Remembering Bill Bonds

Bill BondsEach of us have our memories of Billy B., the man who always added a “Y” to your name and understood the Detroit psyche, perhaps better than any journalist ever has. He was the consummate pro, one of the best in the business. He also had his demons. The pressure of being the best in the white hot environment of major market television took it’s toll and in the days before we understood these things as well as we do now, he medicated the uncertainties that always haunt great talent with alcohol. He was competitive and could be vain. But his love for his audience was real. In times of turmoil, we always turned to Bill Bonds.

Bill Bonds at WKNRAnd Bill Bond’s story begins at WKNR. He was part of Philip Nye‘s Contact News dream team, not averse to climbing a telephone pole with a lineman’s headset to file the story if a payphone were not nearby. He grew up here, earned a degree that didn’t focus on journalism, but taught him how to tell a story. And he could look at through the camera’s cold, dark glass eye and see who was on the other side. Like WKNR, Bill Bonds “knew Detroit”. co-founder, Steve Schram knew about Bill’s,  “amazing talent and intellect, and the punishing demons that haunted his life,” first hand.  Bill worked with Steve for a time when both were with WJBK.

“Bill would speak about himself in the third person,” Steve remembers, “describing how good he was going to be that night on the newscast.” That was one of the many facets of this complicated man.

Steve was also with Bill at his family’s table in 2010, when he was honored by the Michigan Association of Broadcasters with their Hall of Fame award. “He was introspective and brilliant that night as he gave his remarks. When he sat back down at the table, I complimented him on his talk. He looked at me with appreciation, but also with a plaintive reflection, saying ‘I just wish I was doing the news again…'”

“Bill was bigger than life,” noted Dick Purtan, another WKNR alumnus, “but infinitely human. He was a rock star…but the glint in his eye always let you know that he KNEW it was a role he was playing. He was smart, funny, combative, kind, bombastic, pompous, self-deprecating and immensely talented…all at the same time.”

Another broadcast journalist who knew Bill well was Vince Wade. Channel 2’s legendary investigative reporter shared this remembrance.

I had the unique and memorable experience of working with Bill Bonds for many years. In the 70s at the height of Bill’s ratings success a Channel 7 news producer made a savvy observation; if you buy his act, the producer said, Bill is the best in the business at what he does. Indeed he was.

Detroit bought Bill’s act for a long time. My theory is thousands of Detroit factory rats, as many auto workers described themselves, identified with Bill’s on-air antics. They knew if they had a bully pulpit like Bill that they, too, would wear expensive but often garish clothes, that they, too, would spout off about the news just as they heard Bill doing. In his ad-libbed comments Bonds was doing what they did so many nights at some watering hole where they were having an end-of-shift shot and a shell (liquor with a beer chaser) while watching the news on the TV screen above the bar. Bill was one of them.

Bill Bonds at WXYZBombastic Billy was smart and well-read. He knew what he was talking about. One night in the 70s during a national political convention ABC News decided to cut away for local news an hour early. Channel 7’s late-news producer didn’t get the message. Suddenly, with three minutes’ warning, ABC anchor Howard K. Smith said they would be cutting away for local news. The Channel 7 newsroom was in total panic. The anchors raced to the studio. The newscast elements were not ready. As Bill put his mic on he said, “I have no scripts. I have no rundown (of the sequence of stories).” The floor director signaled he was now live. Bill said good evening and ad-libbed for two or three minutes while the staff scrambled to get scripts to the anchors and film clips in the projectors. At home, the audience probably thought Bill was ad-libbing just a little more than usual. Bonds was so keen on the business of news that he could tell the audience the news without a script. Very few news anchors then or now could do what Bill did that night.

Bill fought the demons of alcoholism his entire life. He lived his own private hell over the death of his daughter in a collision with a drunk driver. One time we shared a camera crew in Europe for separate assignments and late at night I would hear Bill in the next room loudly chastising himself over his daughter’s death while he paced the room in drunken agony.

There will be many stories told this week about Bill Bonds. But none of them will capture his uniqueness as a communicator. None of the tales will capture his magnetism, his ability to reach through the camera and grab you by your lapels and say, ‘Listen to me. This is news you need to know.’

Bill Bonds was one of a kind. He brought context to the world around us, often adding his own analysis of the whys and hows. He, like we, were imperfect. That was part of his appeal. But his ability to tell us a story was and is unmatched. A man perfectly suited for his time, who will be forever connected with the story of our lives.

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Dec 17th, 2014 | Filed under Keener

Hitchcock’s Cameos

Alfred Hitchcock was famous for his fleeting appearance in his films. He can be seen in 39 of his 52 pictures. And here they are..

