Generally speaking, the Motor News Department was responsible for the news services from 1965 to about 1980; the department had divisions, such as an editorial staff and advertising staff for the "Motor News" magazine and an advertising staff, public-relations writers, and artists for the magazine and for the Automobile Club of Michigan. The Motor News Department was broken into two separate departments or units very late in 1981. Then, a "Publications Department" (first headed by Bill Poirier) was created, and it was, for one, responsible for the magazine; the other department created out of the Motor News Department was the "Public Relations Department," which was responsible for public-relations materials, such as press materials or kits about gasoline prices or changes in management personnel, and for supervising the news services. Both units were under the "Corporate Relations" banner of the company, as was Community Relations. Tom Freel was the first "Manager" of Public Relations; Freel had been the "Manager of Motor News" for at least several years. For much of the 1980s, Jerry Cheske was "Media Relations Manager" (a position in the Public Relations Department), and he was the day-to-day supervisor of the news services, till early 1988, when Caren Collins took over a newly created position known as "Broadcast Supervisor," who reported directly to the "Media Relations Manager" and who was responsible for the day-to-day operations of the news services. Nancy Cain, who had joined the company as a "contributing editor" in the Public Relations Department in late 1982, became "Media Relations Unit Manager" in the fall of 1989 and then the "Area Manager" of Public Relations in the spring of 1994. After Caren Collins abruptly resigned from AAA Michigan in April 1994, Debbie Pearson, the General Supervisor over Media Clerical (in Public Relations), assumed the duties of "Broadcast Supervisor," and, not long thereafter, Debbie Pearson was officially named the "Broadcast Supervisor" and took on the duty of overseeing both the Media Clerical Unit and the Broadcast Unit. In July 1995, the Public Relations Department was divided up again, creating a smaller Public Relations Unit and a new unit--Broadcast and Administration, which was now solely responsible for the news services and which was headed by Debbie Pearson. On May 5, 2003, when AAA began to no longer provide true broadcast reports to stations or the media, the unit became known as the AAA Traffic & Information Service.
This small section has been added to give those who become staffers of the news services some background information about Michigan. Michigan became a state--the 26th state--of the United States of America on January 26, 1837. The total area is about 58,216 square miles (1,194 square miles of which is land and 57,022 square miles of which is water). The size is about 456 miles long by 386 miles wide. There are 83 counties. The state bird is the robin; the state fish, the trout; the state flower, the apple blossom; the state gem, the green stone (or chlorastrolite); the state stone, the petoskey stone; and the state tree, the white pine. The geographic center is five miles north-northwest of Cadillac in Wexford County. The highest point is Mt. Curwood in Baraga County (at 1,980 feet above sea level), and the lowest point is in Lake Erie (at 572 feet below sea level).
NO-FAULT INSURANCE NOTES
In the U.S., some states are considered "no-fault states," and the others are not. "No-fault" refers to automobile insurance--liability coverage; it was in 1898 when the first automobile insurance policy covering bodily injury was issued. More specifically, no-fault relates to accidents and not placing blame on any of the persons involved for causing the accidents, and no-fault is designed so that the injured are supposed to collect for their medical costs and rehabilitation through their insurers and not from the insurers of other motorists. True "no-fault," which does not exist in the U.S., is a system in which no civil suits for damage--such as for "pain and suffering," which are related to "general damages"--are allowed. Generally speaking, no-fault as it exists in the U.S. is a modification of true no-fault, since an injured person may sue for damages under given circumstances, one of which may be because of serious injury, such as the loss of a leg.
Ideas about no-fault can be traced back to about the time of World War II, such as to 1946 when Saskatchewan, Canada, enacted a no-fault plan, which historians refer to as The Saskatatchewan Plan. The big push for no-fault in the U.S. took place in the late 1960s and early 1970s. Many types of no-fault plans were proposed, such as the Keeton-O'Connell Plan and the American Insurance Association Plan. Puerto Rico adopted a plan in 1968, and, two years later, in 1970, Massachusetts, became the first state to enact a no-fault plan. In 1970 and 1971, U.S. Senator Philip A. Hart of Michigan proposed bills for a national no-fault law, which never came about. To help guide lawmakers and others in devising no-fault plans, the National Association of Insurance Commissioners (or the NAIC) endorsed a set of guidelines for "modified no-fault" coverage.
In Michigan, no-fault became law on October 1, 1973. When it went into effect, motorists were no longer able to simply pay $45 a year into the Motor Vehicle Accident Claims Fund of the state and be allowed to drive a vehicle without insurance. Having no-fault coverage became mandatory for every driver on October 1, 1973!
In 1996, about a dozen states were considered "no-fault states," having some type of modified no-fault insurance system or law; some of those states were Florida, Hawaii, Kansas, Kentucky, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, New Jersey, New York, and North Dakota. Some states were, in essence, partial no-fault states, providing, for example, "add-on" coverage; some of those states were Arkansas, Delaware, and South Carolina. In the states with partial no-fault laws, the sale of no-fault coverage was mandatory, and the purchase was optional.
HOLIDAY NEWS SERVICE
The "General History" section of this "portrait" provided information about the beginnings of The Holiday News Service of AAA Michigan. This section provides more details and notes about the holiday services. The following seven paragraphs are Len Barnes' recollections provided specifically for this "portrait" about what incidents really led up to the "Triple A 'Bring 'Em Back Alive' Holiday News Service" of May 1965 and the many "portraits" that the Auto Club produced concerning accidents, drunk driving, and summer holidays.
"Several things converged to cause the creation of what later became the 'Triple A Bring 'Em Back Alive News Service.'
"First, early in the 1960s, the Auto Club's board of directors became concerned that National Safety Council's predictions that 'X' number of persons would die on holiday weekends was hurting Michigan tourism when AAA knew that they were no more, and usually less, deadly than other weekends of the same length in driving hours. I was adamantly opposed to the usual safety slogans. The first time 'Readers Digest' ran a traffic article called 'And Sudden Death,' it seemed to have something to do with reduction in fatalities nationwide. The second time they ran it, fatalities went up. We thought negative slogans wouldn't work because surveys showed most people thought they were good drivers. After many hours of meetings over several days to think up a slogan, Motor News writer Carl Pavsner gave us 'Bring 'Em Back Alive.' We began to use that in conjunction with education on alcohol and fatigue and 'The Circle of Danger--Within 25 miles of home' to persons not on vacation.
"I had built a home just south of the Sleeping Bear Dunes west of Traverse City and the family stayed there all summer when our kids were young, which caused me to make many weekend trips up and back. With increasing frequency both going and coming I got into traffic jams caused by the rising of the Zilwaukee Bridge. So I put the phone numbers of WJR and WWJ in my car, and on Sunday called both stations at the rest areas, usually southbound south of the Bridge, in 1964. WJR broke into baseball games to put me on. It made me realize the power of radio to inform people when they are in their cars, and we got many grateful letters from motorists who'd been able to cut off north of Bay City onto roads south that let them escape 50 mile long jams. That showed me that radio could not only be good public service but good PR for AAA. Grant Howell was then editor of the 'Daily Tribune' in Royal Oak and we built homes next to each other up north, so we came back to Detroit together on some weekends. He pointed out after he'd heard me on the radio that on weekends, particularly summer weekends, not much that is newsworthy goes on, that radio stations don't have a lot of money to spend on overtime on weekends, and that they would be glad to get information from us. It seemed logical that if motorists in their cars were told facts that interested them, from traffic jams to accidents to state park camp vacancies to where the fish were hitting, and then given a logical safety suggestion for that particular moment, they might avoid an accident.
"When my personal friend who was WJR news director said he'd like to get hourly reports on Memorial weekend 1965, we decided to try a BEBA Weekend News Bureau. I was sure if WJR used our reports, others would also. First weekend we had 50 stations we called. I insisted that we have several specific safety suggestions for each hour and that they be the tag line on each report. We found out from police in advance where traffic jams usually occurred on holiday weekends and spotted reporters there to make phone calls. One reporter had the entire UP.
"We knew we could influence driver behavior when 'Wall Street Journal' reporter Jerry Flint called the day after the Memorial Day weekend and said he had first heard me on WJR near Midland talking about a burning car in the median which was causing a slowdown and there he saw it, and then when he turned onto I-75 south at Bay City, I said that slower recreational vehicles and those pulling trailers should be in the right lane and use turn signals to get there, Jerry saw them do that. Each big 1965 weekend, fatalities were cut almost in half from 1964 and we praised police and drivers. I realized by then the value of BEBA to motorists, members, and the Auto Club because after each 1965 weekend, people were lined up at our branch offices to join.
