MOORE, Okla.—As a helicopter pilot for KCAL-TV in Los Angeles, Jim Gardner had flown over deadly mudslides and earthquakes, covered car chases and was shot at by snipers during the L.A. riots. Yet Gardner was perhaps best known for giving the world its first glimpse of O.J. Simpson’s infamous white Bronco leading police on a low-speed chase through West L.A. in 1994—coverage that earned him his first of several Emmys.
As a helicopter pilot in the U.S. Army, Jon Welsh had flown in Iraq and worked as a flight instructor, teaching soldiers how to fly in combat.
Both men are now part of a new frontier in the battle for viewers among local TV stations here: Flying news helicopters as close as possible to storms for at-home front-row seats to tornadoes as they swirl to life.
While stations in other TV markets brag about illustrious new radars with technology that can pinpoint the exact block where a cloud is spitting rain, the weather wars in Oklahoma are a different beast. Virtually every resident in the state is an amateur meteorologist because of the propensity for storms here, and Oklahomans seem to demand more of its storm reporters. If Gardner and Welsh are any indication, they get it.