The King of the Road Takes a Detour

It comes up in an instant and is completed almost as quickly.  And yet, the radio traffic report can often be as important as anything broadcast across the airwaves. Over a career spanning nearly 50 years, perhaps no one has plied his roadway craft more capably than Dennis Neubacher, who officially “retired” from full-time on-air work in October.  While we worked together every day in the mid 90s (me on WWJ and he on WJR) we met in person only recently and took time over the holidays for lunch and to talk about the industry (and his longevity within it).

A native of Dearborn and graduate of Western Michigan University with a degree in teaching, Neubacher learned to fly (an airplane) while still in high school. It would be a fortuitous skill. At the prodding of a friend he entered Western’s broadcasting program and never looked back – working as a DJ at stations in Flint and Detroit’s storied WTWR (Tower 92FM) where he moved to news under the direction of such radio royalty as Steve Schram, Ray Cardoza and Tom Shannon. That would lead to a jump to UPI Radio in New York before landing at WJR in Detroit where Joel Alexander captained the traffic copter at the time for 760AM. A station move of Alexander to afternoons had Neubacher back in flight school (of the rotor variety) and a familiar voice from 1,000 feet for most of the 1980s and 1990s was born.

Not just a voice but a true student of the craft. Listen to Neubacher moving through a traffic report and you are treated to an amazing storyteller exhibiting equal parts warmth, humor and an incredible knowledge of the roadways built on years of intense study and homework. Harper closed? Metro Parkway? He always has an alternate route (or two) for you to consider. Importantly, Neubacher is a personality that talks to you not at you, flawlessly relaying multiple traffic events in quick succession in just about a minute a shot.

“J.P. McCarthy once said to me, ‘Dennis, fly the helicopter safely and go out and have fun,’” says Neubacher. And he did.  At the same time, he says, “The information I need to relay is always the most important thing.” To that point, adds Neubacher, “Early in my career I asked Mort Crim how he approached broadcast news. He said, ‘I’m a teacher.’ I then asked him how much responsibility we had to educate the public? He looked at me and said, ‘none’ which I did not understand. He then clarified, ‘Dennis, if you don’t communicate in such a way that people understand, you could tell them that the world is going to end in 10 seconds — but it took you 40 seconds to explain that to them. Write with the idea that you want people to understand. Write and speak and read so that people understand what you have to say – basically who, what, when, where and why. They’ll take it from there.’”

“It’s been a wonderful ride,” says Neubacher who despite his ‘retirement” stays busy with a range of endeavors, including filling in on WWJ Newsradio 950 where he held in-the-studio court in Morning Drive over the past 5 years. His has been a career that has intersected many of ours, sometimes as often as every ten minutes on the 1s, 6s or 8s.