IT'S FRIDAY THE 13TH, AND TV NEWS pilot-reporter Lawrence Welk III—call him Larry—is clowning around in his Burbank Airport hangar-cum-office. "I'm very superstitious," he jokes, crossing his fingers. The police scanner crackles with news of a small plane crash, and Welk turns suddenly serious. Uh-one, uh-two minutes later, the canary-yellow Channel 9 chopper speeds the 27-year-old Welk and his cameraman to the scene for the evening's news.

Welk, the L.A. station's main guy-in-the-sky since 1996, inherited his enthusiasm from his legendary grandfather. The bandleader, who died in 1992, brought his melodic "champagne music" to millions of American TV viewers from 1955 to 1982. But his grandson chose a different channel. Zooming over O.J. Simpson's 1994 low-speed Bronco chase, Welk recalls thinking, "It was the biggest story in the world, and I'm flying it!"

The son of Lawrence II, then a record company exec, and singer Tanya Roberts, Welk says visits to Grandpa's show taught him the value of "making it on your own." Welk pumped aircraft fuel to pay for flying lessons. In 1993 he wed Tracey, now 28. ("His big line was, 'Would you like to fly with me?' " she recalls.) The two now live in Glendale with their 16-month-old daughter, Madeline. Welk says she will receive the music lessons he shirked as a kid. But Dad isn't tone-deaf: "I'm killer at a karaoke bar," he jokes.