Aug 22, 2008 Ami Olson Uncategorized
Kathy Denman’s career reporting traffic was accidental – when she started in the radio business 22 years ago, she was reporting sports, then news, on Niagara Falls radio. “Radio is a transient business – it’s hard to find a job,” said Denman. So when she found herself unemployed after years in the field, she took a job reporting traffic for the meantime.
Now, for thousands of tortured New York state drivers, some as far away as Buffalo and Albany, Denman has found her niche as Director of Operations for Clear Channel Traffic and wise voice of reason amid the constantly changing traffic patterns.
Denman and her team are responsible for keeping Syracuse motorists informed, but drivers may be surprised to learn their hometown team is responsible for several other cities:
“If you’re getting traffic in upstate New York, it’s coming from here,” said Denman, from the traffic center in Franklin Square. The center also covers Buffalo, Rochester, Binghamton, Albany and all points in between, serving nearly 50 radio and several television stations.
“I really enjoy doing it – who knew traffic could be so important?” she said.
Ten years ago, traffic was an afterthought, for both drivers and news media, Denman said. Now, traffic reports are regular elements to both television and radio broadcasts and are kept up-to-date on the internet to meet demands.
More importantly, said Denman, is the contract Clear Channel has signed with GPS systems like Garmin, plugging the traffic center database into personal GPS systems for constantly updated traffic information.
From the road to the radio
When Denman and her crew arrive at the office in the morning, around 4:30 a.m., they first call relevant police departments, check ongoing construction projects, view real-time traffic on major highways via video cameras, and update the traffic database, part of the Clear Channel nation-wide traffic network.
Then, they figure alternative routes for the unlucky commuters whose routes lead them into traffic concerns.
Denman said plotting a practical way around traffic jams is relative to each market. In Syracuse, a 10 or 15 minute wait would be almost unheard of, and a serious inconvenience for drivers. But in Buffalo, a 20 or 25 minute wait is average – commuters expect to be notified if the wait is extended to 40 or 45 minutes. No matter the region, Denman agreed that the vast majority of people tuning in for traffic reports are heading to or from work.
How does the crew reroute traffic with such ease from miles away in the Syracuse studio? An extensive working knowledge of each market is crucial, and ever-improving internet resources, like Google Maps, are also put to good use.
“And, it certainly helps to have a good sense of direction,” Denman adds.
The big three
Accidents, road construction, and weather: the three responsible for the most unpleasant traffic situations. And in upstate, there is rarely a break from one or the other, Denman said.
The winter weather thaws directly into construction season, the traffic gurus agreed.
And although traffic reports are not in high demand throughout the night – Denman comes into the office around 5 a.m. and is out by 1 p.m. – the traffic center will be pumping out reports 24-hours by the end of the year.
Denman said this is to keep updates to the internet, database and GPS systems continuous.
The State Fair is a major traffic concern – such is the influx of visitors to the area most construction projects are suspended during the 12 days of the fair.
There are two types of people the traffic center considers when making reports and rerouting traffic – those drivers who are familiar with the area, and those who are not.
“People coming from Albany to get to the State Fair only know one way to get there,” Denman said. So while it may benefit local drivers to share a shortcut over the air, the timesaver would be lost on motorists who do not know the difference between routes 690 and 695.
And, for all the local drivers who sighed audibly with relief at the sight of four open lanes on Rte. 690 this week – enjoy it while you can.
Denman said after the fair, the construction starts up again. John Dillon, who covers Binghamton and Syracuse, said one report expects construction to continue till Nov. 1 in some areas.
While the increased traffic can mean increased chaos in Denman’s workday, she doesn’t hold it against the fair.
“I love it,” she said. The free shows, the food, the people – it’s all great. “I love to people watch.”
Think traffic reporting would be a great way to break into the radio business? Think again.
“A lot of people think traffic is an entry-level position,” Denman said. “It’s not.”
Currently, everyone in the traffic center has a minimum of seven years of experience in radio, and newcomers spend at least a year in the center before they go on the air, she added.
One bright spot to traffic, though, is the job security: there will always be traffic, no matter what, said Denman. She believes radio will continue to evolve to meet people’s needs, regardless of what other technology comes along.
“And it’s different every day, you just never know. You have to be able to roll with it.”