March 1997 – March 1998
I started with Metro Networks in its Richmond, Virginia office as a morning producer and midday traffic anchor, later transferring to the company’s Miami, Florida office. I didn’t especially enjoy reporting traffic, but since I was only getting about 30 hours a week working part-time doing news for WRVA and the Virginia News Network, I was happy to get the full-time position at Metro Networks. It also gave me great exposure on a lot of radio and TV stations. I ended up being heard at one time or another on more than half of the radio stations in Richmond. I have to thank market manager Tom Fanning for hiring me and giving me a chance.
In the years before this, I had filled in for a long stretch reporting traffic in Little Rock in addition to my news duties at KARN, so I had learned how to report traffic and the importance some listeners placed in those reports. I first became familiar with Metro Networks while living in Washington, DC, where I was intrigued that one person could be on several stations, even those owned by competing companies.
My duties in Richmond involved constantly updating our list of traffic accidents and other problems by calling police agencies and talking with our airborne reporters who circled the city overhead in the mornings and afternoons in a small plane. Then starting at 10 a.m., I would anchor traffic reports on news station WVNZ-AM 990, talk station WLEE-AM 1320 and country station WXGI-AM 950. I also did additional reports for other stations when significant traffic problems would arise and filled in whenever any of our other anchors were out. At that time the office was located on the ninth floor of an office building downtown, which gave us a view of the Interstate 95 James River bridge, which was a regular trouble spot. The only photo I have from Metro is the one above. Co-worker Tracy Lynn Miller always had flowers on the window sill by her booth, which looked interesting to me on one of the few days I had my camera. Metro moved a few blocks away shortly after I left the Richmond office for Miami. Below are a few reports that I did for Richmond stations.
AUDIO: Traffic report on WVNZ-AM, All News 990, July 11, 1997. This short-lived news station was competing with WRVA, so I used the alias Scott Thomas.
AUDIO: A special midday traffic report for WTVR-FM, Lite 98, one of Richmond’s top-rated radio stations on August 20, 1997.
AUDIO: Traffic report on WBZU-FM, 106.5 The Buzz, which at that time had a great alternative music format, August 29, 1997.
The biggest challenge for me was remembering the specifics for each station. All had different styles and formats and the reports would be coming up quick, one right after another. Of course the biggest sin of all was to confuse what station you were broadcasting on and say the wrong station name. Fortunately I only did that once, when I was reporting traffic on talk station WLEE. At the end I accidentally called it “All-News 990, WVNZ,” which was a competing station and I used different names on the two stations. I didn’t even realize I had done it until the guy at the station called me. Thankfully he wasn’t really pissed, just wanted to make sure I realized I had done it. Another big sin was to not be there when the station threw it to you. That’s a problem with not being in the same building as the station you’re broadcasting on. The person on the air can’t see the traffic anchor sitting in another booth and doesn’t know if the anchor is standing by. But sometimes it wouldn’t be my fault. There was a tight schedule and if one station ran late and missed its window, I’d have to move on to the next station, sometimes knowing the other station would toss it to me and I wouldn’t be there. I hate to say it, but I also would sometimes have to decide which station I wouldn’t be on depending on which was a bigger, more important station.
I maintained a grueling schedule in Richmond, working at Metro Networks from 6 a.m. to 2 p.m., then most afternoons I would go over to anchor newscasts from 2:30 to 6:30 p.m. on the Virginia News Network, and on Friday nights would anchor newscasts on WRVA. Between both jobs I was working 60 to 70 hours a week. It was really wearing me down, although I did appreciate having both days of the weekend off. Perhaps most frustrating was that despite those long hours, I still wasn’t making much money and was struggling to get by.
I had a serious girlfriend in Miami, Florida at the time (who I later married) and decided to try to transfer within Metro Networks to its Miami office. It took a lot of persistent calls, but I finally convinced the Director of Operations Christopher Leonard to give me a chance after one of his morning anchors put in her resignation. I moved down to Miami in September 1997 and after a quick orientation on the layout of the streets, which included going up in the helicopter one morning, I began anchoring morning traffic reports on WSVN-TV channel 7 and sports station WQAM-AM 560. The Miami office had many more tools that gave me much more confidence in what I was reporting. The helicopter had a television camera beaming live footage to the office, so if they were directly above an accident, I could describe live what I was seeing. That footage was also shown on the TV station as I did my report. They also had seven stationary cameras in strategic spots that we could move and zoom in with.
After a few months I was moved to the afternoon shift, anchoring traffic on WINZ-AM, Newsradio 940, Christian station WMCU-FM 89.7 and urban station WEDR-99 Jamz, which at that time was consistently the number one rated station in the market. Despite that, WEDR was the loosest station in terms of formatics. I could vary the length of my reports if I had a lot to get in or if things were quiet. I never heard a peep from its program director, while other stations were full of specific jargon they wanted you to use. And the afternoon DJ Terry Alexander was also a lot more relaxed in how he would throw it to me, sometimes even conversing a bit before I’d get into the report.
AUDIO: Traffic report on Miami’s WINZ-AM, Newsradio 940 in December 1997.
AUDIO: Traffic report on Miami’s top-rated station, WEDR-FM, 99 Jamz, in December 1997.
AUDIO: Traffic report on WMCU-FM 89.7 in December 1997. At that time it was a conservative Christian-formatted station.
It was through my reports on WINZ that I got to know people at the news station, which I had applied to for a news job about two years earlier. In January 1998, corporate parent company Clear Channel made WINZ all talk, moving the news programming to sister station WIOD-AM 610. Two months later I was hired by the company to become a news anchor and reporter on WIOD, thankfully bringing an end to my short-lived traffic career. I never found traffic to be as interesting as reporting news and it was also a much more stressful environment. But it was a good experience and gave me more appreciation for the difficult work people reporting traffic have to do.