"On Memorial weekend 1966, there were twice as many fatalities as on Memorial weekend 1965. Our general manager, Fred Rehm, pledged that our safety analysts would visit the scenes of the 43 fatalities and learn what caused them and might prevent future fatalities. That's how a series of 12 BEBA traffic studies began, pointing out specific steps that needed to be taken. Michigan did not then have any law on the threshold for alcohol and impaired drivers. We found out at once that police were protecting the feelings of families whose youths had been drunk and died in crashes. Also, drivers whose licenses had repeatedly been suspended were far over-represented in causing fatals. Our board of directors demanded and got the first such law."
Today Memorial Days are always three-day holidays. Around the time The Holiday News Service was started in 1965, Memorial Day holidays were of varying lengths--from 78-hours long to 102-hours long, and they were that way from 1965 through 1968; starting with the 1969 holiday, Memorial Day holidays became 78-hours long, because Memorial Day no longer was a floating holiday--it was designated as the final Monday in May, and that made the holiday always a three-day holiday. When the first Labor Day holiday for 1965 came around, Labor Day Holidays were always 78-hours long. July Fourth holidays did and can range from 30-hours long to 102-hours long from year to year, the time determined by the day on which July Fourth falls.
The Holiday News Services were made up of people who performed several basic jobs; over the years, the services ranged from having a staff of 10 to a staff of about 25, the latter of which was the rule. Usually, there were always a couple writers, one of whom could be described as the head writer or supervising writer. Several people--often about three or four--did regular research, which involved calling police and staffers at parks and tourist attractions to get information that could be put into reports. The largest group of staffers, which could be made up of more than ten persons, was the broadcast group; they telephoned stations and read reports. Over the years, it was commonplace for a Holiday News Service to have field reporters, usually from two persons to five persons, most of whom traveled in cars on the roads; between 1965 and the early 1980s, some reporters were hired to be in airplanes.
During the Memorial Day holiday of 1965, one plane was used to fly a staffer of the Motor News department over southeastern Lower Michigan. A second plane came into use, based at Grand Rapids, for the July Fourth holiday. During the summer of 1965, the two pilots working during the holidays in southeastern Lower Michigan were Barry Pope and Richard (Dick) Roberts, president and vice-president, respectively, of the 3-A Flying Club. Two planes were again used for the Labor Day holiday (of 1965).
For the start of the Memorial Day holiday of 1966, the regular hours of service became eight to eleven for each day (except Friday, if the holiday was an official weekend, when the service usually began in early afternoon). Reports were now given hourly, and that would remain the standard for all the holidays to come. And the staff was made up of about twenty-five persons, and the number became standard.
During the Memorial Day Holiday of 1966, Barry McGuire of the East Michigan Tourist Association (or the EMTA), Jim Tretheway of the "Marquette Mining Journal," and Charles Welch, who was the information officer with the Conservation Department at Roscommon, were special reporters, providing information daily by phone; Barry Pope and Richard Roberts, both of whom were employees of the Auto Club and associated with the 3-A Flying Club, flew over southeastern Lower Michigan with Motor News reporters, and Alan Knapp and Robert F. Gibfried were pilots for the planes based at Grand Rapids. Later in the summer of 1966, the Auto Club had four airplanes in the air. Barry Pope and Richard Roberts, employees of the Auto Club and members of the 3-A Flying Club, were in the air above southeastern Lower Michigan, while Alan Knapp and Robert F. Gibfried piloted the plane based at Grand Rapids, and Stan Meretsky flew with pilot John Smallwood over the Midland area, while Maynard Abbott piloted a plane for special reporter Barry McGuire of EMTA on trips leaving East Tawas.
Over the years, it was commonplace for AAA Michigan to have a field reporter on duty on I-75 in the Bay City/Saginaw area, and the reason for that was, almost every holiday, motorists could expect to find backups in the Bay City/Saginaw area, especially near Zilwauekee. Often, motorists found backups at the Zilwaukee Bridge--either the old Zilwaukee Bridge, when the bridge existed between the mid-1960s at least and the late 1980s, or the current Zilwaukee Bridge, which was completed in the late 1980s. The old Zilwaukee Bridge was a drawbridge, which was opened up for short periods of time during the holidays in the 1960s, 1970s, and 1980s to allow ships, such as coal-carrying freighters, to travel between Saginaw Bay and the factories along the Saginaw River; when the bridge was up, backups often ended up being twenty-miles-or-more long for northbound motorists on Fridays and for southbound travelers on Mondays. From year to year during the 1980s, the number of boats that used the Saginaw River declined, but, during that time, long backups still occurred at the old Zilwaukee because of the amount of traffic. At least, the motorists who got stuck in the backups in much of the 1980s had something unique to look at, since, in the 1980s, the new Zilwaukee Bridge--an 8,000-foot long double-span bridge--was being constructed; construction had begun in November 1979, and the original construction budget had been estimated at $76.8 million. There were problems in building the bridge, such as construction accidents and defective materials, and the original main contractor, Stevin Construction, Inc. , a Dutch firm, abandoned the project in July 1983 and was replaced by S.J. Groves & Sons, Minneapolis (Minnesota). By 1987, the project was $44 million dollars over budget and about four years behind the original completion date of November 1983. The northbound side of the bridge was opened up in December 1987 (Wednesday, December 23, 1987), and the southbound side was opened the following summer. Most certainly for everyone involved with The Holiday News Services from the start till the mid-late-1980s, the old Zilwaukee Bridge was a highlight in reports, and, even from time to time, after the mid-late-1980s, the new bridge was the focus of interesting stories.
Besides presenting traffic information, the Auto Club used The Holiday News Services to promote tourism in Michigan. The reporting on the number of chicken dinners sold at two well-known restaurants in Frankenmuth became a regular feature each holiday; the reporting also was a way to gauge tourism. Reports highlighted places to see--from museums to lighthouses. The holiday teams made sure to cover such regular events as the Mackinac Bridge Walk on Labor Day (the first of which had been in 1958), and special little events, such as the annual pasty bakes at Paul Bunyon Pasties at St. Ignace during the Memorial Day Holidays (the first of which had been in 1987 and the last of which was 1998).
For the Labor Day weekend of 1977, the "'Bring 'em Back Alive' Holiday News Service" strongly promoted a new safety campaign initiated by Michigan State Police Commander Col. Gerald Hough. His program--called "Operation C.A.R.E." (for "Combined Accident Reduction Effort")--called for state police troopers in Michigan to do extra duty patrolling for drunk drivers and speeders; the program was not only initiated in Michigan but also in Ohio, Indiana, and Illinois simultaneously through Col. Hough's efforts. The campaign prospered for several years--it was taken up by other police agencies in the state and by police agencies around the country.
Operation C.A.R.E. spawned "Operation C.A.R.E." rest areas. Clubs, such as REACT groups ("Radio Emergency Associated Citizen Teams"), began setting up rest stops along the main roads during the summer Holiday weekends, or, more specifically, they set up refreshment stands or sites at rest areas and the like. Volunteers at these refreshment stands provided and still do provide motorists with soft drinks or coffee and snacks.
The September 1980 issue of "Reader's Digest" published a small story about The Holiday News Service program for all Americans to read. The information was supplied by Len Barnes. The title was "Bring 'em Back Alive!" The short article was:
"Can listening to your car radio make you a safe driver? Analysis of summer-holiday-weekend traffic fatalities in Michigan indicates that the answer is yes. While fatalities on U.S. highways over the three summer-holidays were 33 percent higher in the 1968-78 decade than in the previous decade, they were 6 percent lower in Michigan. The only factor present in Michigan's safety program but missing in other states is a special 168-station, travel-information radio program. Begun in 1965 by the Automobile Club of Michigan, 'Bring 'Em Back Alive!' consists of a one-minute report hourly from 9 a.m. to 11 p.m. during each holiday. The reports give traffic conditions, directions on how to avoid tie-ups, information on where to find motel rooms and campsites, and traffic safety tips."
