Inside Seven
Current Issue: September 2014
With former California Highway Patrol Chief Edward Gomez kneeling in front of new freeway sign, and traffic reporter Chuck Street behind, family and friends of Bill Keene gather to pay tribute.  Mrs. Bill Keene, closest to sign on left, looks on.

by  Jeanne Bonfilio
Issue Date: 11/2006

Pioneer traffic reporter is remembered and memorialized at the I-10/I-110 Interchange.

What has been known historically as the famous “four-level interchange,” where the Pasadena Freeway (I-110) and the Hollywood Freeway (State Route 101) meet in the heart of Downtown Los Angeles and greet some 455,000 commuters daily, was recently renamed the “Bill Keene Memorial Interchange” in remembrance of the legendary traffic reporter known for his soothing voice, great sense of humor and service to Southern California commuters. 

Due to Senate Concurrent Resolution 78 introduced by Senator Gil Cedillo, the interchange will now be a permanent tribute to Keene, who was not only a pioneer traffic reporter since 1957, but a role model to many in the public safety and transportation arenas.  A special ceremony was held to unveil the new freeway signs recently at the Dodger Stadium parking lot overlooking the two famous freeways.

In the early days of traffic reporting, Keene was a traffic and weather reporter for KNX radio in Los Angeles from 1957 until his retirement in 1993.  He served in a similar capacity on KNXT television channel 2, where he was part of the highly successful “The Big News,” with veteran newsmen Jerry Dunphy and Gil Stratton. 

Keene had a humorous and colorful way of speaking which made traffic reports more interesting by referring to accidents with words like “chrome cruncher” and “paint peeler.”  And vehicles that had somehow spun around, were said to have ended up  “cattywampus to the world.”  But on the serious side, Keene was well aware of his role when it came to the safety of the motoring public.  “Bill was totally dedicated to improving the traffic situation in Southern California,” said his widow Louise Keene.

The permanent remembrance to Keene was spearheaded by some long-time colleagues, including 20-year traffic reporter Commander Chuck Street from KIIS-FM radio and KTLA television channel 5; and Chief Art Acevedo, California Highway Patrol.  It was Senator Cedillo’s resolution which brought the effort to fruition. 

Louise Keene, daughter Bonnie, and many family members, friends, traffic reporters and  California Highway Patrol representatives were present to help unveil the new sign.  “The Keene family is so honored to have this memorial to my father,” said Bonnie.  “He just loved his job, his fans and his friends.” 

Also present included former CHP Chief Edward Gomez, who flew in from Northern California for the ceremony.  “Bill Keene made an immense contribution to solving whatever problems popped up on the freeways...and always with a warm sense of humor,” said Gomez.  Joining Gomez were Douglas Failing, Caltrans District 7 Director; George Nicolaw, retired General Manager, KNX News Radio; Arturo Chavez, representing Senator Cedillo; and Peggy Lennon of the famous singing Lennon Sisters.   

Street, who acted as Master of Ceremonies, noted Keene’s great personality, dedication, accomplishments and friendship over the years.  Street produced a beautiful and memorable video of Keene’s life that deeply moved guests, bringing many to tears.  And it was Street himself, with the help of his two sons, Corbin, 18, Alec, 14 -- and friend Ace Hansen, who were instrumental in the coordination and set-up of the ceremony – and also provided wonderful music.

With Gomez and CHP Lieutenant Jill Angel, Keene was a co-founder in the mid-1970's of the Traffic Information People (TIP) Meeting, a professional group dedicated to total cooperation between law enforcement, emergency service agencies, Caltrans and the traffic reporting media, with the goal of relieving congestion and enhancing traffic safety.  The group still meets today and presents the “Bill Keene Award” bi-monthly to a group or person who has most contributed to the safety and mobility of the traveling public in Southern California.  Keene also organized the KNX Traffic Tipsters group, consisting of several thousand volunteer “scouts” reporting accidents via cell phone during the broadcast day.  Keene also has been honored with a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.

Many said Keene’s dedication and great personality will be long-remembered.  And Chief Acevedo noted that for those who grew up listening to Keene, the memorial signs will undoubtedly bring his soothing, memorable voice to mind.  “Thanks to his long, innovative, and illustrious career in broadcasting, his legacy lives on today through his family and his traffic reporting colleagues,” Acevedo wrote in a heartfelt letter to the Keene family. 

Sadly, Keene passed away in April, 2000.  “Keene was a man loved and respected,” Acevedo continued.  “His leadership provided many years of public service to Southern California, and the dedication of the four-level interchange will ensure that his lifelong labor of love and public service will never be forgotten.”

Mrs. Bill Keene (center) and California Highway Patrol Captain Steve Webb, left, and former chief Edward Gomez, right. Bill Keene commented on this photo as his favorite of his professional career.