February 11, 2008
Adam Gehrke, broadcast traffic reporter
The job: If you commute to work, chances are you know Adam Gehrke. During the past decade, his morning and afternoon traffic reports have dominated the airwaves on multiple radio stations around the Puget Sound. Five years ago, he put on a tie and made the leap to television, becoming the morning traffic anchor for Q13 FOX News. But he still keeps both hands on the radio broadcasting wheel: Weekdays mornings, he does traffic reports for KPLU. Weekday afternoons, his commute reports air on four local radio stations via broadcast syndicate Metro Networks. And Sunday mornings, he hosts KPLU's "Weekend Edition."
Q. How did you get started in radio?
A. I started in radio back in high school. All through college I angled myself toward working in broadcast. At the University of Puget Sound, I studied communications and got involved with the college radio station. The first year I was there I was a DJ. The second year, I was the program director. The final two years, I was the general manager. And while I was in college, I started working at these little AM stations as well.
Q. When did you first become a traffic reporter?
A. When I got to Seattle [after college], I worked for a little AM business talk radio station. I was helping run the day-to-day programming and doing various odd jobs around the station. One of them was doing stock reports every hour or so. And one day my future boss was doing this little newscast in our radio station, and that happened to be during one of the times I had to do a stock report. When I finished, she looked at me and said, "Did you ever consider doing traffic reports?"
That was back in 1998, when I was fresh out of college. There I was, this early-twentysomething guy, and I'm on 710 KIRO, one of the biggest radio stations in town. I was doing weekends as a traffic reporter, so I kept doing all my other stuff with the business talk station. At one time, I was working four part-time jobs, and they all paid so poorly I had to keep them all. It ended up being an 80- to 90-hour week.
Q. So how many jobs do you have now?
A. I'm employed full-time through Metro Networks [which contracts him out to Q13 FOX]. And I'm a part-time employee of KPLU.
Q. How did you land your steady TV gig?
A. I'd been doing fill-in work over at KING 5 through Metro Networks. The KING 5 people pointed me toward the news director at Q13. I contacted him and said, "I'm interested in TV. What should I do?" He said, "Why don't we stay in touch?" A month or two later, he contacted me. His traffic person was leaving and he needed a replacement.
Q. How do you research your traffic reports?
A. Washington State Department of Transportation (WSDOT) is really well outfitted, and they provide all the resources you see online -- the flow maps, the traffic reports. That's the backbone of what all the news organizations use. But we also sit in a small newsroom with police scanners, and we make various beat calls to Washington State Patrol and WSDOT. In addition to that, Metro Networks has two airplanes and a helicopter that fly over the city during drive hours. So you compile all that information, in addition to listener calls, and you get a pretty good picture of what traffic looks like around the Puget Sound.
Q. How did you learn to work with a green screen?
A. It takes some getting used to, but it's not mission impossible. It just takes repetition. I think anybody who's a dancer or who's done some yoga or martial arts where you're used to looking at yourself in the mirror and saying, "Oh, this is my posture and this is how I look here" would have no problem with it.
How to make a demo:
"A CD used to be the standard, and it's becoming an MP3 now. Tapes are pretty passé. Your voiceover 'tape' should never be more than about three minutes long. Realistically, most people will only listen to the first minute, so you've got to put your best material first."
- Broadcast jobs at NWjobs
- Washington State Association of Broadcasters
- American Federation of Television and Radio Artists, Seattle chapter
- Society of Professional Journalists, Western Washington chapter
- Mediabistro: jobs, classes, community and news for media professionals
- Jet City Improv Classes
- Unexpected Productions Improv School
- Freehold Theatre's acting, improv and voice classes
- Jack Straw Productions, Seattle's multidisciplinary audio arts center
- "The Powerful Radio Workbook" by Valerie Geller
- Station jobs at Q13 FOX News
Q. What's your work schedule?
A. The day consists of getting up at 3:50 in the morning Monday through Friday, and I have to be at the TV station a little before 5 o'clock. We broadcast from 5 to 9. Q13, I'm on the air every 10 minutes, and KPLU is about every 20 minutes. The fine engineers over at KPLU hooked me up with a microphone at Q13. So a couple times during the morning, I dash over to the microphone and I do traffic for KPLU. It's a pretty acrobatic morning.
