Inland Empire News

Bob Banfield retires after 43 years with ABC7

Thursday, May 27, 2010

After 43 years of service to ABC7 viewers, Inland Empire Bureau Chief Bob Banfield is retiring. When Bob started at Channel 7, gas was 35 cents a gallon, Lyndon Johnson was president, and America was at war with Vietnam.

Bob grew up in East Liverpool, Ohio. In 1948, his performances in high school theater productions caught the eye of a car dealer in town who had connections to the local radio station WOHI.

"This man's daughter was in some of those plays. He called me and said, 'We're putting a radio station together, would you be interested in being a junior announcer?' And I was gonna go to work in the steel mill, I had no idea what this business is, you know?" said Bob. "I talked it over with my wife-to-be, and said 'Well, let's give this a shot.'"

And it paid off. From his first days as an 18-year-old host on WOHI in East Liverpool, Bob went to WHIZ in Zanesville, where he honed his skills and hit it big. The small-town radio and TV station became Bob's new home.

"I think from either the ham in me, or whatever it was, that fit like a glove," said Bob.

It was the early 1950s and television was about to enter its golden age. In local TV especially, you had to be multi-talented. From musical variety shows to interviews, Bob Banfield did it all, including a stint as "Ditto the Clown."

"They needed a kids show, I think it went on at about 3:30 or 4 in the afternoon after the kids got home. So they said, 'Well, how are we going to do this?' You know, we have limited crew, so I came up with the idea of putting on a clown outfit," said Bob.

But his real love was news.

"At that particular time, because they had very little in the way of any film or anything like that, the stories that we did, if there was a big local story, they would take a second camera and take a Polaroid camera and put the camera on it to say 'here's the fire burning.' So we did a lot of vamping, I guess more than anything else. It was challenging, but interesting," said Bob.

On May 26, 1967, Bob took on a new challenge. It was his first day on the job as a reporter for KABC-TV Channel 7.

"They paid me by the story, $20 a story if the story got on the air so we moved around a lot," said Bob.

Bob came to Los Angeles during a turbulent time, covering the assassination of Bobby Kennedy, the Manson murders, and the South L.A. shootout. In the seventies, he hosted A.M. Los Angeles with Regis Philbin.

"I got a chance to meet three presidents on that show. I got to meet just an awful lot of people that I wouldn't have had if I were going out and trying to cover the news," said Bob.

Through it all, Bob brought a straightforward style to his reporting that reflected his Midwestern roots.

"Presenting things as I see them, in a straightforward way. I like to tell stories," said Bob.

But straightforward doesn't mean stodgy. Bob likes to have fun, whether it's taking part in harness racing at Santa Anita, test-driving a race car, or riding an elephant. And who could forget his big hats? Bob never took himself too seriously.

In 1980, he was assigned to the Eyewitness News Inland Empire Bureau, another place that fit like a glove. He said it reminded him of where he grew up, and figures working out of the city added years to his life.

"I prefer it here and I knew that I would be a little more comfortable because I always found the big city intimidating a little bit, it frightened me a little bit. For some reason, I don't know, the small-town kid never got over that," said Bob.

So what's going through his mind as he hangs up his microphone for good?

"The effect that maybe you've had some impact on people. And you've helped some people," said Bob. "I've met a lot of very good people, and I hope that I've given them all the time they deserve. And I'll miss them, I really will. And I'll be around at the supermarkets for a while, I'll se you on the streets and everything like that. And if you've got a good story, continue to say 'hey, Bob maybe they ought to look into this.' I've still got a few friends at the bureau, so I'll turn it in to them. So that's it, so long, sayonara."

Bob has no immediate plans, other than trying to take things easy and spend more time with his family.

Bob touched so many lives, and we invite you to share some of your memories in the comments below!

(Copyright ©2014 KABC-TV/DT. All Rights Reserved.)

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