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A native of Detroit and a graduate of the University of Detroit, Bonds came to fame initially as a reporter for the city's Contact News on WKNR-AM, known as Keener 13. The station also featured such up-and-coming talent as Erik Smith and Frank Beckmann. He was also a reporter for several Michigan radio stations including WCAR, WPON and WQTE.
Bonds joined WXYZ in 1963 as a part-time booth announcer. He worked his way up to the anchor desk with Barney Morris. He and WXYZ first came to prominence for the station's coverage of the 1967 Detroit riots.
As a result, Bonds was tapped by ABC to become anchorman at KABC-TV in Los Angeles in 1968 to help launch its version of Eyewitness News. He returned to WXYZ-TV in 1971 just as the station was beginning a major upgrade of its news department under the Action News banner. Two years later, it became the highest-rated news broadcast in Detroit, a position it held up until 2011.
WXYZ-TV borrowed most of the basic elements of the Eyewitness News format from its fellow ABC owned and operated stations (WXYZ was an ABC O&O from sign-on in 1948 until ABC sold it in 1985 as part of its merger with Capital Cities Communications). However, it adopted a somewhat harder approach under Bonds' influence. Apart from his brief stint in Los Angeles, and to fill in for Bill Beutel at WABC-TV in New York from 1974 to 1976, Bonds was WXYZ's main 5 p.m. and 11 p.m. anchor until 1995. He also occasionally filled in as anchor of ABC's weekend newscasts.
Over that time, Bonds became something of an icon to the Detroit viewing public. His hard approach to news won him criticism from some quarters, especially because of occasional outbursts on the air, such as an incident during the filming of a news bumper.
However, many Detroit viewers saw him as an "average guy" who asked many of the same questions they would have asked. The book "The Newscasters" by Ron Power called Bonds one of the six most influential news anchors in the nation.
During the 1980s and 1990s, Bonds hosted an interview segment on the 5 p.m. news called "Up Front," in which he confronted newsmakers with tough questions. One of his frequent targets was longtime Detroit Mayor Coleman Young; their sparring matches were the stuff of local legend (including a fistfight challenge given by Bonds to Young in July 1989). The segment was unique in that it would often feature national newsmakers interviewed by Bonds via satellite. (Perhaps the most famous incident came in 1991 when Utah Senator Orrin Hatch stormed off set during an especially heated line of questioning by Bonds.)
In 1989, he launched "Bonds On," a primetime talk format show in which he interviewed everyone from presidents (Jimmy Carter and Bill Clinton) to Michigan governors (Jim Blanchard and John Engler) to auto executives (Lee Iacocca, William Clay Ford and Roger Smith) to sports figures (Detroit Tigers manager Sparky Anderson and Detroit Pistons player Joe Dumars).
Bonds joined rival WJBK-TV as host of an 11 p.m. talk show, Bonds Tonight on WJBK-TV and also anchored newscasts. He would return to WXYZ for several months in 1999 to read editorials, but left to lend his voice to radio and TV commercials, most notably the Detroit furniture company Gardner-White.
Bill Bonds has become the voice of several Detroit-area radio stations, and was even paired with one of his partners at WXYZ's anchor desk, Doris Biscoe, to pitch Better Made potato chips. In addition, one of his favorite drinks has become a local favorite. The "Bill Bonds" - (a mixture of Crown Royal Canadian Whiskey and butterscotch-flavored schnapps) is commonly ordered around Detroit-area establishments.
Bonds caused controversy in 2001 for a Gardner-White ad he taped after the 9/11 terrorist attacks. In it, a visibly shaken and angered Bonds says, according to an article in the Detroit News, "[The terrorists] think they know how to kill and fight a war. But the Americans are coming, bin Laden. They're coming hard and relentlessly. ... You've just bought yourself a one-way ticket to hell."
On October 3, 2011 Bill Bonds launched The Bonds and Fisher Show With Rachel Nevada on AM 1090 WCAR with fellow Detroit newsman Rich Fisher, respected Detroit radio veteran Rachel Nevada and WWJ-TV (Channel 62) meteorologist Jim Madaus.
Bonds was paid a tribute of sorts in 2003 when Detroit area artists "The Billbondsmen" named themselves after him. Most recently, he has been doing TV ads for The Law Offices of Sam Bernstein.
To celebrate WXYZ-TV's 60th anniversary, Bonds returned to the news desk one more time to anchor a special news broadcast along with former colleagues John Kelly[disambiguation needed] and Marilyn Turner on October 21, 2008.
Bonds celebrated his 80th birthday in 2013.