KGO traffic reporter Stan Burford is retiring Sept. 28 after 51 years in broadcasting. Today he reflects on his career reporting on road conditions. He'll be inducted into the Bay Area Radio Hall of Fame on Oct. 6. And it all started in kindergarten.
Q I was so impressed with the older students working as crossing guards that I asked my mother to make me a crossing guard belt and then I would go to the corner and direct pedestrians between the drugstore and the market. I was 5.
A And fast-forwarding a few years ...
Q Then it was an easy transition for the junior high band drummer and high school mascot and yell leader into a college radio station, only to learn that one could actually work in the media, have fun and make a living.
A Then the big move ...
Q Huge opportunity found me in 1963 going to KSFO -- "The World's Greatest Radio Station." Three years in the business, 21 years old and just out of college, and I'm working at the biggest station on the West Coast. Unbelievable. And my job? Flying in a helicopter and reporting on traffic and a little weather.
A And a few years later ...
Q I moved on. With only six years of experience, I set out to patch together five radio stations, 10 television stations and four media production companies and spend over 51 years in the business. I never set out to be the longest-serving traffic reporter in Northern California, but somehow after 35 years watching and reporting about cars, trucks, bridges and freeways it appears that I've done it longer than anyone else.
Gary can tell you this from his print perspective: It's very rewarding to answer a driver's question knowing that you've just made their drive a little bit easier and/or safer. With 28 of my 35 years of traffic reporting being in either an airplane or helicopter, I've seen the difference we make. Don't go that way because of the fire, or a tree blocking a street.
A Then came 1989 ...
Q The biggest impact I've ever had on the greatest number of people was the aftermath of the '89 Loma Prieta quake. We flew 16 hours a day for four days, one end of the bay to the other. KGO went commercial-free, and all we did was talk about how to get from A to B. Those are the times you know you're doing the right thing.
A Then on those windy, rainy days ...
Q Bad days usually had to do with weather. Either it was so bad that we couldn't fly or so bad we shouldn't have flown. Western bars with their hydraulic bucking broncos had nothing on us during a windy flight.
A Any gripes?
Q The process of reporting traffic-related issues is dependent on a strong trusting relationship between the media, the CHP, police and other public service agencies. What's interesting is to look at the distance that has developed over the years between the media and law enforcement. We should have timely access to information on all issues affecting the movement of the public. Our job is to help make law enforcement's job easier.
Yet, information is often no longer released at the scene of an accident. We need to wait for a public information officer. Some stories are blocked, ostensibly for security reasons.
One that in particular made me laugh was an accident in San Mateo along Highway 101 that involved an armored car. The armored car was surrounded by shotgun-carrying officers while they transferred the cash from one truck to another. How did we know that? Because we had an airplane overhead watching and we'd received countless calls from drivers witnessing the transfer.
The CHP denied that there was even an incident at that location. Apparently, because there was the open transfer of cash, they feared the wrong element would be attracted to the location and there could be trouble. There is a balance that would serve both sides and we should try and find that point.
A Now to the person behind the wheel.
Q There are as many kinds of drivers as there are kinds of cars. All colors, shapes and sizes. Some fast, some slow, some paying attention, others totally distracted. But the ones that drive me crazy are the entitled ones we've all seen. They paid $70,000 to $100,000 or more for their car and feel that rules don't apply to them.
And cellphones while driving, don't even get me started. Turn off your phone, turn on the radio and listen to a little Frank Sinatra. It would do you a world of good. Sinatra music, you can understand!
Safe driving to all of you.
A And to you. Enjoy your retirement -- you've earned it.