Saturday, August 13, 2022 Aug 13, 2022
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EYES IN THE SKY

By Eric Celeste |

MEDIA Hearing the flood of rush-hour traffic reports available on radio in the mornings, you might expect the skies to be crowded with traffic copters darting from Preston Road to Westmoreland Road and points in between.

The fact is, most radio stations can’t afford the whopping expense of their own helicopter. KVIL has its canary-yellow KVILicopter, and WBAP’s DICK SIEGEL had a chopper before a bank repossessed it. The rest of the media gets bumper-to-bumper info from a kind of airborne co-op, thanks to either Dallas-based Traffic Patrol Broadcasting or the nationwide service, Metro Traffic Control. These are essentially traffic wire services, producing computerized feeds, as well as studio and airborne reports, for radio stations and TV outlets.

JIM RIBBLE, the Metro Traffic operations director for Dallas/Fort Worth, emphasizes that skyjocks-some of whom pilot small airplanes instead of choppers-are reporters first. “This is news gathering. It’s essentially spot news. It’s developing and changing.” Metro’s “personalities”-such as RON BAHR, who reports to KRLD-AM news radio, and KAREN KING. who is heard on KLUV-FM and several other stations, must confirm each report with two sources, such as police and fire departments, and edit their material quickly, since they usually report to various stations every six to eight minutes.

Even though the eyes in the sky can’t do anything to help clear the jams, Ribble says the constant updates can soothe drive-time stress by at least letting those stuck miles behind an accident know what’s going on. “Dallas is constructed in such a way.” he says, “that if you’re stuck, you may not have an alternate route; but if we can tell you how long the wait will be, you can deal with it easier.”

When hiring a traffic reporter, Ribble considers how an applicant’s voice and delivery will play on the stations that require Metro’s services. The ideal is a skyjock who blends nicely with a drive-time team, so that the traffic watcher will seem like a hand-picked part of the team. Quick-witted ad-libbers, a rarity in most news rooms, are therefore in demand-especially since all of Metro’s reports are given live, not taped a few minutes ahead, as on some other stations.

Picking a site for the studios wasn’t done by accident, either. Metro’s base is in Reunion Tower, which provides a ball’s-eye view of I-30 and I-35E at the mixmaster downtown. Often, Ribble says, Metro’s folks just go to the window to get up-to-the-minute reports. “It’s proven very useful,” he says.

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