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Aug 18th, 2014 | Filed under Keener

Happy Birthday, Jimmy Webb

Happy birthday to Jimmy Webb, the prolific writer of many Keener hits, including “Up, Up and Away”, “By the Time I Get to Phoenix”, “Wichita Lineman”, “Galveston”, “The Worst That Could Happen”, “All I Know”, and “MacArthur Park”. Here’s Will Lee performing MacArthur Park on Letterman with the composer joining Paul Shaffer and a full orchestra. A great arrangement! Turn it up and enjoy.

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Aug 15th, 2014 | Filed under Keener

Happy Birthday “Hard Day’s Night”

A Hard Day's Night

Happy 50th to the Beatle’s seminal rock and roll film, “A Hard Day’s Night”. Here’s the backstory on it’s re-release.

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Aug 11th, 2014 | Filed under Keener

Remembering Goose Lake

Goose Lake Poster

Remembering Goose Lake, Michigan’s answer to Woodstock. WKNR-FM’s Russ Gibb was one of the visionaries who made it happen. (Poster by Carl Lundgren) Were you there?

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Aug 7th, 2014 | Filed under Keener

Where the Airchecks are…

ReelToReelTapeBox“Aircheks”, recordings of DJs with the music cut short. The coin of the realm when jocks were looking to move onward and upward. Originally, airchecks appealed primarily to those of us in the business. “Inside baseball” as it were. But as time passes, the content of these small snippets of history have become touchstones for a generation wanting to remember what life was like back in the day. has an extensive library of aircheks featuring WKNR personalities, from the earliest dScreen Shot 2014-07-03 at 1.14.26 PMays of the station, right up to the very last song Keener ever played. But we’re not the only place where radio’s past is still alive and well. Of the free aircheck sites, is one of the best. You’ll find some Keener stuff there, along with great memories from great talent who plied the trade in other markets.
And if  you want to see what it was like to stand behind the microphone and make the magic. Art Vuolo’s amazing website is the place to go. Art is know in the business as “Radio’s Best Friend”. But we like to think of him as the foremost Radio Archivist in broadcast history. Nobody has recorded more DJs at more stations. You get that fly-on-the-wall experience we all wish we could have had when radio was king and everything was Keener.

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Jul 3rd, 2014 | Filed under Keener

Keener’s Competitive Edge

The Keener OriginalsIt was the ultimate dream come true for a Keenerfan. An invitation-only 50th birthday party for our favorite radi0 station at the Red Eye Grille in Manhattan. Many of the WKNR Keymen live here now and those who didn’t came from every other corner of the country to celebrate lifelong friendships and remember Camelot.

That’s what the Keener era was to most of them. It was the best team they ever worked with, creating a product that was so powerful that it overwhelmed Detroit radio even with a pencil thin signal that was one of the market’s weakest. Read more…

Jun 16th, 2014 | Filed under Keener

The Keener “Originals”

Keener's First BirthdayWhen we think about our own relationships with WKNR, they invariably gravitate to the air personalities. Keener emerged from the pack with a carefully crafted playlist, but the real magic were the Keener Keymen of Music. These were the entertainers who ultimately invented the WKNR vibe and elevated it to a high art.

Consultant Mike Joseph crafted the original on-air strategy, but those who were there report that it was quickly modified, with a total focus on connecting with the audience. A culture of “intelligent flexibility” emerged, that empowered the air personalities to take calculated risks, trusting their own sense for what the listener wanted.

The true key, of course, was in the hiring. Frank Maruca pulled together a series of all-star line-ups. Radio pros who were still on their way up the ladder of success, people who had the drive and the desire to learn the market and to create an entertainment and information service that added unique value. Read more…

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Jun 12th, 2014 | Filed under Keener

How many Beatle song titles can you find in this picture?

How many Beatle songs can you find in this picture?

Thanks to Burton Cummings (of the Guess Who) for sharing this with us.

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Jun 8th, 2014 | Filed under Keener

The Day the Beatles Owned the Top 5

From the Beatles Facebook Page:

Friday, April 4, 2014 marked the 50th anniversary of The Beatles’ record-making invasion of the Billboard Hot 100 singles chart with a sweep of the entire Top 5!

The Beatles also had seven other songs peppering the Hot 100 chart (there were a whopping 12 Beatles songs on that week’s Hot 100). 

That same week, The Beatles also held the top two spots on Billboard’s albums chart with Meet The Beatles! and Introducing…The Beatles. These U.S. chart records have never been broken!

USA TODAY reported on this record-breaking achievement: 

Billboard Hot 100 - April 4, 1964

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Jun 2nd, 2014 | Filed under Keener