Former Sacramento airborne reporter Bill Eveland dies at 91

(Photo: KFBK, Graphic by The Desk)

Bill Eveland, a beloved pilot who provided drive-time traffic reports to radio listeners in the Sacramento area, died this week at the age of 91.

His passing was announced Thursday by his former employer, KFBK (1530 AM, 93.1 FM). The cause of death was a stroke and heart attack, the radio station said.

Eveland started his career in radio broadcasting after serving nearly three decades as a pilot in the U.S. Air Force.

He was hired by KFBK and sister-station KEAR (92.5 FM, later KGBY and now KBEB-FM) in 1979 to serve as an airborne radio reporter, flying one of the region’s two news airplanes over Sacramento’s busy surface streets and freeways.

Eveland was best known on-air by his moniker, “Commander Bill,” and would frequently sign off his regular traffic reports with “Commander Bill in the Sky.”

He retired from radio broadcasting in February 2005 to focus on his aviation consulting firm Bonanza Enterprises, which he continued to operate until his death.

“He was a remarkable traffic reporter, but also full of great wit and good humor, and an untiring veracity,” Kitty O’Neal, a veteran reporter with the station, said during an on-air tribute on Thursday. “Bill was so full of energy.”

O’Neal said Eveland had suffered a prior heart attack while on the job, and still managed to land his plane and put it in the airport’s hangar despite the episode.

“When I went to go visit him as he recovered in the hospital, he was his frisky self,” O’Neal said.

In a 2005 interview with public radio station KXJZ (90.9 FM), Eveland said traffic was only one part of his job duty: He regularly covered breaking news, which was often just as interesting, if not moreso, than his updates on the road.

“News stories, high speed chases…caught the imagination of the listener more than any other single thing,” Eveland said.

The interview was conducted shortly after his retirement, and Eveland lamented at the changing radio landscape, which was shifting away from using airborne traffic reporters to one where remote news anchors were delivering traffic updates from a variety of third party sources, including traffic sensors.

“The sensors are good, don’t get me wrong…but the information is frequently in error,” Eveland said, adding that the information was more reliable when it came from him or his fellow airborne traffic reporter Joe Miano.

“When we said, there is an accident, they knew there was an accident,” he remarked.

Eveland is survived by his four children.

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