Airwaves:Traffic and Weather together

The most amazing thing about radio is how its has transformed itself over the course of its 70-plus-year history. Perhaps more than any other medium, radio -- and particularly AM -- has responded t

The most amazing thing about radio is how its has transformed itself over the course of its 70-plus-year history. Perhaps more than any other medium, radio — and particularly AM — has responded to challenges that could have wiped it out. It's a rare medium, you might say (though, I'd never say anything like that).

Think about it. Movies are still movies. Newspapers are newspapers. Despite a number of technological innovations, TV is pretty much the same. Radio, however has gone from an event of sitting in the living room with the whole family into a focused instrument primarily designed to be listened to in short bursts, predominantly by those in motor vehicles.

To that end, many radio stations offer timely weather and traffic reports. Great service, on paper, but ones that are essentially useless.

Every time I'm sitting in a traffic jam, there's nothing about it on the radio. And the tie-ups they are talking about don't exist.

This isn't confined to Cincinnati. The two other cities I have lived in, Cleveland and Pittsburgh, were exactly the same. Travelling this past summer through Atlanta, it happened again: Big tie-up on the loop better to get through downtown ... or maybe not. A stalled car backed up traffic for two miles(!); long after we passed it, there was still no mention on WSB-AM (Atlanta's big talk station).

I guess part of the problem is you often have one guy reporting for several stations, all owned by one company. Often the report is recorded and distributed to sibling stations. John Phillips and his helicopter/gunship interact with WLW's personalities, but the rest of the stations get a taped blurb. The only accurate information involves "the usual back-ups," but since those happen so frequently, I already know about them. Now that I think about it, the only accurate traffic reports I've ever heard are from people who call in to the talk shows and say, "I'm sitting here on 75 and ..."

Perhaps the traffic situation changes so quickly it's hard to keep track of it second-by-second. However, spreading the talent so thin would seem to make this problem worse. WXIX-TV 19 offers a nice report, but if I'm looking at a TV while I'm driving, I'm likely to cause an accident.

Weather forecasts are another feature we hear often, especially during morning and afternoon drive time. Weather people take a beating, and I'm not going to kick anybody when they're down. However, can we let go of this fantasy that anyone can give a 5-day forecast. These bastards are batting .500 on 24-hour predictions. How on Earth are they going to have any insight into what's going to happen five days off?

Often people will say, "I wish I had a job where I only have to be right half the time." If you think about it, though, you probably do. A quarterback who completes 50 percent of his passes can make a great living. A baseball player who gets a hit 30 percent of the time is much sought after.

What the TV weather people should do is show us all their graphics, maps, radar screens and such, then step back and say, "There you have it." At that point you determine the forecast. Again, I'm not trying to hammer the folks with the toughest job in the newscast. After all, how many times does an anchor predict the news? Occasionally the sportscaster will offer a flip prognostication, but they are never held to it.

Then again, if the Bengals don't win, it doesn't affect my drive to work.

contact P.f. wilson: [email protected]

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