Mark Denis, the consummate radio traffic reporter for KFI-AM (640) and the station's mellifluous "image voice" who intoned, "KFI--More Stimulating Talk Radio," has died at 59.
Denis, a fixture on Southern California radio for four decades who was on the air as recently as Thursday, died Saturday morning in his sleep at his Anaheim Hills home, said his wife, Nancy Melbourne. She said Sunday that Denis had felt ill last week, and that medical tests indicated he suffered from a bacterial or viral infection affecting the heart.
The veteran announcer had undergone open heart surgery in January to repair a congenital aortic valve problem, his wife said, but had fully recovered. She said his sudden fatal illness was unrelated to that surgery.
For many years, Denis also was the unidentified voice of the monorail that ferries visitors around Disneyland.
Born Mark Denis Melbourne in Glendale and reared in Compton, he put on variety shows as a child on a stage that he built in the family garage. As a student at Compton Junior College, he announced halftime shows at school football games, and by the time he moved on to Long Beach City College, he had set his career sights on radio.
"Find a job you love," the affable Denis (his professional name) often said, "and you'll never have to work a day in your life."
"It's like going to the circus every day," the ever-enthusiastic Denis told Variety in 1996 as he celebrated his 35th year in Southern California broadcasting. "When it comes to job satisfaction, I'm in the 90th percentile. Then there are days that it's even better than that."
Denis broke into the business as a disc jockey in Hemet at tiny radio station KHSJ in 1961. A year later he moved to KFXM in San Bernardino and, after service in the Air Force, switched to San Bernardino's KMEN.
Still a disc jockey spinning records, Denis went to San Diego in 1966 to KGB where he stayed three years, ending up as program director.
Denis came home to Los Angeles in 1969, working at KFI and KEZY. But he immersed himself in the new assignment of traffic reporting during the four years he spent at KHJ from 1982 to 1986, and then perfected it when he returned to KFI.
Never what many who disparage radio traffic reports call a "pileup junkie," Denis worked hard to use developing technological information systems to help Southern California drivers get to work safely and on time. He became one of the first to use computerized reports from Caltrans and the California Highway Patrol.
"I'm the producer, reporter and performer. I'm intimately involved in all of it," he said in 1996, indicating his KFI office chock-full of portable tape recorders, four computer terminals, 14 speakers attached to scanners, a Fire Department monitor, a couple of telephones, a radio link to "KFI in the sky" helicopter reporter Mike Nolan, a dial radio and a television set.
Denis delivered more than 7,000 midday traffic reports each year. In the years when he also reported traffic for KFI's sister FM station KOST, that number reached more than 9,000 reports a year.
Ensconced in his control booth, Denis rarely saw an actual accident scene. "When I see a jackknifed big rig," he once said with a laugh, "it's like seeing a celebrity."
A part-time communications instructor at USC, the radio man advocated reporting traffic without panic and with caring and a willingness to help frustrated drivers avoid bottlenecks.
Denis had his own commute--more than 40 miles from his Orange County home to his Los Angeles office--and sometimes made his first report from his car when he got stuck in traffic.
Yes, he could get the helicopter spotter's suggestions on the best route to take. And to make the commute even easier, he took Metrolink trains three days a week.
Writing of Denis in his "Los Angeles Radio People 1957-1997," author Don Barrett noted that, "Mark is universally one of the most well-liked radio people in Southern California."
Married to artist and art teacher Nancy Savant Melbourne for 15 years, Denis is survived by his wife; their six children, Denise Roscoe of Riverside, Mark Melbourne of Las Vegas, Julie Sulick of Trabuco Canyon, Calif., Matt Savant of Irvine, Tim Savant of San Luis Obispo and Ashley Melbourne, who lives with her mother in Anaheim Hills; a sister, Mary Felix of Downey; and a brother, Dr. Daniel Melbourne, who lives in Kansas, and two grandchildren.
Services are scheduled at 10 a.m. Wednesday in San Antonio Catholic Church, Anaheim Hills.