TV's Bonds Makes A Comeback

Bill Bonds, Former WXYZ-TV Anchor
Bill Bonds, Former WXYZ-TV Anchor

As we head into big pharma earnings week and I prep to cover the numbers, conference calls and maybe do an interview or two with a CEO, I wanted to share a brief backstory about and pay tribute to a man who helped shape my reporting and my career.

When I get ready for an interview with a CEO or some other corporate executive I almost always ask myself, "What would Bill do?" Bill is Bill Bonds — a man I consider a mentor, of sorts. He's a now-retired "anchor god" from WXYZ-TV, Channel 7, the ABC affiliate in Motown, and frankly, he's part of a dying breed.

I worked at WXYZ as a nightside reporter for nearly 10 years before coming to CNBC eight years ago. It's where I honed my style and earned my stripes. Say what you will about the city of Detroit, but it's always been a tough, competitive newstown for reporters like me, who feed off that stuff. Anyway, on Tuesday at 7pm ET, Bill, after a long absence, will be returning to the anchor chair for a special newscast marking WXYZ's 60th anniversary. And the occasion got me to thinking about his influence on me.

Some people might remember Bill from a brief appearance on national TV during a Chicago debate in Bill Clinton's first run for president. It was shortly after the Gennifer Flowers incident. And in vintage Bill-Bonds style, he asked the stunned candidate, "Are there are any more smoking bimbos in your closet?"

I was often on the receiving end of Bonds' unpredictable behavior for better and for worse. Not long after starting at Channel 7, I'd been covering a fistfight — yep, a fistfight — on the floor of the state legislature between two lawmakers. And I did some kind of run-and-gun, in-your-face interview with the guy who allegedly started the brawl. Bonds loved it. And after tossing back to him in the studio at the end of my report he ad-libbed something like, "Mike is one of our new young tigers here at Channel 7." I felt anointed.

And Bonds always kept reporters on their toes. I remember one night when I was assigned a lame, stereotypical local-TV-news sidebar piece during a rash of carjackings in metro Detroit. It was built around a presentation by a crime prevention "expert" to a group of fearful residents. And her bottom line advice was, "Don't forget to breathe. Just breathe," she said, if you had the misfortune of becoming a victim.

So, I stupidly ended my report by repeating that advice before tossing back to Bill. As you might guess, he was absolutely incredulous. "Just breathe??!!," Bonds said. "Are you kidding me?!" Embarrassing lesson learned.

Bill, who has his share of personal demons, had many noteworthy, memorable moments on air, but a couple of infamous ones are when he challenged the late Detroit Mayor Coleman Young to a boxing match and when Sen. Orrin Hatch, Republican of Utah, pulled off his microphone in the middle of a live interview with Bill and stormed off. You can see some classic Bill Bonds on YouTube, but be forewarned that he cusses a lot in some of the outtakes.

During economic and political times such as these, I miss Bonds' unique, pointed and sometimes poignant take on things. He comes from an era when words, not volume mattered. I'm glad he'll have a chance to weigh in tomorrow night, just two weeks before the election. And I'm forever grateful that I had the opportunity to work for one of the greats in the business.

Questions? Comments?