After nearly 20 years as Chicago television’s best-known eye in the sky, Kris Habermehl fears he’s about to be grounded by CBS 2.
The ace helicopter reporter, famous for hovering over traffic hot spots and deftly describing news scenes from his bird’s eye view, could be getting squeezed out over a change in the station’s chopper vendors.
Although technically an employee of Total Traffic Network (successor to Metro Networks and Shadow Traffic), Habermehl said he strongly suspects he no longer will be used by CBS 2 after July 31 when the station switches its aircraft provider from Helicopters Inc. to U.S. Helicopters Inc., which bills itself as a full-service electronic newsgathering operation. No one from CBS 2 management has reached out to him to clarify his status, he said.
“I would be devastated,” Habermehl, 49, told me when asked how he’d feel about leaving CBS 2. “I have spent the better part of the last two decades waking up ready to give 200 percent and do the maximum with whatever I’m given. I have spent my entire career learning about the things that I’m talking about so when I’m over a fire or a police incident and I open my mouth, it’s a value-added report to the viewers.”
Since last spring, Habermehl said, his time on CBS 2’s morning show has been cut dramatically, with shots he used to voice himself handed over to anchors in the studio. What’s more, his name is no longer identified with his “Chopper 2 HD” reports. “I’m just a thousand-foot tripod with a camera now,” he said. “I think they’re hoping I just fade away.”
But Habermehl remains committed to his craft: “It was always important to me that when a helicopter comes along, we’re not vultures. We’re not there to intrude on somebody’s worst moment. We’re there to be objective and true to our calling — to inform the public. You’ve got to have a passion for the people you’re reporting on.”
While his departure from CBS 2 would mean a substantial loss of income, Habermehl will continue to provide radio reports from “Chopper 780” for WBBM Newsradio via Total Traffic Network. He’s also expected to return for his 15th year as co-host of WBBM Newsradio’s coverage of the Chicago Air and Water Show Aug. 17 and 18.