The fatal, one-auto crash occurred near Santa Barbara, California. Reports following his death suggest Spens had a troubled life, and at one point was homeless. I worked with Will in the mid-1970s, and found him to be professional, with none of the anomalies later attributed to him. Below is a compilation about -- and by -- Will Spens, a few from the ever helpful New York Radio Board. -- Don Swaim
FORMER LA NEWS ANCHOR-REPORTER DIES IN CRASH
LOS ANGELES. A man killed in a single-car freeway crash near the Santa Barbara County line on Tuesday was identified Thursday as former Los Angeles television and radio reporter Will Spens, a former colleague said.
Spens had been discharged from the cardiac care unit at Cottage Hospital in Santa Barbara, where he was treated for a heart problem, the day before his death at age 57, according to veteran investigative producer Pete Noyes.
Spens apparently crashed his vehicle into a bridge abutment on the entura (101) Freeway near Bates Road. The Ventura County coroner's office, which did an autopsy, said his death was probably accidental and due to blunt force trauma, according to Noyes.
The Medical Examiner's office said Spens was not wearing a seatbelt at the time of the crash.
Spens was a television reporter on the East Coast for many years, working for both WABC and WNBC in New York City.
In the early 1990s, he worked for KNBC in Burbank, KCBS in Hollywood and KNX Newsradio.
Several reports said Spens struggled for years and after leaving the news business at one time was homeless.
Noyes was managing editor of KNBC when he hired Spens, whom he described as a "fearless reporter" who would not hesitate to risk his life covering shootouts and gang warfare.
Spens moved to Santa Barbara about 10 years ago to study contemplative relations and, at one time, was cloistered as a monk, according to Noyes. Spens was also briefly married twice.
Spens is survived by a sister on the East Coast, who will make funeral arrangements.
CRAIG SMITH'S BLOG 4/7/08
MONDAY, APRIL 07, 2008
The Sad Story of Will Spens
"Somewhere along the way, the guy fell off the apple cart." That was how The Independent's news editor, Nick Welsh, once cogently capsulized the Will Spens that we knew here in Santa Barbara.
Spens died a week ago today, in a single car accident near the Santa Barbara/Ventura County Line.
I first met Will at one of the "Save the News-Press" rallies in De la Guerra Plaza in the fall of 2006. When he introduced himself I remember thinking, "is this the same Will Spens who was once a news reporter for KNBC TV?" He was.
It wasn't that he didn't still have those rugged TV news guy good looks. He did. But he also had a definite "down on his luck" look about him. And of course the oddest thing about his appearance was the "breathe right" bandage that he constantly wore across the bridge of his nose.
He lived in a transient hotel in downtown Santa Barbara and was working part-time at some type of telemarketing job. The job gave him access to a phone and a computer. Two things he didn't have where he was living. He used the computer to maintain his own blog, Daily Webloid, which can still be viewed, although it hasn't been updated since October 9, 2006.
Anyway, that first meeting was very brief. He later e-mailed me and wanted to get together to talk. His message sounded a little desperate with the subject line being: "Asking for a face to face meeting at earliest convenience," in all caps.
I was a little wary of getting together with him thinking I might be hit up for money, but I agreed to meet him at the Coffee Cat downtown. It was an afternoon in late October of 2006. I rode my bike and was a few minutes late. He was already there and I could tell he was a little agitated and anxious thinking that I had stood him up.
We sat outside and he immediately lit up a cigarette. We talked about the turmoil at the Santa Barbara News-Press and how the various local media outlets were covering it. The discussion then got around to his own storied career in broadcast journalism. He started out in in radio where he worked with Don Imus, when Imus was still a Top 40 DJ. Spens later went to work as a TV news field reporter in New York City for WABC and then WNBC. After that he came out to L.A. in the early 1990's where he worked at KNBC and KCBS TV.
My friend Hans Laetz, who worked in the L.A. market at the same time Spens did, described Will as having a stylized delivery on TV. On a live shot he would pace around and have the camera track him in a hand-held cinÈma vÈritÈ style. During Spens' L.A. tenure, rival KABC TV hired Jeff Michael (now at FOX 11) to fill a similar role. The two hated each other, because they were using the same shtick, usually at the same stories.
When it came to investigative reporting, Will was a very competitive guy.
That afternoon over coffee, Will's stories were captivating. He spoke of his romantic involvement with long-time KNBC anchor Kelly Lange and of course had a lot of reporting "war stories." He was vague as to why his relationship with Lange ended and was equally vague as to why he moved from TV reporting to being a radio reporter at KNX in L.A.
There was also some jumbled talk about conspiracies and people who were after him. He wanted to know if I could recommend a good lawyer, someone who wasn't afraid to take on "the big boys." Rather than flat out tell him "no," I told him to give me some time to think about it.
In asking around about Will the rumors were that it was a drug problem that put his colorful career into decline. When he could no longer hold a job in L.A., he moved up here.
