T.H.A.T. Special Edition--
The First Helicopter-based Traffic Reporters
on Radio for the Detroit area of Michigan
Victor Edward Swanson, publisher
The Hologlobe Press
January 9, 2020
Since 2004, I have published documents generally known as Television History and Trivia documents (or simply T.H.A.T. documents) on the Internet at the website for The Hologlobe Press. Here, I have information that originally was put in T.H.A.T. #145 and T.HA.T. #157, and the information talks about the early history of traffic reporting by helicopter in the Detroit area of Michigan. The history focuses on WJBK-AM, WXYZ-AM, and CKLW-AM (the latter of which was based in Windsor, Ontario, Canada, which was across the Detroit River from Detroit, Michigan).
I start with a section from T.H.A.T #145:
Over the last several years, I have exposed many of the errors in the book entitled From Soupy to Nuts! A History of Detroit Television (which was written by Mike Kiska and published in 2005), and in this edition, of T.H.A.T., I have more problems with the book to show, the first of which is a big one. In the book, Tim Kiska talks about Jo-Jo Shutty-MacGregor on pages 180 and 181. On page 181, there is this text about Jo-Jo Shutty-MacGregor--"...Fame would follow when she became the airborne traffic reporter on CKLW-AM. Although flying traffic reporter is now a routine feature on drive-time radio, no station in Detroit had ever done this before CKLW-AM News Director Byron MacGregor tried it....". Well, that is a big error by Tim Kiska. I have found a person flying in a helicopter and giving traffic reports way before Jo-Jo Shutty-MacGregor would (which was in 1974). In May 1958, a big-deal radio station in the Detroit area was WJBK-AM, which was tied to WJBK-TV, Channel 2, and in that month, the program director for the radio station was Bob Martin. On Monday, May 12, 1958, in the morning, Bob Martin got in to a helicopter owned and operated by Helicopter Airways Service Inc., which was based in Plymouth, Michigan, and started doing traffic reports from the air for WJBK-AM. In the first week, the schedule had Bob Martin giving reports on Monday morning (in a radio program called Morning Express) and in the afternoons on Monday, Thursday, and Friday. By the way, it looks as if Bob Martin was the first person to do traffic reports from a helicopter for radio in the Detroit area, and my research has found no one before him--yet. The helicopter was called a "Traffic Copter." Soon, the station was getting traffic reports every morning and afternoon from Bob Martin. There were sponsors; for instance, in November 1958, the sponsor was a department store informally called Federal's, and in March 1960, a company called Tyrex Inc. was sponsoring the reports, and in August 1960, the afternoon reports were sponsored by Clark (a gasoline company). I have been able to determine the traffic service lasted till at least November 1960. I do no know the end date yet. By the way, Bob Martin was at WJBK-AM when the big payola scandal hit WJBK-AM and WJBK-TV in November 1959, and that scandal led to Tom Clay's firing from the radio station and Dale Young's resigning from the television station (where he had a dance show called Detroit Bandstand). I have a photograph of the helicopter, and I am working to identify the model and maker. It is reported by many persons that Jo-Jo Shutty-MacGregor was the first woman to do traffic reports from a helicopter in the country, and I cannot prove or disprove that yet, but I can say that Tim Kiska is way wrong about the first person to do traffic reporting from the air for radio listeners in the Detroit area.