The Holiday News Services always ended with a final report--a "wrap-up report." For the first holiday--Memorial Day 1965--the final report was presented to stations on the final night. For the July 4th holiday of 1965, the wrap-up report was given on the morning of the day following the holiday, and, every summer holiday thereafter, the wrap-up was given on the morning of the day following the holiday; however, the last report on the last night of a holiday always had sort of wrap-up information or highlights about the holiday, such as information about unusual events and how tourism seemed to have gone. As a rule, the true "wrap-up reports" contained conclusions about the holiday traffic fatalities and offered heartfelt thank-you words to the stations that aired the reports and to the many police officers around the state who contributed information and helped keep the roads safe. And each wrap-up report often ended with a line similar with the following: "This is the Triple A 'Bring 'Em Back Alive' Holiday news service signing off until...."
The final Holiday News Service was the Holiday News Service of the 2001 Labor Day weekend.
This short section presents some traffic information compiled by the Auto Club. For the first 45 summer holidays reported on by the Auto Club, starting with the Memorial Day Holiday of 1965, there were 1,306 fatalities. The following five sentences show some conclusions that were drawn from studying the 1,306 fatalities.
"Drinking was involved in 36 percent of the fatal accidents and suspected in 61 percent."
"72.2 percent of the accidents occurred within 25 miles of the driver's home."
"68 percent occurred on two-lane roads and only 8.1 percent occurred on freeways."
"47.1 percent of the drivers involved in the fatal crashes were 25 and under although that age group accounts for only 25.3 percent of drivers."
"82.4 percent of the drivers involved were male."
This short section contains some recent information about traffic accidents in Michigan; the information was supplied by the Michigan Department of State Police (Office of Highway Safety Planning).
In 1994, of the 1,262 fatal crashes, 474 (or 37.6 percent) involved alcohol in some way; of the 1,419 persons killed, 530 (or 37.4 percent) were alcohol-related accidents; and of the 142,192 persons injured, 11,297 (or 7.9 percent) were injured in accidents related to the use of alcohol.
In 1995, of the 1,386 fatal crashes, 512 (or 36.9 percent) were accidents in which alcohol was involved; of the 1,537 persons killed, 566 (or 36.8 percent) were alcohol-related; and of the 146,301 persons injured, 16,190 (or 11.1 percent) were injured in accidents related to drivers using alcohol.
The November 1998 edition of "Michigan Living" (page four) noted these statistics about 1997. About 61,000 motorists were arrested in Michigan for drunk driving. About 44,000 drivers with Michigan licenses had at least three drunk-driving convictions. And about 38 percent of the traffic-fatality accidents in Michigan were related to drunken driving.
Since the early days of the automobile, people have been concerned about "safety" in relation to the automobile. Over the years, many laws have been enacted to, for example, make vehicles more safe, which was especially true in the 1960s, or to attempt to keep drunk drivers off the roads, and laws have been passed to make vehicles less polluting. This section looks at some of the laws that relate to vehicle safety and pollution.
The safety of children in vehicles has been an important concern for many years, of course. On April 1, 1981, an important new law took effect in Michigan, and the theme of the law was children and safety devices or safety belts. The law required the using of approved child restraint devices or seats with children less than one year of age no matter where the children would be in a vehicle, and children between the ages of one and four were required to be in restraints when in either the front seat or the back seat, and if they were in the back seat, they were allowed to be in standard safety belts.
In Michigan, state vehicle emission inspection programs began to appear on January 1, 1985. On that date, most vehicles registered to people living in Wayne, Oakland, and Macomb Counties became obligated to get their vehicles tested for exhaust emissions, and the vehicles had to pass the tests before the people could get license plates for the vehicles. One reason the testing system was enacted by the state government was the federal government was going to hold back giving money to the state for road construction unless air quality was improved in southeastern Lower Michigan.
Also, in 1985, a mandatory seat-belt law was enacted in Michigan; the law was signed by Governor Jim Blanchard on March 8, 1985. Starting on July 1, 1985, everyone riding in a front seat of a moving vehicle was required to be buckled up, or the owner of the vehicle could be given a traffic citation for having unbuckled people in the vehicle; however, police officers could not stop a vehicle upon seeing people unbuckled--police had to stop a vehicle for some other reason and see that people were unbuckled, and then the officers could give out citations. Around the same time, mandatory seat-belt laws were enacted in New York and New Jersey.
In April 1989, a trucking law (signed in late 1988 by Governor James Blanchard) became effective in Michigan. One provision of the law required that all trucks carrying loose loads, such as gravel, must have covers, such as tarpaulins, covering the loose loads. Another provision stated that truckers must stay in the two right lanes on multiple-lane roads, except when passing.
On April 1, 1997, the "Graduated Driver Licensing" law (or "GDL" law) went into effect in Michigan, and the law was designed to gradually increase driving privileges for young persons who were becoming regular drivers on the roads.
On Friday, October 1, 1999, new laws--32 new laws--related to drunk driving or driving under the influence of drugs went into effect. For instance, today, if a person is arrested for a third time in relation to driving drunk, the person's vehicle can be immobilized for from one year to three years. And another of the laws sets it up so that a person who is convicted of driving drunk for a third time would has to enter a substance-abuse program.
The latest big safety belt law for motorists in Michigan was passed in 1999, and on March 10, 2000, the law became effective. The law was considered the "Click It or Ticket" law, which was the name generically used by the state in the promotional campaign about the law. The law now allowed police to stop vehicles if the drivers or front-seat passengers were not buckled up; before March 10, 2000, police had not been allowed to stop a vehicle because a person was not buckled up in the front seat. Some of the other features of the new law were (1) children from four years of age to 15 years of age had to be properly restrained wherever they were seated within a vehicle and (2) children younger than four years of age had to be in an approved child safety seat at all times.
And here are two more laws. Starting March 28, 2001, it became against the law to have a person that is younger than 18 years of age ride in the open bed of a pickup truck when the pickup truck is going faster than 15 miles an hour; there are exceptions in the law, such as when the vehicle is used on a farm or in a parade. And beginning March 28, 2001, motorists now had to be more careful when driving by police and other emergency workers along the roads, such as by slowing down and, if possible, moving over one lane away from a police vehicle that is parked along the road and has the flashers flashing.
By the way, the "Editorials" section of the November 1955 edition of "Motor News" had this interesting piece of information: "General Motors Corporation is to be commended by all motorists for its most recent boost to high school driver training programs. When driver-training was just beginning back in 1937, American Automobile Association appealed to various auto manufacturers to supply dual control cars to high schools. First company to join the program was Pontiac Motor Division of General Motors. The program grew throughout the nation, and particularly in Michigan, with all auto manufacturers joining in. After World War II when cars were hard to get, several manufacturers gave a car over regular quota to each auto dealer who would lend one to a high school driver training program for a year. Last year in Michigan, 420 cars were loaned to high schools through cooperation of dealers and Auto Club of Michigan with manufacturers. But because of shifting market values of new and used cars, dealers are beginning to find it costs them money to loan a car for a year. To encourage all of its dealers to cooperate even more fully in the program, General Motors recently announced it would give a special allowance to its dealers who loan new cars to high schools for this fine accident-prevention program...."
The word "icicle" in "Icicle Service" should make a reader think about winter, and that is the way it should be. The Icicle Service (which at some time became more known as the "Icicle News Service") was a winter traffic reporting service. It was begun on November 29, 1965, and it was shut down on March 31, 2000, and it usually offered traffic reports to radio stations on a Monday-through-Saturday basis, and during most of the time period, it was a morning service.
From 1966 to 2000, The Icicle News Service was most often in operation at times between 5:00 a.m. and 9:00 a.m. between late November and late March. The service began by offering reports about road conditions. Not long after it was started, the staffers were also providing ski reports.
Through the years, at least one report was scheduled for each participating station each morning. But on days when the weather was poor--maybe blizzard-like--extra reports were compiled and offered to the stations. The service had on occasion run late into the afternoon and even well into the evening to keep up with changing conditions--especially when the conditions changed for the worse.
Each winter season till the very early 1970s, the Icicle staff was mostly made up of staffers of Motor News and other departments within the company; staffers of the Motor News Department were the head writers and main broadcasters. In the early 1970s, part-timers, such as broadcast students of Wayne State University, began to be hired to do broadcasting chores. And, by the fall of 1976, part-time broadcasters were doing almost all the broadcasting duties, as they would for all the years to come.
