The informative and entertaining traffic and weather reports of longtime Southland broadcaster and outrageous punster Bill Keene helped soothe the nerves of jangled Los Angeles commuters for years.
For nearly four decades until his retirement in 1993, Keene was a fixture on the airwaves. In 1957, he began delivering weather reports on the old KNXT-TV Channel 2 (now KCBS) and on its sister radio station, and helped pioneer KNXT's "Big News" hourlong format. He also hosted "Keene at Noon," which segued into "The Bill Keene Show"; both were daytime TV variety shows.
Fired after a management shake-up in 1974, Keene worked for six months at KTLA-TV Channel 5, while continuing to do his radio reports. In 1976, he moved full-time to KNX-AM (1070) and was one of the first local radio reporters in a city dominated by freeways, thousands of commuters and daily congestion to add traffic to the news mix.
Until April 1988, Keene gave traffic and weather reports six times hourly during morning and afternoon rush hours, then shifted just to morning drive time. Often what was supposed to be a minute traffic-and-weather report became a minute-and-a-half report. "I couldn't rein him in," KNX News Director Bob Sims said fondly. Nor did he really want to.
Jim Thornton, who succeeded Keene in morning drive time, talked about his predecessor's "wonderfully, cheesy, quirky sense of humor. He was quite the punster."
Thornton happily recalled, even a decade later, some prime examples:
When a spill of musical instruments occurred on a freeway, Keene said it "sounds like a case of freeway violins."
A seafood spill and the arrival of the California Highway Patrol impelled Keene to say, "With the Highway Patrol on the scene, it's fish and chips."
When some dogs turned up on the freeways, Keene would say, it's a "six pack of curs."
A stray ladder on a freeway became "Watch out for rung way drivers" and "Don't worry, the Highway Patrol will be taking steps to remove that ladder."
"He had a wonderful way of doing that effortlessly," Thornton said, "and didn't mind getting really corny on the radio. . . . He broke ground for us in the traffic business. He made it so we weren't a bunch of laundry list readers."