Gridlock Guy: Ode to the original Gridlock Guy — Mark Arum

Mark Arum hosting his evening WSB show at WSB studios July 5, 2017. CREDIT: Rodney Ho/rho@ajc.com
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Mark Arum hosting his evening WSB show at WSB studios July 5, 2017. CREDIT: Rodney Ho/rho@ajc.com

Credit: Rodney Ho

Credit: Rodney Ho

Pardon my writing this week’s installment in first-person. That’s fitting as it’s about the first person I worked with at 95.5 WSB in person. Whereas the late Captain Herb Emory is the reason I have this job (and a few other gigs) and taught me the cornerstones of my acumen, I worked side-by-side in the WSB 24-Hour Traffic Center with Mark Arum for the first nine years of my career. Now, 24 years into his stellar run with WSB Radio and TV, Arum is one of the rare few who is simplifying his broadcasting gig on his own terms.

The original author of this column when it started a decade ago, Arum is stepping away from his longtime role with WSB Triple Team Traffic to focus solely on his afternoon talk show. When “Atlanta’s News and Talk with Mark Arum” moved up two hours to 4-7 p.m. each weekday back in March, the promotion both squeezed Arum’s crucial midday resting hours and added a full hour to his show. Arum immediately realized that wasn’t going to be sustainable for very long and opted to step out of morning traffic to lean into afternoon talk.

This isn’t a goodbye as much as it’s an end of an era of sorts. Arum has been doing morning traffic on 95.5 WSB for 23 and a half years and has spent about 20 years anchoring Channel 2 Action News This Morning’s traffic on camera. But the Georgia Radio Hall of Fame inductee isn’t retiring, leaving Atlanta or skipping across town to another gig. He didn’t get laid off, budgeted out or pushed aside. Thankfully he didn’t pass away before his time, as Captain Herb did. His exit from a prime spot on the nation’s best traffic-reporting team wasn’t from management’s cleaning the slate after the latest research. We all wanted someone of his ilk, experience, stature and prowess to stay. But Arum knew he needed to go.

I was 18 and Arum was 30 when we met in 2004. I was blown away by how quickly he could pivot from finishing a TV report to spinning around, changing his router button to “AM-PGM” and jumping on a radio report to join Emory on the air. And I couldn’t believe how in both media he could spit out a report so smoothly and accurately, with authority. I absolutely equally wanted to be both the affable, hard-working wizard that Emory was and the smooth, amphibious operator that Arum is.

As the gig evolved, Arum added the traffic-reporting duties for sister stations B98.5 and 97.1 The River to his morning chores. And he nailed them, recording several times an hour in between the barrage of TV hits every 10 minutes and radio hits every six. Up until Smilin’ Mark McKay and I took over the full-time WSB Skycopter duties after Emory’s death and before Arum’s talk show moved to weekdays, Arum also filled in for Emory in the helicopter. The dude’s an animal!

And he did all of these jobs and some others so naturally, that they didn’t seem like they took much effort at all. And Arum held these positions for so long, his being there was evergreen. Taking him for granted was easy; I sure did.

But the grind of working both the morning traffic and the evening talk show did take its toll. Once it moved to weekdays in 2014, “The Mark Arum Show” aired from 10-midnight … just ahead of Arum’s 3:19 a.m. alarm. Then the show moved to 7-9 p.m., then 6-8 p.m., with each move making the sleep schedule more hyphenated. The impetus of putting in all those evening hours is to one day bring that product to the big audience in PM drive. Mission accomplished in 2021.

Arum joined WSB in 1997 with designs on working sports and he got to, but never full-time. Traffic was where they stuck him until the right sports opportunity opened, but Arum was a little too good to move out of rush hour reporting. As his imprint grew from just radio to TV and then to sports talk, in addition to traffic, Arum’s designs to be a legacy WSB talk show host grew. Traffic paid the bills, but talk stoked the fire. He masterfully handled both, until the latter reached the level and goals of the former. Then Arum wisely decided not to serve two masters.

Many eras’ ends mark the beginnings for other legacies. Heather Catlin, who was Arum’s TV fill-in several years ago, now assumes that role daily. Ashley Frasca, who spent several years covering Arum’s TV and radio duties and has been on the WSB Traffic Team for 12 years, takes over his morning reports on B98.5 and 97.1 The River. Mike Shields also gets promoted to a full-time role and joins the morning traffic crew — producing for Catlin — joining the WSB Radio and TV reports on-air and helping Frasca and Veronica Harrell gather traffic and disseminate vital traffic information. The fact that so many pieces have to move to cover for Arum’s traffic departure is a testament to his versatility.

Arum’s PM drive talk show is a departure from the average talk radio show. Though he covers the big news stories and makes way for mine and the team’s constant traffic, news and weather reports, Arum and his on-air team of “bananas,” as he calls them, leave room for a fresh wave of fun. They clear the canvas and open the phone lines to have a discussion about nearly anything and in a non-partisan way with listeners. Retired traffic reporter Jim Basile calls it the “Seinfeld” of talk radio — a show about nothing. That may not always be true, but the wide-open format leaves the show the room to set itself apart.

Features on “Atlanta’s News and Talk with Mark Arum” include “Would You Rather,” “Millennial Match Game,” and “The Fast Food Review,” which I am paying homage to by writing most of this column at my Chamblee Waffle House. There is also a hilarious daily call-in from the lovable and lost ladies man, or so he says, “Russ from Gainesville,” who is one of several listeners to have their own introductory sounder. All of it is a riot.

In the end, no one can truly say goodbye to Mark Arum — he still accompanies their commutes on 95.5 WSB. And we can’t be sad — Arum gets to sleep in and has achieved his broadcasting dream of doing a talk show full-time. But we can toast the end of Mark Arum’s traffic-reporting career, a cheers to rare longevity in a cutthroat business and over two decades of a crucial public service. We raise a cup of that strong, black “Emeril’s” K-cup coffee from the Traffic Center coffee maker that is finally going to brew just a bit less. Congratulations, buddy.

Doug Turnbull, the PM drive Skycopter anchor for Triple Team Traffic on 95.5 WSB, is the Gridlock Guy. He also hosts a traffic podcast with Smilin’ Mark McKay on wsbradio.com. Contact him at Doug.Turnbull@cmg.com.