By the mid-1970s, members of the Motor News department writing staff rotated as head writers and head broadcasters; that is, for example, by 1976, a staffer got up extra early every morning for one week to go to work and put together the Icicle reports for the full Icicle team, and then someone else worked the next week, and someone else again worked the next week, et cetera. Starting in the fall of 1988, Caren Collins became the "broadcast supervisor," a new position in the Public Relations Department; one responsibility of the broadcast supervisor was to be the regular head writer and broadcaster for The Icicle News Service every weekday morning and supervise the remainder of the Icicle team, who were part-time broadcasters. With the start up of the 1988-89 Icicle News Service, the rotating-writer concept was discontinued, and the concept was never revived.
After Caren Collins resigned in April 1994, Debbie Pearson took over the duties of the broadcast supervisor (having been officially declared the broadcast supervisor), and Suzanne Easa (whose main air name at AAA Michigan was Suzanne Easton) was hired to be a regular broadcaster on duty five days a week in the public relations department. Starting in the fall of 1994, Suzanne Easa (who had a broadcasting background) was the senior broadcaster for The Icicle News Service, and she did the main writing for The Icicle News Service. Between the fall of 1994 and the close of the service, the on-staff broadcaster was the regular writer for The Icicle News Services in the morning.
For the 1994-1995 winter, The Icicle News Service took on a new form and was expanded. A regular afternoon service was begun--running from about 3:00 p.m. to 7:00 p.m. Monday through Thursday; for the most part, stations who requested reports on Fridays were already covered by The Weekend News Service, but an extra broadcaster did work on Fridays to cover additional stations not already on The Weekend News Service roster, such as a number of stations in Upper Michigan that were taking reports from the afternoon edition of The Icicle News Service on the other weekdays. During this year (1994-1995), Suzanne Easa was the head broadcaster and writer for the morning edition, and Robert Morosi was the head broadcaster and writer for the afternoon edition. The morning and afternoon editions of The Icicle News Service were well received by stations, and, because of that, morning and afternoon editions were set up for the following winter, and for the winter of 1995-1996, Robert Morosi was the head broadcaster and writer for the morning edition, and Jim Miller was the head broadcaster and writer for the afternoon edition.
From the 1994-1995 season through the 1999-2000 season, The Icicle News Service had a morning edition and an afternoon edition. At the end of The Icicle News Service for the 1999-2000 season, on Friday, March 31, 2000, The Icicle News Service ceased to exist. In essence, the morning and afternoon Icicle News Service editions became the broadcast part of a new service, the "AAA Traffic Network," which started out as a broadcast traffic service that was to run on a Monday-through-Friday basis (in the mornings and afternoons) throughout the year.
The final traffic report for The Icicle News Service was only a report about the roads in Upper Michigan for the afternoon of March 31, 2000, since The Weekend News Service was yet operating; The Weekend News Service provided the traffic report about the roads in Lower Michigan. The final report for The Icicle News Service, written by John Zadikian, was this report:
AAA Traffic Network
Upper Peninsula Report
Friday, March 31, 2000 -- 3:30 PM JZ
No foolin'...we're counting up miles of sun-drenched roads across Upper Michigan on this day before April Fools Day and the 2000 Census deadline.
Blue skies as far as the eye can see in the Straits of Mackinac today. Traffic along the famous bridge is moderate with no delays reported through the toll plaza.
Splendid sunshine and mild temperatures greet US-2 motorists this afternoon. Police report light to medium traffic is moving at posted the speeds or better on all the main roads from St. Ignace to Escanaba and Kingsford to Wakefield.
M-28 is looking great, with clear skies and dry pavement at Sault Ste. Marie, Newberry and Munising today. We're also finding marvelous conditions in Marquette and Negaunee along M-28, M-35 and US-41. Commuters along US-41 are enjoying a fabulous Friday ride home. Traffic is light to medium and moving along well in the south at Menominee and Stephenson. Farther north, it's lovely at L'Anse and beautiful at Baraga with dry pavement and sunny skies today. Clear skies and no adverse road conditions are also the call for this last day of March at Houghton-Hancock, Calumet and Ontonagon.
Remember...we count on you to make us the ones to count on. Call us toll free when you see a tie-up or fender-bender at 1-877-847-7623. From AAA Michigan, I'm...
You should see that the heading of the report has "AAA Traffic Network." Mr. Zadikian was using "AAA Traffic Network" already, even though the service was still officially The Icicle News Service. And that was what The Icicle News Service was.
When the first broadcasters took to the air for The Holiday News Service of the 1965 Memorial Day Weekend, the road system in Lower Michigan was much simpler than it is today. Much of the interstate freeway system did not exist; however, there were sections of real freeway. Often people traveled on two-lane blacktop roads and even dirt or gravel roads--bumpy dirt or gravel roads.
Twenty-one years before the first Holiday News Service would be in operation, the U.S. Congress passed the Federal-Aid Highway Act of 1944, which authorized the Federal Interstate Highway System, a system to be developed by the states and the federal government; the system--at first--was to be made up of about 40,000 miles of roadway. The system was decided upon by the 48 highway departments of the states in the contiguous U.S., and the interstate system was designed to be currently available roads, which might or might not be improved, and roads yet to be built. Well into the 1950s, states were not rushing to build new roadway--the new Interstate Freeway System.
It must be noted that the Federal Aid Highway Act of 1956 was an important aid program. Through the Act, the federal share of money for constructing the system was increased to 90 percent. And the law added the word "Defense" to the system name, for it was believed that the Interstate Freeway System was important for defense.
In 1960, red-white-and-blue markers signifying interstate freeway began to appear in Michigan. The March 1960 edition of "Motor News" noted: "...The shield-type Interstate marker is now making its appearance on completed sections of the 41,000-mile National System of Interstate and Defense Highways. The Interstate 75 markers, now in place on the Detroit-Toledo Expressway, replaced the black and white US-24A signs. When completed, Interstate 75 will run from Sault Ste. Marie to Tampa, Fla." Also, the article in "Motor News" stated: "Interstate 94 (presently designated US-12) will be the next Michigan expressway to be signed with the new markers."
In the early 1960s, a lot of road construction took place to make new roads. By May 1961, I-94 was completed between Harper Woods (near Detroit) and Stevensville (near St Joseph), which was about 203 miles of road; US-12 was yet the connector between I-94 and the Indiana Toll Road at Michigan City, Indiana. By August 1961, I-94 had only three rest areas.
The May 1962 edition of "Motor News" reported that about 12,300 miles of four-lane divided highway existed in the United States and that the amount was about 30 percent of the roughly 41,000 miles proposed to be completed by 1972. The article noted that Michigan had about 471.2 miles of such highway by mid-1962. Also, by this time, there were about 2,303 miles of toll highway in the U.S.
By January 1964, Detroit had about 25 miles of highway. Somewhat recently, I-75 (the Chrysler Freeway) had been opened from Congress Street to I-94 (the Ford freeway); I-75 from 11 Mile Road to Stephenson Highway had become connected with a section of I-75 northeast of Pontiac. And people had seen the opening of I-94 between Metropolitan Parkway near Mt. Clemens and Marysville (near Port Huron).
Over the next ten years or so, motorists would quickly become accustomed to using an ever-expanding Interstate Freeway System in Michigan, which was about 775-miles long in February 1965 and included the recently completed John C. Lodge Freeway in the Detroit area. I-196 between the east edge of Grand Rapids and M-21 (east of Grandville) had been completed near the end of 1964. And I-375 (six-tenths of a mile) had been opened in Detroit on Nov. 25, 1964.
With the opening of three miles and a third of I-94 in Indiana near the Indiana/Illinois border, there were only 28 miles of I-94 in Indiana to be completed before I-94 would be complete between Detroit and Chicago. Another section of I-94 in Indiana was completed in November 1971, but the route was not complete in Indiana, yet, and motorists still had to use a portion of Indiana 39 (the "Cornfield Carblock" area) through much of 1972. I-94 between Detroit and Chicago--referred to by some people as the "Chicago-Detroit Expressway--was finally completed on Nov. 2, 1972.
I-75 had yet to be completed in Michigan at the start of 1973. A stretch of the freeway had to be completed between West Branch and M-18 near Grayling. The final stretch of I-75 in Michigan--about 28 miles--was completed in late 1973 (circa December 1973), and that made I-75 about 395-miles long in Michigan.
The following events were taking place in 1974-75 era. Road crews were striving to open the final portion of I-196 between Holland and Grandville by the end of 1974. Construction was being done on I-475 (the Buick Freeway) between I-75 and M-41 in the Flint area, and plans were in the works to make a section of I-475 between M-21 and Saginaw Street, and 30 miles of I-275 were being laid. The widening of existing freeways was taking place, such as on I-75 in southern Wayne County and northern Monroe County, on I-75 in the Birch Run area, and on I-94 in the area of the Wayne County/Washtenaw County line.
