger-market chopper sharing arrangements also aimed at saving money.  Local newsers who work in the air, already a pretty small bunch to begin with, admit the cuts have them watching their backs.  "It's getting scary," one told us.


Add Denver to the List of Local Markets Grounding Choppers

KMGH's Bird

Two of Denver's local stations, KUSA and KMGH have announced a helicopter "sharing" agreement, that will essentially ground of one of the station's pricey birds. Byron Grandy, GM at KMGH, and Mark Cornetta, GM at KUSA, told the Rocky Mountain News this morning "the stations will share a helicopter and videographers, while continuing to maintain strict separation of each station's decisions and reporter assignments."

The move follows similar air wars cease-fires in Dallas and Chicago. "Obviously, there is an economic benefit to flying one helicopter and it's not unlike sharing pool footage of a political event. Our news departments will each maintain their complete independence, while sharing the use of our most effective newsgathering tool," Cornetta told the Rocky.