Thursday, April 12th, was the four-year anniversary of WSB Traffic legend Captain Herb Emory’s flight to Heaven. The Georgia Radio Hall of Famer tragically died of a heart attack, after helping crash victims out of a car and then directing traffic in front of his house. Emory’s passing, considering his heart for both community service and Atlanta traffic, was both poetic and inspirational. The WSB Traffic Team had lost its guide, face, dad and standard-bearer. WSB listeners and viewers lost their friend and traffic muse. I lost a mentor, father figure and best buddy.
As sad as that Saturday in 2014 was, Captain Herb’s legend truly is larger than life. His folksy brilliance, gregarious laughs, and traffic framework guide us and make us smile to this day. Let’s remember some of his quotes and traffic tips that still influence us:
“I’ve got a smile on my face, song in my heart, and tap in my toe.”
Captain Herb normally began his broadcasting mornings on both News 95.5/AM-750 WSB and Channel 2 Action News with this beacon of positivity. Atlanta traffic can get the happiest person frustrated and this was Captain Herb’s way of reminding people that it wasn’t so bad after all. While no one says this phrase on-air anymore, I think Fred Blankenship’s amazing “Let’s Get It” green room videos, Blankenship and Mark Arum’s rap lyrics in reports, and Smilin’ Mark McKay’s overall personality on radio and TV really all relay this. Another phrase Captain Herb would deliver this philosophy with is, “I’ve got the bluebird of happiness on my shoulder.” We all should remember that.
“If one side is the ‘Top End’, then what’s the other — the ‘Bottom End’?”
One of Captain Herb’s major pet peeves was the phrase, “Top End Perimeter.” This is used by some to describe I-285 between I-75 in Cobb and I-85 in DeKalb. I remembering saying it on-air early in my career and Captain Herb’s cell number lit up the Traffic Center phone immediately. “Hey — listen…” is how most of the corrective calls started. Then he went on to explain how he had said it before and a listener complained that they were on the “butt end” of I-285.
Now some would call this person a “snowflake” or some pejorative, but Captain Herb took listener complaints very seriously. He once even paid someone’s bill after they had gotten bad service from a company he endorsed. He cared so very much about serving the public and even answered one listener email about how her son was interested in broadcasting. He invited her son down to the station and made him an intern that day. That listener was my mom and that is how I joined the WSB family 14 years ago.
“You’re my pal, if you call me Al.”
Atlanta’s metro area is ripe with transplants, who certainly don’t understand how to pronounce certain roads. But our dense Metro Area is so big, even natives can’t possibly know every single road name and how to say it. Almon Road crosses I-20 near Covington and one time I called it, “Allman,” like the Allman brothers. It looks like “almond,” minus the D. Captain Herb’s cell number shows up again. “Listen … you’re my pal, if you call me Al.” I never forgot it after that and have used it many times when training others on the team.
Captain Herb was a fiend for being right. The details mattered, because getting them wrong not only hurt his and the station’s reputation, but also under-served the public. He made sure to be up to speed on all the going’s on with Atlanta traffic — attending press conferences, staying in touch with and befriending officials, and then being an alpha in all the ways we gathered traffic. He wanted to be the on authority Atlanta traffic and wanted us to be also. Mispronouncing road names undermines that immediately.
> From 2015: New Georgia 400 fly-over ramp named for Herb Emory
“Remember the Captain’s Three C’s: Caution, Courtesy, and Common Sense.”
This one is self-explanatory, but it is very much worth branding into your brain. Driving with more caution, courtesy, and common sense would wipe out almost every wreck and would also decrease the seething angst many possess on the roads. But Captain Herb also deployed this in his reports.
By courteously putting the listeners’ concerns before his own, being cautious about saying things before they are known facts, and stating the facts in a common sense way, Captain Herb spoke the language of the people. He told people traffic as they would want to hear it. Most reporters on other stations just list a bunch of wrecks. He (and the rest of the team) told people how bad the delays were, what lanes were blocked, and how better to get around them. And if he didn’t know the exact location of a wreck, he would rather tell a general area about it, than guess a precise place and be wrong.
Just typing out Captain Herb Emory’s traffic doctrine is therapeutic. I write this on the actual anniversary of his death. Know that while WSB Traffic will never be the same without him, we strive hard to follow his example, be the best, and serve you. Thanks for helping us remember Captain Herb Emory.
From 2014: WSB’s Herb Emory passes away
Read and remember: The online guestbook for Herb Emory had an unprecedented large response from Atlanta
Support real journalism. Support local journalism. Subscribe to The Atlanta Journal-Constitution today. See offers.
Your subscription to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution funds in-depth reporting and investigations that keep you informed. Thank you for supporting real journalism.