Essentially, by the 1980s, the Interstate Freeway System was completed in Michigan. However, after six years of construction, a section of I-69 was finally opened between Port Huron and Lapeer on December 14, 1989, and that meant that motorists had an alternative to M-21 between those two cities. After 32 years in the works, the I-696 freeway was finally opened end to end--between I-94 and I-275 in southeastern Lower Michigan--on December 14, 1989; construction of the last section of the freeway, about 9.1 miles of the route in Oakland County (between Lahser and I-75), had been held up by lawsuits, such as by environmental groups. On Thursday, October 15, 1992, the last section of I-69 was opened up--a two-mile section near Lansing. With I-69 now complete between Port Huron and Indiana, Michigan now had about 1,241 miles of interstate freeway (or 2.9 percent of the Interstate Freeway System in the country), and, after 36 years of construction, the Interstate Freeway System in Michigan was complete.
Over the years, the staffers of the news services saw many changes with the road system in the state, and changes are still being done. Every summer, construction work is being done somewhere; in fact, the state is very likely to have up to anywhere between 80 and 120 big construction projects in progress during the normal construction season (April through late November), and when work is being done on the Interstate Freeway System, the work is usually done to replace or to widen roadway (such as to add lanes, a trend that was already underway in the mid-1970s). If there is a thing that a driver can be certain to see in Michigan, it is a construction site.
Funding road construction -- In 1984, the government of Michigan froze the Michigan gas tax on a gallon of gasoline at 15 cents. In 1996 and early 1997, people were complaining about the condition of the road system in the state, especially voicing anger about the potholes. The Michigan legislature and Governor John Engler made a new gas-tax law in July 1997, and motorists started to pay an additional four cents in tax on a gallon of gasoline on August 1, 1997; the additional tax did not apply to diesel fuel, which was still taxed at a rate of 15 cents a gallon (as a motor carrier fuel tax). A story in "The Detroit News" (August 1, 1997) had information about the gasoline taxes being charged motorists in Michigan in August 1997, as reported by Neil Geary of Amoco; the taxes were a state tax of 15 cents, a federal excise tax of 18.3 cents, a state sales tax of 5.4 cents, and a shrinkage allowance (a state tax) of 0.1 cents, which added up to 48.8 cents. By the way, in 1997, funding for road construction or repair could come from such sources as the Michigan Transportation Program, the Surface Transportation Program (a federal program), and even the Economic Development Fund (a federal program).
This section closes with notes about five bridges and one famous tunnel in the state of Michigan. Of the six bridges--the Ambassador, the old Blue Water, the new Blue Water, the International, the Mackinac, the Portage Lake, and the Zilwaukee--the Portage Lake rarely received attention by staffers of the news services, since it received only a nominal amount of traffic. Between the late 1980s and 2000, little was reported about the Ambassador Bridge in traffic reports from AAA Michigan, since managers at the bridge in the 1980s became somewhat perturbed at AAA Michigan for giving information about backups--even if very long backups--at the bridge, which the managers thought was sending travelers to the Detroit-Windsor Tunnel and reducing revenue at the bridge. In addition, not much information was reported about the Detroit-Windsor Tunnel during the period from the late 1980s to 2000, because operators at the tunnel became somewhat perturbed about having information about backups passed along to travelers, even if there were long backups.
Ambassador Bridge -- This bridge is one of two links for automobiles and many other vehicles between Detroit (Michigan) and Windsor (Ontario, Canada). The bridge has a 47-foot-wide roadway and an eight-foot-wide sidewalk (which is on the west side). The total length is 7,490 feet; the distance between the U.S. terminal and the Canadian terminal is about one mile and three quarters.
Construction of the bridge began on May 12, 1927, about a month before a local referendum would pass on June 28, 1927, that would allow for the collecting of local funds to build the bridge; construction had to begin before May 12, 1927, or the franchise for the bridge would expire. McClintic-Marshall, which had gained and signed a general construction contract on July 20, 1927--a contract that had been made operative on August 16, 1927--had the bridge ready for operation on November 11, 1929. Officially, the bridge was opened to traffic for the first time on November 15, 1929.
The Ambassador Bridge is operated and managed by the Detroit International Bridge Company, as it has been for many decades.
Blue Water International Bridges -- The Blue Water International Bridges is two bridges, which are side by side and cross over the St. Clair River in the Port Huron (Michigan)/Point Edward (Ontario) area. The first bridge was created in the mid-1930s, and the second bridge was put together about fifty years later. This section examines both bridges, starting with the first.
The older bridge, informally and popularly referred to as the Blue Water Bridge, was designed by Modjeski & Masters (of Harrisburg, Pennsylvania), which supervised the construction of the bridge and worked in association with a Canadian firm called Monsarrat & Pratley (of Montreal, Quebec). Motorists first were allowed to cross this one-mile-and-a-quarter cantilever bridge on October 10, 1938; construction had begun on June 24, 1937, under the direction of the State Bridge Authority of Michigan. Today, the bridge is owned and operated by the Michigan Department of Transportation (for the American section) and by the Blue Water Bridge Authority (for the Canadian section), the latter of which began handling duties of owning and operating it in 1962.
For many years, the 32-foot-wide bridge having three lanes was sufficient for handling the amount of traffic crossing between the U.S.A. and Canada in the area (often informally thought of as the Port Huron (Michigan)/Sarnia (Ontario) area). Times change, and so did the volumes of traffic. In the 1990s, it was clear that changes had to be made to the Blue Water Bridge in some way.
On June 20, 1995, construction began on a second bridge or span that would provide three more lanes for traffic, and several contractors or construction firms were taking part in the venture, one of which was Modjeski & Masters/Buckland & Taylor (a joint venture from Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, and Vancouver, B.C., Canada). This 1.22-mile new span was being constructed by the Blue Water Bridge Authority and the Michigan Department of Transportation (once known as the Department of State Highways and Transportation). The second bridge was completed in mid-1997. After construction of the new bridge was completed, a celebration took place on the July 12-13, 1997, weekend; for instance, on Saturday, July 12, at 3:00 p.m., there was a ribbon-cutting ceremony, at which Governor John Engler appeared, and, on Saturday, there was a fireworks display at 10:10 p.m., and, on Sunday afternoon, people were able to walk on the bridge and see it up close. The new bridge, which is south of the original bridge, was opened to traffic on Tuesday, August 5, 1997, and, on that day, the original bridge was closed so that it could be renovated. The original bridge was reopened a little after eight o'clock in the morning on Saturday, November 13, 1999.
The original bridge is used to carry traffic from Canada to the U.S.A., and the new bridge is used to carry traffic from the U.S.A. to Canada.
By the way, on Thursday, October 23, 1999, the old Blue Water Bridge was used during a location shoot for a movie involving Jimmy Smits and Kim Basinger, both of whom appeared at the bridge on the day of filming. Staffer Sharon Deluca of the bridge (on the American side) noted for this history that, at around four in the afternoon on October 23, traffic was halted on the new bridge so that an explosion scene could be shot on the old bridge. And, at the time, the working title for the film was "Bless the Child."
Detroit-Windsor Tunnel -- On November 3, 1930, this famous tunnel was opened to traffic traveling between Detroit (Michigan) and Windsor (Ontario, Canada). The initial cost was about $23 million. Construction crews took about two years and a half to complete the project, which is 5,160-feet long (or 1,573-meters long) and about 22-feet wide and 13-feet-two-inches high. Until late March 1997, the tunnel was operated by the Detroit and Canada Tunnel Corporation, a publicly held company. Today, the Detroit and Windsor Tunnel Corporation runs the bridge from day to day; however, since late March 1997, the Detroit and Canada Tunnel Corporation has been owned by the John Hancock Mutual Life Insurance Company, which bought all outstanding stock and became the parent company of the Detroit and Canada Tunnel Corporation.