Now, I have a section from T.H.A.T. #157:
Over the years, I have shown up the problems with a book entitled From Soupy to Nuts! A History of Detroit Television (which was written by Tim Kiska and was published in 2005). I t is a rotten history book. In T.H.A.T. #145, I talked about the book, showing up the bad information about Jo-Jo Shutty-MacGregor and the first helicopter traffic service in Detroit. In Tim Kiska's book on page 181, it is stated--"...A Detroit native and graduate of Michigan State University, Jo-Jo and her sister (who is now an anchorwoman in Chicago) would appear on Milky's Party Time and Aunt Dee. Fame would follow when she became the airborne traffic report on CKLW-AM. Although a flying traffic reporter is now a routine feature on drive-time radio, no station in Detroit had ever done this before CKLW News Director Byron MacGregor tried it....". As I noted in T.H.A.T. #145, the last sentence is way wrong (by the way, there is trouble in the first sentence that I quote). The first traffic reporter working in a helicopter over the Detroit area was Bob Martin, who was a staffer at WJBK-AM. The start day for that traffic service was May 12, 1958, and the traffic service would last for at least a couple years. In T.H.A.T. #145, I was unable to report the model of helicopter that was used at the start of the traffic service. Since then I have received information from Joey Rhodes, who is for lack of better words a Bell helicopter historian. Joey Rhodes, who is tied to, for instance, the Bell 47 Helicopter Association Inc., reported that (based on a photograph that I had supplied him) the helicopter was a Bell 47J Ranger. Recently, I stumbled across more information about a traffic reporter in a helicopter over Detroit in the past. Jo-Jo Shutty-MacGregor was not even the second traffic reporter in a helicopter over the Detroit area. On Monday, October 10, 1966, WXYZ-AM started up a traffic-reporting service using a helicopter. This time, the traffic reporter was Barney Stutesman (of a business called Hi-Lift Helicopters), and, on weekday mornings, he reported during The Marc Avery Show, and on weekday afternoons, he reported during The Dave Prince Show. Was Barney Stutesman the second traffic reporter in the air? I cannot say for sure. For instance, someone may have subbed for Bob Martin at some point, such as when Bob Martin was ill. I have seen a photograph of the helicopter used for the traffic-reporting service on WXYZ-TV, and it looks like another helicopter in the "Bell 47" family, but I know not the model yet. I know Jo-Jo Shutty-MacGregor was not the first woman to be a traffic reporter in a helicopter in the country; in 1967, for instance, Kelly Lange and Lorne Ross were "The Ladybirds" for KAGC-AM in Los Angeles, California. Jo-Jo Shutty-MacGregor may have been the first woman to be a traffic reporter in a helicopter over the Detroit area.
From the late 1970s to the present, there have been a number of traffic reporters in helicopters over Detroit, such as Joel Alexander, Joel Alexander, Tracy Gary, Pat Monks, Dennis Neubacher, and those persons tied to AAA Michigan, and this document was not designed to report when traffic reporting began for listeners in the Detroit area, but I have found some information about traffic-reporting history. Around January 1949, WWJ-AM started up a traffic service of sorts with the cooperation of the City of Detroit (especially the police department), in which traffic information was given out on weekday mornings on the radio show hosted by Bob Maxwell, and the information was gathered at the office of the director of traffic at the headquarters building, and the service was called Listen and Live, and such information as weather conditions and street conditions were reported, and the sponsor was the Greater Detroit Plymouth Dealers [Note: In 1956, the Allstate Insurance Company would present WWJ-AM with a citation for safety service for the Listen and Live traffic safety program.]. For two weeks around the time of Christmas Day of 1951, WWJ-AM aired "Traffic Tips" on a Monday-through-Saturday basis, and the shows ran about two minutes, and each show was designed to give out traffic-jam information and other information (such as pickpocket activity and store hours), and the shows were heard at 9:05 a.m. and 1:00 p.m. on the weekdays and at 7:28 a.m. and noon on Saturday. At least by and in February 1956, radio listeners were hearing traffic reports during the day on WKMH-AM, which would become known as WKNR-AM in 1963, and this service had information from the Detroit Police Department and covered expressways and other roads, and, for example, reports were heard regularly on the radio shows of Joe Van (a.k.a. Joe Van Donnick, who was at WKMH-AM from 1954 to 1958) and Robin Seymour (who was at WKMH-AM from July 1947 to the 1960s and who had, for instance, a radio show on WKMH-AM from 6:00 a.m. to 9:00 a.m. on weekdays billed as the "Traffic Safety" show around March 1961*), and the service was promoted, as especially in 1957 and 1958, "The WKMH Traffic Communicator" service.]