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.
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 the trial and death penalty conviction of arsonist Raymond Lee Oyler.