Traffic reporting

Traffic reporting

A traffic report is an element of a radio program or TV news broadcast that informs listeners about general traffic conditions. The reports generally list the locations and severity of traffic accidents, construction detours and slowdowns, etc., on the roadways within the broadcast area. In the United States, the broadcast area is generally defined by utilizing statistics from the U.S. Census Bureau and from a ratings company, such as Arbitron.

By supplying updates during traffic rush hours, stations provide a public service to commuters to help them anticipate and avoid traffic congestion. Many reports, typically those reports heard on the radio, offer listeners an alternate travel route.

At radio stations where news programming is the primary content, roadway conditions are tracked by monitoring police radio frequencies. Some radio stations also have agreements with states’ highway patrol that permit a direct connection with a law enforcement computer. This enables real-time information gathering of the latest accident reports to states’ highway patrol divisions.

In many of the largest U.S. cities, states’ transportation departments or divisions have installed a series of cameras along the Interstate Highway System to monitor traffic conditions. Systems of this type can been easily seen along the I-95 corridor in the eastern section of the United States. I-95 runs the north-south length of the U.S., from Maine to Florida.

Television stations in Miami, Florida have agreements with the Florida Department of Transportation to enable use of video images generated by this FDOT camera system. These images are shown during morning and afternoon traffic reports, on several local stations, and FDOT is cited by reporters as proving “these images courtesy of the Florida Department of Transportation”.

Many medium and large radio and television markets, as classified by Arbitron, utilize helicopters to overfly accident scenes and other areas of high traffic volume. This helps each radio or TV station to provide up-to-the-minute, live reports or traffic conditions. Some stations, in larger U.S. markets, at least, may have their own helicopter, or share resources with a local television station to help mitigate the costs. In many markets, a local or regional traffic reporting service may have contracts with several radio and television stations. This helps stations avoid the expense of purchasing or leasing their own helicopter, which necessitates other expenses like hiring of a pilot, and setting a maintenance schedule.

Broadcast reports on traffic conditions, usually heard on radio, became popular in large U.S. cities in the 1960's and quickly spread in use to other areas as population centers grew. As these smaller burgs and hamlets became absorbed into larger metropolitan areas, particularly in the United States, the interstate freeways became cluttered during the morning and afternoon rush.

Many stations began using reports provided only from their studios, depending on information from law enforcement and citizens. Today, most large metropolitan areas have traffic reporters in the air and also depend on advisories from listeners using cell phones and other mobile communications devices.

During the 1990’s, competition between radio and television stations led many program and news directors to add traffic reports to their schedules, though many smaller stations could not afford a full-time traffic reporter or aircraft. This led to the expansion of traffic reporting companies, including Shadow Broadcast Services, Metro Networks, and other regional traffic reporting agencies.

In 1997 and 1998 Metro Networks began buying many smaller traffic reporting agencies, as reported in their own financial statements to the United States Securities and Exchange Commission. In 1999, Metro Networks acquired a firm called Copter Acquisition Company, from Westwood One. Westwood One then purchased Metro Networks, and the two companies merged completely on September 22, 1999.

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