International Bridge -- The full title of this green-and-ivory bridge is the Sault Ste. Marie International Bridge. This nearly three-mile-long bridge--officially 2.8 miles of bridge--makes it possible for motorists to travel easily between Sault Ste. Marie, Michigan, U.S.A., and Sault Ste. Marie, Ontario, Canada. The bridge, which was financed through revenue bonds by the International Bridge Authority, cost about $20 million dollars to construct and was completed in 1962; construction had started on September 16, 1960. Vehicle traffic began to flow over the bridge on October 31, 1962, and the toll rates in 1962 were $1.25 for one-way passage and $1.80 for round-trip travel. The last major work on the bridge took place from the summer of 1996 through the summer of 1999, a time during which construction workers were involved in several individual construction projects to repave the bridge. In September 2000, the last remaining bonds used to construct the bridge were retired, and a long-term agreement was signed between the state of Michigan and the government of Canada to run the bridge through an entity called the Joint International Bridge Authority (or the JIBA); the American entity involved with the bridge has been the International Bridge Authority (or the IBA, which is a unit of the Michigan Department of Transportation), which oversees the day-to-day running of the bridge.
Mackinac Bridge -- This roughly five-mile-long bridge spans the Straits of Mackinac between the two peninsulas of Michigan. The bridge, which was given main tower that reach 552-feet high and was designed to withstand winds up to 632 miles an hour, was opened to vehicle traffic on November 1, 1957; the ground-breaking ceremonies at Mackinaw City and St. Ignace had taken place on May 7, 1954. The bridge replaced a ferry service, which had been established by the State Highway Department. The bridge is operated by the Mackinac Bridge Authority (or MBA). By the way, in the early 1990s, radio transmitters were set up at the bridge to broadcast traffic messages, and the frequencies currently being used are 1530 AM and 1610 AM.
Every Labor Day, since 1958, the Mackinac Bridge has been the site of a special event in which walkers can cross the Mackinac Bridge between about 7:00 a.m. and 2:30 p.m. The "walks" have been led by governors of the state of Michigan; the first governor to take part was Governor G. Mennon "Soapy" Williams. The first walk had about 100 participants.
Since the early 1970s, many bicyclists from around the state and, maybe, around the country have taken part in the annual Labor Day Mackinac Bridge Walks, and many of the bicyclists have been apart of one particular annual biking event, "DALMAC," which stands for "Dick Allen Lansing Mackinac." Around the time of each Labor Day weekend, DALMAC bikers ride from the Lansing area to the Mackinac Bridge, a ride that begins on Wednesday and ends on Sunday afternoon; in the 1990s, it was common for about 1,500 bikers to take part in each ride. Barry Cullum, the 1997 chairman for DALMAC, said that, in 1971, Dick Allen was a state representative who wanted to prove that "bicycles" were a viable means of transportation and that, in 1971, Dick Allen and about a dozen other persons set out to prove the point by bicycling between Lansing and the Mackinac Bridge. And in 1997, Barry Cullum was unsure if the bikers took part in the Labor Day Bridge Walk in 1971, but Cullum did report that, since at least 1973, DALMAC bikers have taken part in the annual event.
Portage Lake Lift Bridge -- This bridge--sometimes referred to as the Portage Lake Vertical Lift Bridge--is at the Houghton County Marina, Houghton, which is in the Keweenaw Peninsula; more specifically, it is at Houghton and Hancock, and the bridge is a portion of US-41, and it links Houghton and Hancock. Costing about $11 million to build, the bridge was opened to traffic in December 1959. It is a double-decked vertical lift bridge, having a total length of 1,310 feet and a total height--above the piers--of 188 feet. The length of the lift span is 260 feet, and the channel clearance or width is 250 feet. The last major renovation of the bridge, which included paving, was done in 2000 (completed in the fall of 2000).
Zilwaukee Bridge -- The bridge referred to in this section is the current bridge, which was completed in late 1989. More on this bridge and the bridge that it replaced is covered elsewhere in this "portrait." Officially, the Zilwaukee Bridge is part of I-75 in the Saginaw area and crosses the Saginaw River.
WEEKEND NEWS SERVICE
The third major news service for the Auto Club was put in operation by the Motor News Department in 1969. At first, The Weekend News Service began as a part-time service--that is, a service run only part of the year. All through the history of The Weekend News Service--when it was in operation--it was in operation on Friday afternoons and evenings and Sunday afternoons and evenings.
Generally speaking, the service offered up to eleven reports to stations during a weekend. On Fridays, up till the early 1990s, the staffers worked from 3:00 p.m. to 11:00 p.m. and made five reports ready for stations at these times: 3:30 p.m., 5:00 p.m., 7:00 p.m., 8:40 p.m., and 10:00 p.m.; from the early 1990s to the day the service was shut down, the Friday edition of the service began at about 2:30 p.m., but the ready times for the reports were as they had been for decades. On Sundays, the staffers worked from 2:00 p.m. to 11:00 p.m. and issued reports at 2:30 p.m., 4:00 p.m., 5:40 p.m., 7:00 p.m., 8:40 p.m., and 10:00 p.m. In addition to the regular reports, the staffers from time to time produced special additional reports and updates.
Facts from January/February 1974, which were uncovered in 1999, indicate that The Weekend News Service began as a one-person operation in 1969. It seems, in the beginning, the news service provided reports to at least or about 10 stations, and the stations were at least WWJ-AM (Detroit), WJR-AM (Detroit), CKLW-AM (Windsor), WDEE (Detroit), which had been WJBK, WKNR-AM (Dearborn), which in a couple years would become known as WNIC-AM, WQTE-AM, WBRB (Mt. Clemens), WTRX-AM (Flint), WKNX-AM (in Frankenmuth, but thought of as in Saginaw by the news service), and WBCM (Bay City). In 1972, The Weekend News Service was made a two-person operation, and more stations were added to the service, and at least these stations were added to the service--WXYZ-AM (Detroit), WJLB-AM (Detroit), WAAM-AM (Ann Arbor), WPON-AM (Pontiac), WHLS-AM (Port Huron), WFDF-AM (Flint), WTAC-AM (Flint), WGMZ (Flint), WKMF (Flint), WSGW (Saginaw), WXOX (Bay City), WKYO (Caro), WMPX-AM (in Midland and formerly known as WMDN), WCHP (Mt. Pleasant), WHGR (Houghton Lake), WATC (Gaylord), WWRM-FM (Gaylord), WCER (Charlotte), and WHSB-AM (Alpena), which simulcasted with WHAK (Rogers City). In 1973, when the service was still a two-person operation every Friday and Sunday, some more stations were added to the service, and the stations were at least--WCAR-AM (Detroit), WOMC-FM (Ferndale), WSHJ (Southfield), WPAG-AM (Ann Arbor), WPHM-AM (Port Huron), WITL (Lansing), WTHM (Lapeer), WBMB (West Branch), WLEW (Bad Axe), and WCRM (Clare). The pile of information from 1974 also shows that WGER-FM (Bay City) was a station that was being handled in winter 1974 by The Weekend News Service, and it is unclear when the station was added to the service, but it seems very likely that the station was not added to the service any sooner than 1972. The service was a two-person operation in 1974; for example, in winter 1974, one staffer of the Motor News Department was the head broadcaster and writer, and staffers of the department worked on a rotation basis, and the other person of the service was a part-time employee.
For most of the history of The Weekend News Service, the staffers put together reports about the roads in Lower Michigan only, and the radio stations were located mostly in Lower Michigan. On-and-off for short periods in the 1970s and 1980s, The Weekend News Service did provide reports to a radio station at St. Ignace, and the reports had information about road conditions in Lower Michigan; the station had a history of being on the air for only short periods--plagued by budget problems. On Friday, May 2, 1997, The Weekend News Service began offering one traffic report about road conditions in Upper Michigan on Friday afternoons to several radio stations in Upper Michigan, and the stations were WAAH-FM (Houghton), WFXD-FM (Marquette), and WSOO-AM (Sault Ste. Marie). On Friday, December 1, 1997, The Weekend News Service began collecting information about road conditions in Upper Michigan beyond that of the one report on Friday afternoon; on that day, for example, WUPY in Ontonagon began taking up to two reports each Friday and Sunday. Right after the end of The Icicle News Service for the 1997-1998 season, The Weekend News Service was providing some traffic reports about Upper Michigan to these radio stations in Upper Michigan: WAAH (Houghton), WDBC (Escanaba), WHCH (Munising), WSOO (Sault Ste. Marie), and WUPY (Ontonagon).
