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His Career Is Up in the Air : Bruce Wayne has seen all, told all in 25 years as traffic monitor

January 23, 1986|DENNIS McLELLAN | Times Staff Writer

The butterscotch and white single-engine Cessna Cardinal taxied onto the runway at Fullerton Airport. It was 3:50 in the afternoon,and Bruce Wayne, the jovial dean of Los Angeles flying traffic reporters, was beginning the second phase of his work day.

Wayne and his plane, dubbed the "Spruce Bruce" by one of his listeners, already had put in three hours in the air that morning, keeping work-bound commuters listening to KFI-AM and KOST-FM informed about traffic conditions on the 636 miles of freeways in Orange and Los Angeles counties.

And now, as commuters began heading home from work, Wayne was back on the job.

Taking off toward the smog-obscured setting sun, Wayne explained that he usually flies over Orange County's freeways before heading into Los Angeles County. But, as often happens, he already had picked up several traffic incidents over his Highway Patrol scanner, including a major mishap on the southbound Santa Ana Freeway near Atlantic Boulevard in Los Angeles County.

Climbing to about 1,400 feet, Wayne headed up the Santa Ana Freeway to investigate.

A few minutes later, over the City of Commerce, he saw it: an accident involving several cars and a truck. It had blocked all but the left southbound lane. Not only was southbound traffic backed up for several miles, but northbound traffic was bumper-to-bumper.

"That's what I call 'spectator slowing,' " Wayne said with a grin as he jotted down traffic notes onto a clipboard on his lap.

At 4:04, flying over the San Bernardino Freeway, Wayne delivered his first traffic report of the afternoon, on KFI.

"Good afternoon, we're out here under hazy skies . . .," he began, ending with his trademark, "Before you hit the on-ramp, push the traffic button, KFI 640. Bruce Wayne, KFI in the sky."

And so it went for the next two hours, with Wayne doing his eight-times-an-hour traffic reports (which typically include bantering with the on-air personalities) and listening to his aircraft radio, two AM/FM radios, the highway patrol scanner and the two-way radio that provides his communication link to the radio stations--all the while scanning the freeways below and watching out for other aircraft.

Wayne, however, makes this mid-air balancing act look surprisingly easy.

"Well," he said above the drone of the airplane, "it's work, but I make it look easy because I've been doing it so long."

Indeed, next July marks Wayne's 25th anniversary as a flying traffic reporter.

With nine years' experience in radio and television (and flying lessons courtesy the GI Bill) behind him, Wayne was enlisted in 1961 by radio station WHDH to become Boston's first--and, he believes, the nation's third--flying traffic reporter.

"We were pioneers," recalled Wayne during an interview at his home in Fullerton, where the Waynes have lived for 14 years. "When I went on the air on July 4, 1961, I had never even heard an air traffic report."

Today, most major cities have at least one airborne traffic reporter--Los Angeles currently has six, four of whom do their own flying--but no one has been at it as long as Wayne, who has been a pilot-reporter for KFI for 15 years and who was honored last year when Mayor Tom Bradley proclaimed Aug. 14 "Bruce Wayne Day" in Los Angeles.

Wayne, who reports from 6 to 9 a.m. and from 4 to 6 p.m. five days a week, keeps motorists posted on everything from minor fender benders to major mishaps.

Among the more dramatic traffic stories Wayne has reported over the years are a 130-car pileup in a fog bank in Corona, an overturned tanker truck on the Ventura Freeway that became "a huge flaming torch" and tied up traffic for hours, and what he refers to as possibly "the worst single freeway disaster in the history of Los Angeles"--the 1971 Sylmar earthquake, which caused numerous freeway overpasses in the San Fernando Valley to collapse.

In fact, when floods, fires, mud slides and other natural disasters strike the Southland, it's not unusual for Wayne to put in up to 13 hours a day doing spot news coverage. In the process, as part of the KFI news team, Wayne has helped the station win several reporting awards over the years.

But although he takes his flying and traffic reporting seriously, the affable Wayne is not without his whimsical touch. (He did, after all, change his real name, Bruce Talford, to Bruce Wayne after moving from Boston to California in 1966. "Talford is not really a good radio name," he explained. "The 'Batman' TV show was highly popular, and I thought I could have a lot of fun with that, being a 'flying caped crusader.' ")

Outrageous Moments

Bored with the light traffic on New Year's morning, Wayne two years ago began doing his New Year's Day morning traffic reports from a hot-air balloon tethered next to the Rose Parade route. But his most outrageous radio moments occurred in the '70s during disc jockey "Sweet Dick" Whittington's tenure at KFI. With Wayne piloting, they:

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