Thursday, July 12, 2012

Oakland resident recalls years as local air traffic reporter

She was our eye in the sky for 12 years. Oakland Realtor and longtime broadcaster Katie O'Shea took her last look at traffic from the seat of a Cessna, June 30, after KGO Radio eliminated airborne traffic reports in a cost-cutting move under new ownership. 

It was the end of an era for the venerable news-talk station, and O'Shea could see it coming. "With cameras everywhere and people calling in -- I think it's a dying breed," she says of the concept of traffic reports from a chopper or plane. "It's still great for covering fires and protests -- stories that filter over to news."

O'Shea was no stranger to flying when she landed her first radio job with Shadow Traffic in 1995, as Don Bleu's sidekick and traffic reporter on K101. She'd already had a successful career as a flight attendant for American Airlines and was used to multi-tasking at 35,000 feet. Her sharp eye and bubbly banter on the popular morning music show made her a household name for tens of thousands of listeners. When she left K101, she was soon hired by Metro Traffic and assigned to cover afternoon traffic on KGO, a position she held for a dozen years.

Like so many things, there's a real art to airborne reporting. A strong stomach is only part of the package. "You have to be in and out in 10 seconds and there are so many things to report," says O'Shea, who would take off from Hayward Airport at 4 p.m. to deliver her first report at 4:05. With her trusty pilot (whoever was scheduled that day), they'd scan the 880 and skim the Bay Bridge, then check out San Francisco and Marin and fly back to the East Bay and down 680. "We felt like we were cowboys in the sky -- galloping where we were needed," she says.

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