Minutes before Chopper 9 reporter Dan Carroll turned in his keys and phone to WCPO-TV Thursday he was talking about returning to the airwaves.
"I have plenty of gas in the tank for another act. I'd like to have another turn on radio, or a shot at TV if the right job came along," says Carroll, a 1980 McNicholas High School graduate who has worked at WCPO-TV, WXIX-TV and WLW-AM over three decades.
On Monday, Channel 9 permanently grounded its Bell Jet Ranger 206B and dropped its "9 On Your Side" branding showing Chopper 9 in newscast openings. Carroll, hired in 2014 to do airborne reports when the station leased the helicopter, was let go too.
Carroll had been Channel 19's helicopter reporter (1996-99) during his 17 years at WXIX-TV. He was part of Channel 19's news start-up staff in 1993, and served as a general assignment reporter, Northern Kentucky bureau chief, 4:30 a.m. anchor and Tricia Macke's main 10 p.m. co-anchor.
He resigned in 2010, refusing to accept a demotion to reporter when Channel 19 hired anchor Ben Swann. He's not interested in being a TV reporter again.
"Being back out on the street doesn't hold that much appeal to me. That would not be the 'right TV job,' " he says.
With TV stations deploying drones for aerial video, Carroll probably won't have another chance at doing TV reports from an expensive helicopter.
"It's the end of an era," Carroll says.
Drones are cheaper, but they can't match the capability of a Jet Ranger, which traveled 80 mph to provide live breaking news video from 1,500 feet.
Drones must be driven to the site. Once in the air, they're flown at 400 feet and must stay within sight of the operator, Carroll says. Normally drones are used to record video, not broadcast live pictures, he says.
Thanks to Chopper 9, WCPO-TV viewers saw first responders rescuing boaters stranded below the Harsha Lake dam in East Fork State Park; trying to save a man trapped in a Ross Township grain silo; and searching for a worker inside a collapsed construction site on Fourth Street downtown.
"One thing I learned from 1,500 feet is that you read body language. You could tell by the way they were working (on Fourth Street) that there was the likelihood that someone was in there, and they knew it. And you could see how difficult it was to get in there," he says.
Chopper 9 flew to Dayton last May to show viewers how tornadoes swept over the city from west to east. "We got up there a little after daylight, and we were seeing it raw on the air. It reminded me of when we covered the Blue Ash-Montgomery tornado in the 1990s on Fox 19."
When an old warehouse burned down last July in Hamilton, Carroll could see the smoke as soon as the Jet Ranger took off from Lunken Airport. Chopper 9 carried a transmitter, microwave unit, cameras and other gear which reduced its cruising speed from 95-100 mph to about 80 mph, he says.
In an industry that constantly promotes breaking news in every newscast, the helicopter provided unmatched speed and perspective.
"It's not all that often you can get there on the ground as it's happening," he says.
After graduating from high school, Carroll served four years in the Air Force and attended a local broadcasting school. He worked at WTRE-AM in Greensburg, Ind., and then went to WLW-AM in 1989. Four years later he joined Channel 19's news start-up along with Macke, a WCKY-AM reporter.
For the debut of Fox 19 In The Morning in 1996, Carroll started airborne reports, competing with John Phillips' helicopter reports for WLW-AM and sister Jacor stations and the WUBE-FM "B105 Traffic Twins" reports from an airplane. Channel 19 ended helicopter reports in 2001. WCPO-TV, the first station with a helicopter (1967), had dropped its helicopter in 2000 because of the huge expense.
From 2010 to 2014, Carroll co-anchored morning TV news in Dayton, hosted the U.S. Bank Business Watch on Channel 12, and freelanced as a WLW-AM weekend talk host.
When Channel 9 debuted Chopper 9 in 2014, "I thought at least another TV station would jump in with another helicopter," he says. That never happened – leaving Carroll with a unique role in Cincinnati TV journalism for six years.
"No one else in the city did what I did – go to the airport, get in a helicopter, and fly over the city. I really loved that thing."
It's the end of an era.