Longtime ABC7 Inland Empire Bureau Chief Bob Banfield --- a fixture in Southern California broadcasting for more than four decades -- died Thursday.
He was 82 and had been battling cancer.
Like so many of you here in Southern California, I grew up watching Bob Banfield on the local news. So like so many of you, I was saddened to learn of his passing early Thursday.
Banfield, Barney Morris, Dr. George were like the N. Y. Yankees Lineup of Local Newsman. They were the best of the best. Despite being very young - I was transfixed by their story telling ability. These guys and so many other's were fixtures on my parents TV each and everyday growing up in Los Angeles.
Many years later, I finally got the call to do local news in my hometown. Many of those I grew up watching had since retired, but not Bob Banfield. Some four decades later, there was Bob still doing what he did best in the Inland Empire.
As a Bureau Reporter in the Inland Empire, in my opinion Bob had the toughest of tough jobs. A disconnect from the day to day life in a bustling newsroom, story assignments that often took Bob to places I had never even heard of and let's not forget those Hats!. They were the butt of many jokes in the newsroom, but if you were going up to the local mountains to cover a snowstorm for the millionth time, I guess it made sense to keep your ears warm.
I didn't see Bob often, but when I did he was always kind and gracious to a young guy coming up in the business. The absolute worst assignment anyone in the newsroom in Los Angeles was to have to fill-in for Bob when he took vacation. You see, Bob knew absolutely everyone in the I.E. Not just the movers and shakers, but dog catchers, waitresses, firefighters and anyone who ever stepped foot in the Inland Empire.
A fellow Reporter who did not work in Los Angeles, once told me that when he was growing up in the I.E., he would look to see where Bob was going Live from and ride his bike to his location just to watch Bob work.
Now I understand why. On those days when I covered for Bob in the I.E. the first question I would always get from anyone I encountered was "Where's Bob?". It made you feel pretty small but more importantly made you understand what it was like to be the most trusted name in news in the Inland Empire.
I believed, like many other's that Bob could have run for any office he wanted in the I.E. Mayor, Sheriff, District Attorney and he would win in a landslide. They don't make Reporter's like Bob Banfield anymore. Fortunately much of his work remains online and to those looking to carve a niche in the TV News Business, I suggest you Google the name "Bob Banfield" if you want to learn how to tell a story.
My Colleague Rick Lozano also worked with Bob at KABC and sent the following message:
"I first met Bob 27-years ago when I first arrived at KABC TV. I met him at the IE bureau while on a sports assignment. Told my cameraman that nobody in TV could be that nice...what was he hiding?
Cameraman assured me that Bob was in fact a gentle soul and one of the preeminent journalists in Southern California. Over the years I found both of those observations to be absolutely true.
Bob was well loved by so many people, colleagues and viewers alike and it's a well deserved admiration. His departure from KABC TV left a big void. For those of us who knew Bob, his passing leaves an even deeper sense of loss. Prayers and condolences to the Banfield family!"
My Colleague Laura Diaz also worked with Bob at KABC:
Bob Banfield was one of the most wonderful people you could ever hope to meet. Thoughtful, kind, soft spoken ...and easy with a smile. He was one of the first people I met when I arrived to KABC. I believe management assigned the young reporters learning the ropes to him because of his helpful, patient personality. He enjoyed being the sage....
Bob was a teacher and a leader. A force to reckon with on live television. Adored by TV viewers everywhere, but especially in the Inland Empire where he WAS the news. No story was missed by Bob. Bob Banfield had the trust and love of news viewers everywhere. May he rest in peace...
The radio and television newsman signed on with ABC7 in 1967 and soon found himself at the forefront of major developments, covering the assassination of presidential candidate Robert F. Kennedy, the Manson murders and the deadly shootout between Los Angeles police and members of the Symbionese Liberation Army -- the group responsible for kidnapping heiress Patty Hearst.
In 1980, Banfield was picked to be the IE bureau chief for ABC7, a move he found desirable given his love of rural life, having been raised in a small
town -- East Liverpool -- in Ohio.
"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," he said during an interview about his retirement in May 2010.
"For some reason, I don't know, the small-town kid never got over that."
Banfield covered scores of stories in Riverside and San Bernardino counties for more than 30 years, gaining the respect and admiration of viewers and sources.
"Bob Banfield set a high standard for his coverage throughout his career," Riverside County Foreign Trade Commissioner Tom Freeman told City News Service.
Freeman, a retired U.S. Air Force officer, recalled that his first encounter with Banfield occurred immediately after an F-4 Phantom crash at March AFB in July 1989.
"I was interviewed by Bob countless times," said Freeman, who served as the Riverside County sheriff's chief spokesman before taking the helm at the
Office of Foreign Trade in 2007.
"Bob was fair, honest, polite, loved his job, prided himself on accuracy, and he reported the facts," Freeman said. "He set the bar for all those who followed in his footsteps covering the IE."
Riverside Mayor Ron Loveridge said Banfield became synonymous with Inland Empire news coverage.
"So often reporters come and go, but Bob stayed the course here," Loveridge told CNS. "He was always engaged, and he had this little twinkle in his eye, this sort of curiosity in his approach to reporting. He was always respectful of those he talked to. He understood the stories. He understood what was happening and why."
Riverside County Board of Supervisors Chairman John Tavaglione called Banfield a "wonderful guy" who left an indelible mark.
"He will be missed, and we would like to extend our deepest sympathies to his family," Tavaglione said.
Banfield worked in radio in his home state, becoming an announcer for WOHI-AM straight out of high school, according to an ABC7 biography. He went on to work for WHIZ in Zanesville, OH, where he split time between radio and television gigs.
In the 1970s, he hosted "A.M. Los Angeles" with Regis Philbin.
One of his last big assignments in the IE was covering the Esperanza wildfire near Idyllwild that killed five U.S. Forest Service firefighters and culminated in the trial and death penalty conviction of arsonist Raymond Lee Oyler.