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Traffic watchdog Chuck Roads taking reports to the phone

Mark Washburn
Mark Washburn writes television and radio commentary for The Charlotte Observer.

He has narrated traffic jams on WBT-AM (1110) for 15 years, but no more. Chuck Roads is moving on.

Roads, known in civilian life as Chuck Neely, announced Friday he is launching a new venture, providing traffic information via phone.

WBT decided to drop Neely’s independent service, Roads Traffic, and take the work inside by adding its own staff of five, says Jason Furst, program director.

But Roads Traffic will continue, heading in a new direction. Motorists will be able to call for free recorded reports at 704-527-6237 (704-52-ROADS). Neely hopes to support the venture with ads.

He will launch the service Thanksgiving weekend, giving traffic conditions updated every 10 minutes for the Concord Mills area and information on the best places to park at the sprawling outlet mall off I-85. It will be available 4 a.m. to 10 p.m. Nov. 29; 6 a.m. to 10 p.m. Nov. 30; and 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. Dec. 1.

By January, when Neely plans to launch the phone service daily, he hopes to have a cell phone app that will instantly connect to motorists.

He’s already noticed that phones and traffic seem to go together. When driving around in his Ford 150 pickup, he sees people picking up their cells whenever they get in a traffic jam, he says.

Roads Traffic has a staff of 10, including full-timers Joe Larson and Boomer Von Cannon, heard during rush hours on WBT. Neely hasn’t been heard on the reports since Sept. 20, when he learned that WBT would be dropping the service when the contract expired at the end of the year. He went to work on the new project, which he’d been considering for a time.

As a boy growing up in Lewisburg, W.Va., Neely played radio broadcaster by announcing his own moves while shooting baskets alone at his home. One day at high school, he was mimicking the local football announcer, Mike Kidd. Kidd just happened to be standing behind him – he wasn’t insulted; he was intrigued. Neely sounded pretty good.

So the next season, Neely found himself beside Kidd, doing color commentary for football. He was 17.

Neely, 44, has had a number of careers including restaurant manager, orthopedic parts salesman and wanna-be sports agent. In 1997, he got a chance to fill in for “Captain Tim,” who did traffic reports for the old “Thunder 96” in Charlotte.

“I’d already failed at a number of things, so I decided why not try this?” Neely says.

When that gig was up, Neely managed to land a few stations interested in his reports, then in 1998, WBT called and wanted an exclusive contract. Until then, WBT’s traffic voice was “Jeff Pilot,” a succession of announcers for the Jefferson Pilot Insurance-owned station who broadcast from aircraft.

He came up with the name Chuck Roads because he didn’t want people to know his real name. “I didn’t think people would like me,” he says.

Airborne traffic reports continued on WBT until the terrorist attack of 2001, when the plane got grounded. Just as well, says Neely. It’s easier to collect traffic information on the ground.

He and his staff monitor emergency frequencies for Mecklenburg and surrounding counties, have a live feed into N.C. Department of Transportation expressway cameras and take tips from motorists and police.

Over the 15 years he’s monitored traffic, he’s watched the changes in the region’s road system, which has greatly expanded. Biggest trouble spots? I-485 between I-77 and Pineville; I-77 in the Lake Norman corridor; and I-85 around Concord Mills and the Charlotte Motor Speedway.

“One wreck in any of those place will cause a 10-mile backup,” he says.

Probably the biggest accident during his watch was a tractor-trailer accident involving hazardous cargo about five years ago near the Cornelius exit on I-77. It backed up traffic more than 25 miles to Statesville and lasted almost a day.

Neely admits he’s a traffic geek. “It’s all I live and think about,” he says. “It fits me. I love media, real-time information. I feel like I’m helping people.”

Media Movers

Beginning Dec. 2, WSOC (Channel 9) will expand its 10 p.m. newscast on sister station WAXN (Channel 64) to an hour on weekdays. Natalie Pasquarella will continue as anchor with meteorologist Steve Udelson. News director Julie Szulczewski says the expansion was not driven by competition with Fox-owned WJZY (Channel 46), which is planning an hour-long 10 p.m. newscast in January. Construction is underway at WJZY for a studio and a news staff is being hired. WJZY now carries a 30-minute newscast at 10 p.m. provided by WBTV (Channel 3) and anchored by Molly Grantham. Szulczewski said research conducted in the spring indicated there would be an audience and desire for an expanded newscast. Executives have been talking about it since March but were waiting until other projects were finished, like the months-long renovation of the station's newsroom, now complete. …

Paige Hansen will join WSOC as general assignment reporter in January. She comes from the CBS affiliate in Tucson, Ariz., where she is a reporter and weekend anchor. … Archith Seshadri joins WJZY as reporter. He comes from the ABC affiliate in Columbus, Ga., where he has been a reporter and anchor. …

Charlotte’s GreyHawk Films, a production company owned by Robin Grey and Joanne Hock, was honored with a video award at the Stevie Awards for Women in Business in New York City for a trailer developed for “Purple Dreams,” an upcoming “Glee”-like documentary about Charlotte Northwest School of the Arts students.

Washburn: 704-358-5007
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