Chances are if you grew up watching Detroit’s news during the 1970s, 80s and on, you know Detroit television news anchor and reporter Bill Bonds. A Detroit-native since birth, the WXYZ Action News anchorman would have turned 90 years old this month. Bonds passed away in his Bloomfield Hills home in 2014.
Bonds became widely known for his “Up Front” news segment where he would confront national sources with tough questions. He was the newsman marked in controversy — some people hated him; some people loved him. One Detroit’s Bill Kubota and Detroit Public Television Senior Vice President and host Fred Nahhat give a nod to the late reporter who wasn’t afraid to be opinionated. The duo remember Bill Bonds’ legacy and discuss what he might have said about the state of Detroit and our nation today.
Fred Nahhat: February 2022, waking up every day realizing we are living in, well, strange times. Standing here in this studio, I’ve been thinking a bit, what would Bill Bonds say about all of this?
Bill Bonds, American Journalist: It’s going to be interesting to watch this one develop. Good evening, everybody. A political storm may be brewing in Lansing as of tomorrow.
Fred Nahhat: Detroiters of a certain age, some of you know what I’m talking about, Bonds would have been 90 years old this month; he died in 2014.
Bill Bonds: The cost of watering your lawn, washing your dog, taking a bath, and maybe drinking a Stroh’s or a Faygo, is going to go up because of a decision by the Detroit City Council, and tonight, there were some serious talk of digging up the body of Elvis Presley for a series of tests.
Fred Nahhat: Some loved him, some loved to hate him. But there was no one else quite like Bill Bonds, a Detroiter through and through.
Bill Bonds: Good evening, everybody. A verbal and indeed a legal bombshell dropped in a Detroit federal courtroom today.
Fred Nahhat: Bill didn’t so much present the news every night, he set it on fire. Not in a political way, not from the right or from the left side, he was on our side. His work spanned five decades, best known for his Channel seven newscasts at 5 and the encore every night at 11 p.m. Well, I’m probably here like a lot of people on the airwaves, because of him. Trying to channel that special relationship he had with the TV camera.
Bill Bonds: I found myself in a compatible relationship with the media that was performing me. You know, you have to be slightly exaggerated, but you can’t be so over-the-top that you scare people.
John Kelly, Host: Extremely talented, extremely talented. He never faltered in the high opinion of his own self. He really wanted to be the only one.
Bill Bonds: Your head gets a little big when you get there.
Fred Nahhat: Bonds wanted to be a star newsman. Well, he got that and a whole lot more.
Bill Bonds: The one thing they don’t teach you in our society, is how to be a celebrity. Suddenly, you’re a celebrity.
Fred Nahhat: That ego, sure, I’d say a good thing. Well, usually. I was looking at some of his YouTube clips last month thinking, if you didn’t know about him, you probably wouldn’t get it.
Bill Bonds: The long lines for new jobs are still forming in this metropolitan Detroit area today.
Fred Nahhat: The most popular YouTube clip you’ll find of Billy, a messed up uncensored outtake from more than 40 years ago. Profanely riffing about a news promo scrip he didn’t like and cracking wise on coworkers in ways that, well, you ought not do today.
Bill Bonds: What the *bleep* is wrong with a short declarative sentence, like, good evening, I’m Bill Bonds, nothing is new. Goodnight.
Fred Nahhat: For people clicking on this from around the world, people who knew nothing about him, the clip seems a bit unfair. But there’s the other real Billy, seen right here a few years ago on our special program, “Detroit Remember When: The History of Detroit Television”, which defined Bonds as part newsman, part actor. While he played an anchorman in a Planet of the Apes movie, he gave us those commentaries. He was also part philosopher.
Bill Bonds: Oh, there’s nothing like going to dinner with a 23-year-old daughter, this father did just that tonight, and as a pompous, overpaid television anchorperson, one gets accustomed to offering his profound views on everything from the greenhouse effect of the Alaskan oil spill to Nigeria to Panama. Dads should have dinners with their daughters at least once, maybe twice a week. They have a way of reminding men of the things in life, not salary stock options, not big cars, but the things that are really important. Things like democracy, freedom, liberty, dignity, love, respect and friendship.
Fred Nahhat: So I’m left wondering, what might Bill Bonds think if he could come back now and take a look around? Sure, he’d have so much to criticize, the pandemic, the elections, the media. Former news executive and his close friend Alan Upchurch said he’d be looking deeper into just why Americans have gotten so divided, and he’d have tough questions about the growing gap between the haves and the have nots. That shrinking middle class here in Detroit, this can-do place with the middle class got its first leg up. I’m sure he’d keep reminding us of that with a commentary or two on just what to do about it. We miss you, Billy.
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