By Hal Boedeker
Sentinel Television Critic

or decades, Bob Cross has been the unsung man of Orlando Television.
     "I think on a lot of the big stories in this town in the last 30 years, the video that people have seen has been from Bob Cross or his team," said Robin Smyth, general manager of Central Florida News 13.
     "I think his experience as a firefighter and knowing the community paved the way for him being successful as a news stringer."
     Thirty years ago, Orlando firefighter Cross set up an off-duty video business. When he left firefighting after 25 years, he went full time with photography.
     Cross, who is 66 and lives in Lake Mary, said his interest in shooting the news started out as a hobby when he was a volunteer firefighter in Maitland.
     "I would respond to accidents," he said. 'Along the line, someone said, "You can make money.' A light bulb went off."
      The self-described Type-A personality and his freelancers have photographed accidents, fires, shootings, murders, drownings, carjackings and home invasions. Cross has branched out by shooting for national newscasts, corporations and talk shows, but breaking local news is his specialty. Gaining his news tips via scanner. Cross has sold his footage to all the television stations in town and to the Orlando Sentinel.
      "On a good night, we were shooting six to 10 stories," Cross said. "It was very good until the economy got bad. TV stations have cut back on their budgets."
     Cross and his 14-member team have repeatedly heard one thing from grateful reporters and assignment editors: You saved us.
     "So much happens overnight. He filled that niche," WFTV-Channel 9 anchor Greg Warmoth said. "We talk about a fire, you want to see a fire, and he makes sure you do. He taught firefighters to be photographers. They're good. Bob has kept them with good equipment."

     WFTV news director Bob Jordan helped Cross get a loan to buy a camera and set up the business. "It's been cost-effective to be able to buy video," Jordan said. "We don't have to call somebody in the middle of the night."
     Cross' Fire Department connections were another plus. "He had access more than some annoying news person," Jordan said.
     "At first, he used his connections as a former firefighter to gain access to scenes," Sentinel senior staff photographer Red Huber said. "That produced better angles, close-up views. He had access like nobody else had. He has learned the craft, and he has done remarkably well."
     The Cross personal touch makes a difference, too. "He is such a friendly guy," Warmoth said. "He has to go into different stations. He's done such a good job of not siding with one station over another."
     Little seems to faze Cross. In the beginning, stations credited him on camera for his footage, but he said he doesn't worry about recognition. He has taught people the business, and they have gone off on their own. "It's not affecting us," he said.
     Cameras worth $30,000 to $40,000 have been stolen or damaged.
     "I've been through a lot," Cross said. "In the early days, I freaked out. Now I just say it's part of it."
     Stations' requests for viewers to send in iPhone-type video have cut into his business. So has the economic downturn.
     "Stations are a lot more picky about what they take," Cross said. "Everybody tells you up front: 'It has to be a good story.' The average robbery might not sell."
     Cross said he's happy to be working because he has two sons at the University of Florida. Yet the slowdown has meant he can slow down.
     "I still have scanners," Cross said. "I don't listen the way I used to. We have good people. They have scanners. I am able to sleep more. I don't sleep with scanners anymore."
"Everybody tells you up front: 'It has to be a good story.' The average robbery might not sell."
Bob Cross, longtime firefighter and videographer