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Monday, April 18, 2011

Ben

I must credit the man I learned from on how to be a traffic reporter, in regards to his passing on April 15th.

I know I thanked him in person at some point during the nine years I worked with him -- and while I can't remember when I told him, I remember how he smiled. In some ways, I've been thanking him everyday. Even to this day, how I report traffic conditions -- in terms of accidents, road work, disabled vehicles, and general congestion -- is all because of Ben Laurie.

I came into contact with Ben when I produced the afternoon show on KLUV. For a few months, I never met him but I heard his reports through a channel on the mixing board in the main studio. Not until helicopter maintenance forced him to come into the studio and do reports did I finally get to meet him.

I remember asking my boss Chuck about what Ben looked like. Chuck, ever the deadpan jokester, told me Ben was tall, large, and balding. When Ben showed up, he was none of those three. And he was incredibly kind, generous, and easy to be around.

Merely sitting and talking with him, I learned plenty of stories about his time in radio. From covering the JFK assassination to the few hard landings he had in the chopper, the man could talk to you all afternoon and you'd still have things to ask him.

During those times I worked around him, I saw how he gathered traffic data. From a distance, it looked simple: write down the three or four biggest incidents reported on a half-sheet of paper, use an easy-to-understand shorthand (Like, "N 35E Royal 2RLs BP NW Hwy" for "Northbound 35E at Royal, two right lanes are blocked with a back-up to Northwest Highway."), and "get in and get out" with your traffic report (as in, report the traffic and don't flower it up with stuff like tirades or rants).

Simple in nature, but you really had to know what you were talking about in order for it all to make sense. And that took work. But I would use that approach when I applied for a traffic reporting job about a year later. Two weeks later, I was hired.

I would cross with Ben many times over the years, whether it was talking on our two-way, on the phone, or in the office. The guy never complained, never gave off a shred of pretension or arrogance, and he was always thankful of people who were kind to him.

I can't stress enough how humorous the guy was. It was a part of why you'd like to spend a long time talking with him. Sure, he had plenty of groaning knee-slappers, but he had plenty of zingers too.

Probably the best zinger I ever heard him say was when Julie DeHarty called in a wreck outside of L.D. Bell High School, mere yards away from where the marching band practiced on a grassy field. Ben's comment on the two-way after Julie called in the details? "The band plays better when they're on grass."

The man lived a full life and never gave up his love of radio. He was even scheduled to work this past weekend. Even though he suffered from illness for quite a while, I know he still would have come, because he wanted to be there.

I'm not sure I could go that distance in terms of working in radio, but Ben exemplified something that goes beyond radio and the kind of radio folk you meet. As rudimentary as showing up on time, helping out, and being easy to work with are, they never get old. And that's something I'll always take away from working with Ben.

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