The last time I saw Will was in early February of this year. It was in the Santa Barbara City Council chambers just prior to the start of the weekly council meeting. He came over to where I was standing. He reeked of cigarette smoke. He glared at me and was saying something about not being able to find anyone "to take his case." The meeting was about to start, so I gave him my number and told him to call me later. I never heard from him again.
NEW YORK RADIO MESSAGE BOARD:
Posted by Andy Fisher on April 06, 2008:
It was reported on Friday that Will Spens had died in a car crash last week in California. Will worked at WCBS, WNBC and WNEW in the late 1970's. He was also an anchor and reporter on Channel 7 and Channel 4.
In the 1990's, he worked at the CBS and NBC television stations in Los Angeles, primarily as a crime reporter.
Will was tremendously talented. He had a magnificent voice and a quick and agile mind. He could ad-lib with the best of them. When his copy was written, he wrote it brilliantly. At WNEW, where I knew him, he inherited the morning-news anchor slot that had been memorably occupied by Joe Given, Reid Collins, George Engle, Alan Walden, Bruce Charles, Frank Settipani and other giants of New York radio.
Years ago, my colleagues on "NBC News at Sunrise" and I would watch Will on the 11PM KNBC-TV newscast, which we could view in New York at 2AM. He had a fascinating "noir" style that seemed perfect for Los Angeles. He would do his 11PM standup from the scene of a crime, conveying a sense of the senselessness of it all, perfect in detail and approach.
Like many of us, Will was haunted by private demons. Accounts of his death said that he had been homeless for some years since the loss of his last television job in L. A. None of this, however, can detract from the splendid work that he did when things were going well for him.
NEW YORK RADIO MESSAGE BOARD:
Posted by Gil Gross (ABC Radio) on April 07, 2008
I spoke to Wil two months ago. He called me at KGO wondering if he had a chance of working there after Bernie Ward's firing. At first, he sounded like the Wil of old, quirky as ever, and as intelligent, but after a few minutes I was talking to a haunted man sure the Catholic Church was hounding him, watching him and keeping him from being hired. We talked nearly an hour and I put down the phone sad at what was a shadow of the man I knew.
I have little doubt Wil took his own life. Whether it was something the doctors told him, or the shadows that seemed to be forever in his rear view mirror, I have no idea, but I never saw him harm a soul other than himself...I never heard him cite standards for others that he did not set for himself, and my memories of the mornings with Imus will always be happy if more than a little wacky [between the two of them in those days McCord and I felt like the "designated drivetimers."]
He was a good man and a terrific reporter whose life was enjoyed by others more than he evewas ever able to enjoy it himself. I'm glad he's out of his pain, but pained he could not find a way out of it in life.
NEW YORK RADIO MESSAGE BOARD:
Posted by Michael Schoen on April 07, 2008
Two thoughts on Will Spens... He didn't mention in his bio that he worked briefly as an anchor on the old RKO radio Network in the early 80s -- where I worked with him. He suffered from serious hypo-glycemia (opposite of diabetes) and that was a very important part of his personality. When he would start a work shift, he would lay out his food, fruit, sandwich, chips etc. and he would carefully time out his consumption. If anyone would take a potato chip, he would go nuts, because it would throw off his sytem of keeping balanced. I can't help but wonder if the problem advanced with age -- and might have played a role in his fatal crash.
Also, when Spens started on TV it was an era when reporters were encouraged to walk during their stand ups. Something about keeping the movement and NOT being just a talking head. His walking was so exaggerated, he became known as "Walkin' Will."
I saw him last in L-A mid 90s when he was at KNX radio (I was at KFWB). Very creative guy with great pipes. Made a deep impression... hard to get close to.
FROM WILL'S OWN BLOG:
formerly kzak monk now recanted aka WILL SPENS Will Spens Email: email@example.com Address: 15 East Haley St #426 [Santa Barbara] Phone: 805-963-9191 ext 426 Recent Work/ Study: Independent Monastic curriculum focused on study and writing climaxed by still being investigated theft of essays, homilies and other written work.
TELEVISION RADIO HISTORY: Fox News Channel- 1997 -6 MONTHS as general assignment reporter for the Los Angeles bureau KNX NEWS Radio, Los Angeles- 1993 to 1995 Anchor and general assignment reporter. KCBS TV, Los Angeles -1991 to 1993- General assignment reporter including the Rodney King riots KNBC TV, Los Angeles- 1990 to 1991- "Crime Watch Reporter" WABC TV, New York- 1980 to 1987- General reporter and fill in anchor including Two Emmys for breaking live coverage WNBC TV, New York- 1977 to 1980- City Hall Reporter and Weekend Anchor during NYC fiscal crisis. WNBC AM Radio, New York- 1976 to 1977-Morning Drive anchor for Imus Newscast stylized like Paul Harvey and Keith Olbermann. NBC RADIO NETWORK-
Regular weekend anchor WCBS Radio, New York- 1974 to 1975- Anchor considered prodigy at age 23