. In February 1957, listeners of WWJ-AM began to hear traffic reports on two weekday shows--Bob Maxwell's show (the portion from 6:00 a.m. to 9:00 a.m.) and Jim Deland's show (the portion from 4:30 p.m. to 6:00 p.m.)--and the service was designed to cover the expressways (12 miles or roadway), and the reports were broadcast every ten minutes; originally, the service for WWJ-AM had a police officer (such as Sergeant Leo Crittenden) reporting in from a remote studio of sorts for WWJ-AM at the police headquarters building [* Note: In the fall of 1960, WKMH-AM got involved with a "traffic safety patrol" service--a public-service program of sorts--in which at first four white patrol wagons (with police officers of the Detroit Police Department on board) traveled in the Detroit area and gave motorists help. The fleet of patrol wagons--which were vehicles then known as "station wagons" (a type of car)--made up the "Great White Safety Fleet." Around October 1960, the reports were aired on WKMH-AM between 6:30 a.m. and 9:30 a.m. and between 3:30 p.m. and 6:30 p.m.. And by July 1962, the station had aired about 10,000 traffic reports (airing reports at the quarter hour) in relation to the service, and the service was costing WKMH-AM about $5,000 a month in 1962.]. In the spring of 1964, a Teletype-based traffic safety reporting system was set up in the Detroit area, and it involved the Detroit Police Department and a number of radio stations and television stations in the Detroit area (WCAR-AM, WCHB-AM, WJBK-AM, WJBK-FM, WJBK-TV (Channel 2), WKNR-AM, WKNR-FM, WWJ-AM, WWJ-FM, WWJ-TV (Channel 4), WXYZ-AM, WXYZ-FM, and WXYZ-TV(Channel 7)), and information was sent from patrol vehicles (by shortwave radio) to the traffic central at the headquarters building of the police department, and then the information was sent by Teletype (text data over telephone lines) from the headquarters building to the stations. More traffic services showed up in the Detroit area starting in the late 1960s, such as the "Michigan Emergency Patrol" service (or the "MEP" service) [Note: More traffic-reporting history can be found in my document entitled PORTRAIT OF THE AAA MICHIGAN NEWS SERVICES.].
And that is how this little history of traffic reporting from me must end for now.
Note: "For the record," I have this additional information about some traffic reporters in helicopters for the Detroit area. Joel Alexander (a.k.a. Joel Alexander Zelle) died on September 6, 2019; he had done traffic reporting by helicopter for WJR-AM for about thirty years, and he first did traffic reporting for WJR-AM from up in the air on December 7, 1981, and that lasted for a short time, ending when he became the weekday afternoon radio personality on the station, and he later returned to the up-in-the-air job. For this document, I can say that, generally speaking, Tracy Gary did traffic reporting by helicopter for WWJ-AM from 1990 to 2003, when she took up doing traffic reporting on weekday mornings for WDIV-TV (beginning on February 12, 2003). Patrick Joseph Monks (a.k.a. Capt. Pat Monks) lived from October 7, 1944, to April 8, 2008; in the late winter of 1978, WWJ started up a traffic reporting service involving a helicopter, taking up what had been lost when Jo-Jo Shutty-MacGregor gave up doing traffic reports from a helicopter for CKLW-AM and took up working for WJBK-TV (Channel 2), and in the late winter of 1978, Pat Monks was the helicopter pilot for the helicopter traffic reporting service of WWJ-AM, which used in 1978, staffers of WWJ-AM, such as Scott Lewis and Dick Haefner, to do the actual traffic reporting, and then in the middle of 1979, Pat Monks also became the voice for traffic reports heard from a helicopter for WWJ-AM, and he did the voice work and the piloting work for WWJ-AM to at least 1987. I state that Dennis Neubacher did traffic reporting by helicopter for WJR-AM from September 15, 1983, to December 31, 1995, and for WXYZ-TV from April 1, 1995, to December 31, 2009, and Dennis Neubacher has done traffic reporting by helicopter for WWJ-AM from October 2, 2017, to at least the date of this version of the document.
Note: On the Internet, this document is known as: www.hologlobepress.com/traffic.htm.
Note: The first version of this document was posted on the Internet on January 3, 2020.
To see T.H.A.T. #145, use this link: T.H.A.T. #145.
To see T.H.A.T. #157, use this link: T.H.A.T. #157.
To learn about the traffic reporting services of AAA Michigan and other traffic-reporting services, see PORTRAIT OF THE AAA MICHIGAN NEWS SERVICES by using this link: AAA Michigan Traffic.
To see The Site-Summary Page for The Hologlobe Press, use this link: Summary.
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