Between 1969 and August 1976, the staffers of The Weekend News Service were made up of employees of the Motor News department, employees of other departments in the company, and part-time broadcasters from various backgrounds, such as students; the Motor News staffers, such as Bill Banks, Bob Boelio, and Bill Poirier, were the head writers and broadcasters. Very soon after the July Fourth Holiday of 1976, when quite a few students from WAYN-AM radio at Wayne State University had been used as broadcasters, The Weekend News Service took on several students from WAYN-AM radio as regular part-time broadcasters, one of whom was Victor Swanson, who joined the service on August, 20, 1976. Now, staffers from the Motor News department--Evelyn August, Bill Banks, Bill Semion, Len Bokuniewicz, and sometimes Bob Boelio--and Bob Lewis (who was an employee elsewhere at the Auto Club) rotated weekly as head writers and head broadcasters for the service, and the part-time employees working as broadcasters worked on a weekly basis. On June 13, 1980, Victor Swanson was promoted to regular head writer and head broadcaster, and the service was no longer staffed by regular full-time members of the Motor News department or by staffers working in any other department within the company, and, from then on, The Weekend News Service staff was made up mostly of those who had broadcast backgrounds, instead of straight journalism or print-journalism backgrounds.
From 1969 to the early 1990s, the main sources of information about the road conditions were officers of the Department of Michigan State Police; for instance, the staffers of the service regularly polled staffers at about three dozens state police posts to obtain information for each report. Around 1991, information was not only coming from state police officials but also from county sheriff's officers, because the staffers of the service had to begin relying more on the county sheriff's departments, and the reason for the change was that the Department of Michigan State Police was going through cutbacks and was consolidating some radio dispatching operations--that is, some posts became central dispatch centers, doing all the dispatching for a number of nearby posts, which discontinued regular dispatching; since the dispatchers at the dispatch centers were often busy and were unable to get details from enough troopers on the roads every survey round, the staffers of the news service made more calls to county sheriff's officers to get details. During the mid-1990s, police--state police, county sheriff's officers, and local police (city police or township police)--created other types of dispatch centers, such as those that dispatched for state police, county police, and local police from one place. During the last few years of the 1990s, information about the roads in Michigan was obtained from state police posts or dispatch centers, county sheriff's departments, and even local police stations.
In late 1999, the staffers of The Weekend News Service learned that changes were going to take place with the broadcast business of AAA Michigan. What was learned was The Weekend News Service was going to be shut down and a new traffic service generically called the AAA Traffic Service was to be started. The first phase of the AAA Traffic Center began with the opening of the AAA Traffic Control Center on January 10, 2000; this center, for one, provided real-time traffic to the traffic portion of the Web site of AAA Michigan. On Sunday, April 2, 2000, the three members of The Weekend News Service--Ron Edwards, Jo-Jo Shutty-MacGregor, and Victor Swanson--gave their last broadcasts for radio stations.
The final report of The Weekend News Service was this report (which was written by Victor Swanson):
AAA Michigan Weekend News Service; VES
No. 6; 4-2-2000; time: 10:00 p.m. -- AAA Michigan has no reports of any big problems with the main roads of Lower Michigan, and there are no reports of any wet road conditions anymore. Generally, light-to-medium traffic is moving well on the main roads of Lower Michigan.
Drivers should see only light traffic on both sides of I-75 between Mackinaw City and Grayling. There are light to light-to-medium conditions from Grayling to about Bay City. Generally, the southbound lanes of the freeway are medium from Bay City to Detroit. And the traffic is about medium on both sides of I-75 near Monroe. In all areas of Lower Michigan, motorists should expect to move at the posted speeds.
There are no unusual problems on the I-94 freeway in the state. Since the traffic is only light at Port Huron, motorists can move at the posted speeds. Between Detroit and Jackson, the volumes of traffic are lighter than they were last hour, and now there are mostly light conditions. Medium traffic is reported on I-94 near Battle Creek, Kalamazoo, and St. Joseph.
From Muskegon to about Grand Rapids, eastbound motorists are running in light-to-medium traffic on I-96. Right in Grand Rapids, there is yet medium traffic, and that's information from state police troopers on patrol. Elsewhere, I-96 is light-to-medium near Ionia and Lansing and medium at Brighton.
As usual for this hour on Sunday, not much traffic is using US-23 along Lake Huron in northeastern Lower Michigan. I n fact, the traffic is called light on both sides of the route in all areas. The few travelers on US-23 between Mackinaw City and Standish are moving at the posted speeds, since there is dry pavement.
Since last hour, the US-23 freeway has stayed dry in southeastern Lower Michigan, and no blockages have showed up. The Brighton state police have yet medium traffic on their section of southbound US-23. County police say that fairly light traffic is using US-23 in the Ann Arbor area.
Between Houghton Lake and Clare, northbound and southbound travelers are finding light traffic on both sides of US-27. Not all the vacationers in the northern half of Lower Michigan for the weekend are home. Southbound US-27 has medium traffic in the Ithaca area, for example. On US-27, motorists are moving easily on dry pavement.
Information from either state police or county sheriff's officials shows that US-131 is dry in the state. County police have light traffic on both sides of the main road near Petoskey, Kalkaska, Cadillac, and Reed City. In the Grand Rapids area, US-131 is about medium. Remember: A short section of US-131 is closed in both directions in Grand Rapids because of construction. Elsewhere, US-131 is moderate near Kalamazoo.
State police report that US-31 and the other main roads at Traverse City and Manistee are getting light use at this hour. There is no more than light-to-medium traffic between Hart and Muskegon, and the southbound lanes are getting more use than the northbound lanes are. Along Lake Michigan, US-31 is dry. Police in southwestern Lower Michigan have dry pavement for I-196 and US-31, and in that region, light traffic is the rule on both routes.
In most of the Thumb, the main roads, such as M-53, have light volumes of traffic. Some of the heaviest traffic in the region is reported by county police based at Caro. Near Caro, drivers will see some light-to-medium traffic on southbound M-24. At this late-evening hour, motorists are moving well on the main roads in the Thumb. By the way, watch out for deer ahead!
Staffers at the Mackinac Bridge have light volumes of traffic in both directions. A supervisor reports that there are no blockages on the famous bridge. And the supervisor reports that about 10,820 vehicles have crossed the Mackinac Bridge so far today.
State police report that four persons have died in traffic accidents in Michigan since the weekend began at 6:00 p.m. Friday. Remember: watch out for children this week, because sometimes they don't watch out for you. Bring 'em back alive! From AAA Michigan, I'm....
Some readers of the previous piece of copy might say that it seems rather long. That was the necessary style. And it had to be that way so that a station in any area of the state could be given enough material.
By the way, it was not the last piece of copy issued by the staffers of The Weekend News Service. A special thank-you was faxed to Central Operations in Lansing at 11:00 p.m. on Sunday, April 2, 2000. The thank-you was this:
To: Michigan State Police officials
(such as dispatchers, troopers sergeants, et cetera)
From: The last staffers of The
Weekend News Service of
AAA Michigan (Ron Edwards,
Jo-Jo Shutty-MacGregor, and
Date: Sunday, April 2, 2000
Dear Sirs and Madams:
In 1969, AAA Michigan (then known as the Automobile Club of Michigan) started up The Weekend News Service, which offered live traffic reports to radio stations in Michigan on Friday and Sunday afternoons and evenings. The first broadcaster/writer was Bill Banks (who died a few years ago). Over the years, there have not been too many members of The Weekend News Service team--some of the more recent former members (of the 1980s and 1990s) were Dave Frisco, Vic Doucette, Rob Morosi, Steve Jacobs, Brad Ettinger, Sherry Wilk, Sandra Washington, Todd Wilkerson, Bruce Drobot, and Marilynn Root. The last day of broadcasting for The Weekend News Service was April 2, 2000.
Although this letter was written by Victor Swanson, the letter is to express the thanks of The Weekend News Service--all the members--for providing information to the members of The Weekend News Service. This letter is clearly a thank-you to all associated with the Michigan State Police. However, it is also a thank-you to all other individuals associated with police agencies in the state, such as those working at county dispatch centers, all of whom the staffers of The Weekend News Service are unable to contact through this letter. The staffers of The Weekend News Service do hope the gratitude will be passed along to everyone someday.
