All Traffic, All The Time

i275
On top of the Howard Frankland Bridge on I-275 North, April 17, 2014.

We’ve all had days where we wished we had stayed in bed as the day developed, and I’m no different. One of those days in my life was one of my first days at the Sun Radio Network and it’s flagship station out of Brandon, Florida, WEND back in 1990.

I was one of two board operators in Clearwater working simultaneously one Friday in December of that year, with one board op handling the calls and commercials for SRN, and the other taking SRN’s feed and getting commercials on and off three times an hour. The boards were right next to each other, but if you ran the local station, you’d need headphones, as the WEND signal would be on a seven second delay. During the overnight hours, there was just one board op running both boards simultaneously, with 10 second “sweepers” (brief promotional messages) thrown in with automation.

As many markets across the country did then (as they do now), there were also traffic reports to keep listeners who may be in their cars updated on local road conditions. WEND used an aggregated service that was then known as Metro Traffic for such updates, and I’d tape a few reports to be aired on a slight delay at various points during the shift. Most of the time the reports were given live, which is how things got interesting this one afternoon.

Metro Traffic didn’t just provide updates for our station at the time, but for most of the stations in the Tampa Bay area. On this one day, I thought I had potted down (turned off) Metro and went on to one of my other tasks, ripping and classifying copy from the United Press International wire. A few minutes later, I’m being urgently alerted that the Metro Traffic pot was still up, and that traffic reports meant for other stations in the area were being broadcast on our air!

The reason why this was doubly embarrassing for me was that the reporters at Metro use different names on different stations, so “John Smith” reporting for WEND would be using the name “James Jones” doing a similar report on another station or stations. Making that kind of error got everyone’s attention, so when everyone in management knows the rock you pulled you get put on a lot of people’s s*** list rather fast. I had inadvertently made fans of talk radio in the Tampa Bay area more aware of Metro’s inner workings.

I sat in front of the board the rest of the day thinking, “All right, so what else is out there that can I do for a living?”

The good news is I didn’t get fired that day, and managed to survive there until the local station was bought by Sonny Bloch, moving to Brandon in 1992. Over the next four years, I’d work for WBDN over in Brandon at times, then for them again when they moved back to Feather Sound in Clearwater shortly before the station went all-Spanish in 1996, remaining that way these past two decades, still broadcasting today as WLCC.

The lesson: pay attention, and when you think you’re paying attention, pay attention some more.

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