I leave the station at 10 o'clock because we have various post-broadcast meetings. So then I have from 10 a.m. till 3 p.m. free. At 3 o' clock, I actually go to the Metro Networks studio downtown for the commute home, and the best part is I walk to work. I work at Metro's studio from 3 to 6 p.m. Monday through Friday, handling four radio stations.
Saturday is my one day off, and then I work for KPLU on Sunday mornings from 5 to 9 as the host of "Weekend Edition Sunday." But because it's radio I don't have to be polished and cleaned up, so I can wake up a little later.
Q. Is the split shift hard on your personal life?
A. Yeah. Working mornings in general makes things difficult. Friends, family, people stay out late. And when you've got to be in bed by what most people would consider insanely early, it becomes difficult.
Q. What do you do as a weekend radio host?
A. "Weekend Edition Sunday," the majority of that program is put together by NPR. But there are occasions where I do interviews with film directors and actors. I've kind of taken it upon myself to do movie reviews. I've done interviews with Ang Lee, Tamara Jenkins, and I've also interviewed Jason Reitman and Diablo Cody for [the movie] "Juno," who are absolutely hysterical. I produce those segments on Saturdays or during the week as time allows, and then I'll broadcast them on opening weekend for those films. It's a labor of love for me.
Q. What unique skills does your work require?
A. To a certain extent you need to be an actor. You're working with three or four different stations, and they may be diametrically opposed to each other. Every station has its own sound or its own personality.
There was a time when I was doing traffic reports for [the now-defunct] 100.7 "The Buzz," which was a radio station for men, and I was doing traffic reports during "The Tom Leykis Show," where things aren't exactly politically correct. And then I would turn around 30 seconds later and do a traffic report on KPLU. They're completely different demographics. To talk to listeners, you can't use the same character for both stations. You wouldn't hear someone screaming at you on KPLU; you'd hear someone talking in that low monotone voice.
You also have to know the roads. Growing up here [in Redmond] I knew all the major highways and byways. It can take a couple years for somebody to develop that. And I'm still learning new routes. But you eventually become sort of a walking Thomas Guide.
Q. What advice would you give someone interested in broadcasting?
A. You have to know that (a) it's going to be competitive, and (b) it's a fast-changing business. Consolidation is happening in great numbers. With technology and automation, tons and tons of jobs have been swallowed up. The smaller markets are all picking up syndicated content. The companies that will survive, in my opinion, are the content providers. That information goes to Yahoo!, it goes to MapQuest -- it goes everywhere, not just to radio and TV, but to the digital world.
More than anything, I recommend people get a good background in many areas. Get good at technology, and get good at producing your own material. Become a Swiss Army Knife when it comes to broadcasting. You just can't survive being a one-trick pony anymore. Get good at writing. Get good at editing. Get good at video production. And look beyond working in radio and TV: get savvy with blogging and producing your own segments. The folks who don't have that ability to post online or edit their own video, they're going to be left behind.
Q. Any resources you suggest aspiring Adams check out?
A. A good place to start is always the Washington State Association of Broadcasters Web site. It's got a pretty good job bank, plus some other good resources. And there's a book by an author named Valerie Geller called "The Powerful Radio Workbook" that's really helpful.
It's not a bad idea to take a course in acting for the camera. And it's not a bad idea to get educated in how to talk into a microphone, how to use your voice, how to project your voice. But there's no need to go to a broadcasting school at this point. Those skill sets can all be learned on the job. The more important thing is how the business works, how the machines work.
More than anything, if you're interested in getting into broadcasting or any other kind of media, get something in your head. Get educated about anything, so you have something to talk about.
Freelance writer Michelle Goodman is author of The Anti 9-to-5 Guide: Practical Career Advice for Women Who Think Outside the Cube. She lives in Seattle, where she works from a spare bedroom with her dog Buddy at her feet.
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