Before the letter was sent out through fax, the three last members of The Weekend News Service signed the message at the bottom of the page. For the record, I list the radio stations that were associated with The Weekend News Service at the end. Keep in mind Victor Swanson, who was the head writer, did broadcasting for the stations of the "A" package; Ron Edward handled the "B" package; and Jo-Jo Shutty-MacGregor had the "C" package. Here is the list:
The "A" package contained: WAAM-AM (Ann Arbor); WABJ-AM (Adrian); WLEN-AM (Adrian); WTKA-AM (Ann Arbor); WOMC-FM (Ferndale); WBRN-AM (Big Rapids); WKNX-AM (Frankenmuth); WFUR-AM/FM (Grand Rapids); WUPY-FM (Ontonagon)/WCUP-FM (L'Anse), the former simulcast on the latter; WJSZ-FM (Owosso); WPON-AM (Pontiac); WHLS-AM (Port Huron); WMIC-AM/WTGV-FM (Sandusky); WLDR-FM (Traverse City); WLJN-AM (Traverse City); and WSDS-AM (Ypsilanti).
The "B" package contained: WUFN-AM (Albion); WATZ-AM/WATZ-FM (Alpena); WHSB-FM (Alpena); WHFR-FM (Dearborn); WCXT-FM (Hart); WCSR-AM/WCSR-FM (Hillsdale); WJKN-AM (Jackson); WKPR-AM (Kalamazoo); WMPX-AM/WMRX-FM (Midland); WUGN-FM (Midland); WCEN-FM (Mt. Pleasant); WDEE-FM (Reed City); WSOO-AM (Sault Ste. Marie); WKTL-FM (Traverse City); and WGNB-FM (Zeeland).
The "C" package contained: WLEW-AM/WLEW-FM (Bad Axe); WDBC-AM (Escanaba); WMJZ-AM/WMJZ-FM (Gaylord); WPHN-AM/WOLW-FM (Gaylord/Cadillac); WFGR-FM (Grand Rapids); WBCH-AM (Hastings); WKHM-AM (Jackson); WMPC-AM (Lapeer); WXYQ-FM (Manistee); WCFX-FM (Mt. Pleasant); WHCH-FM and WFXD-FM (a group focusing on Munising, Marquette, and Escanaba); WSGW-AM (Saginaw); WMLM-AM (Alma/St. Louis); and WTCM-AM/WTCM-FM (Traverse City).
In addition, the crew was doing other broadcasting duties around the time the service was shut down. WPHM-AM (Port Huron) was getting a twenty-minute-long events report--and only an events report--from Jo-Jo-Shutty MacGregor on Friday at around 5:40 p.m. On Friday, Ron Edwards was giving WATZ a fishing report. Each broadcaster was providing reports to voice-mail systems; Victor Swanson did the "AAA Newsline" (from which broadcasters could get recordings or "audio cuts") and the "Talking Phone Book" (of Noverr Publishing, Inc., Traverse City), and Ron Edwards did the "AAA Hotline" and the line for the "Huron Daily Tribune", and Jo-Jo Shutty-MacGregor did the lines of the "Midland Daily News," Ludington's "Info Plus," and the "Muskegon Chronicle" Info Source System.
From August 20, 1976 to April 2, 2000, The Weekend News Service staff covered a number of memorable stories or events. January 1982 was unusually cold and snowy , and the weather caused roads to be impassible in northwestern Lower Michigan on the Sunday of the first two weekends of the month, and Michiganians had a very cold day for the Super Bowl game at the Pontiac Silverdome. On Sunday, August 16, 1987, Victor Swanson, Marilynn Root, and Bruce Drobot were on duty when Northwest Flight 255 crashed at the intersection of Middlebelt Road and Wick Road near Detroit-Metropolitan Airport, moments after taking off at about 8:46 p.m.; the crash killed 158 persons, two of whom had been on the ground, and debris from the crash kept I-94 closed between Telegraph Road and Wayne Road till the following Tuesday, about four days before the only surviving passenger of the flight, four-year-old Cecelia Cichan, would wake up from a coma. Victor Swanson, Steve Jacobs, and Robert Morosi made up The Weekend News Service team that covered the terrible flooding in the Mid-West during the summer of 1993; by computer, they provided weekly information to the nation about closed main roads in the Mid-West. And The Weekend News Service staff also provided information (in association with the ECHOs Department of AAA National) about closed freeways in California in January 1994, because of an earthquake in the San Francisco area, about flooding problems in California around January 1995, and about flooding problems in Missouri, Illinois, and Kentucky in and around May 1995.
Weekend News Service Personnel (1969 through the weekend before August 20, 1976):
The head writers of The Weekend News Service during this period were employees of the Motor News Department, most notably Bill Banks. Some of the part-time broadcasters were Lee Schostak (who was around for about a year, circa 1973); Courtney Morgan (who started in late 1973 and was working through at least winter 1974); and Bob Stevens (who was around in 1974 and 1975). By the way, research shows that Paul Manzella (a student of Wayne State University and a member of student-run radio station WAYN-AM at the university in late 1973 and early 1974) subbed for Courtney Morgan on January 24, 1974, and it seems very likely that Paul Manzella was a regular on The Icicle News Service for the 1973-1974 season. [Note: This part is incomplete.]
Weekend News Service Personnel (August 20, 1976 to April 2, 2000, the final day):
Full-time department staffers were the writers and head broadcasters (broadcasting on radio stations in southeastern Lower Michigan, mostly the Detroit area) from August 20, 1976 to June 13, 1980. Before the 1980 date, the full-time Auto Club staffers (mostly of Motor News) who worked on a rotating weekly basis were: Bill Banks; Bob Boelio (only around 1976); Stan Meretsky (only very early in the period); Evelyn August (early in period); Bob Lewis; Len Bokuniewicz; and Bill Semion. Starting on June 13, 1980, Victor Swanson took over the writing--for every week (or, of course, every weekend). The part-time broadcasters--who were not on a rotating basis--were: Victor Swanson (August 20, 1976 to April 2, 2000); Donna Reed (circa late 1970s); T.S. Taylor (circa 1977); Arlene Gero (late 1970s till March 1982); Marilynn Root (replaced Arlene Gero and worked from March 1982 to September 1989); Kathy Schwarzhoff (circa early 1980s); Alisa Vento (circa late 1970s and early 1980s); Bruce A. Drobot (replaced Kathy Schwarzhoff and worked from early 1982 to late 1988); Todd Wilkerson (replaced Bruce Drobot, a few weeks after Drobot had resigned, and worked from very early 1989 till late 1989); Steve Jacobs (replaced Marilynn Root in September 1989 and worked till September 7, 1994); Sherry Wilk (started on May 11, 1990 and worked for a few months); Sandra Washington (replaced Sherry Wilk and worked till about spring 1991); Lee Thomas (replaced Todd Wilkerson and worked from late 1989 till somewhat late in 1990); Ron Dawson (also known as Ron Edwards, replaced Lee Thomas in 1990 and worked till late June 1992, and then, for his second turn, replaced Dave Frisco, working from December 3, 1999, to April 2, 2000); Robert Morosi (replaced Ron Dawson on June 23, 1992, became a permanent part-timer on July 17, 1992, and worked till September 1995); Brad Ettinger (replaced Steve Jacobs and worked from about September 1994 to June 1995); Vic Doucette (July 1995 to Sunday, September 20, 1998); Jo-Jo Shutty-MacGregor (July 14, 1995 to April 2, 2000); and Dave Frisco (from February 5, 1999 to November 28, 1999).
Those who helped The Weekend News Service in the 1990s:
Sometime during the late 1992-93 winter, probably in February 1993, a gal named Joan Scheel called The Weekend News Service for the first time to provide some information about traffic, and she soon became known as a "Special Reporter" for AAA Michigan--mostly The Weekend News Service. Joan Scheel lived in Ferndale, Michigan, and her parents had a house in the Hammond Bay area of Lower Michigan. Often, such as every couple weeks, Joan Scheel would either go north or go south between Hammond Bay and Ferndale and provide traffic information, such as about I-75 and M-33, to the staff of the news service. Joan Scheel became a regular field reporter for the Labor Day Mackinac Bridge Walk in 1993. In addition, from time to time, starting a little after Jo-Jo Shutty-MacGregor became a staffer of The Weekend News Service, Jinny Cox, a friend of Jo-Jo's, started to call and give information about traffic conditions; because of work or whatever, Jinny Cox often traveled between the East Tawas area (of Michigan) and Ohio and usually provided information about I-75 between Bay City and Flint and about US-23 between Flint and Ohio. Jinny Cox did not really become somewhat like a "Special Reporter" till late in 1997. By 1998, if Jinny Cox did report in, she was called "Shirley Williams" in reports.
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