OAKLAND TRIBUNE: July 13, 2012
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 wasscheduled 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.
Much like a mail carrier, “neither snow nor rain nor heat nor gloom of night” kept O’Shea from reporting the traffic every 10 minutes on the “fives.”
“It’s very challenging,” she says. “We were up there in weather — in wind. We had two aborted landings a few weeks ago in 40 mile an hour cross winds in Hayward. Being an ex-flight attendant, I never got air sick, but it was challenging anyway.”
Then there were days when traffic crossed over to news, and O’Shea would be sent to cover a fire or protest — or even a funeral. “I did the funeral for the policemen who were killed in that standoff in Oakland. That was absolutely heart-wrenching,” she remembers. “I had to really dig in and talk beyond the emotion.”
There was a joyful side to the job, too, of course. It was a perfect match for O’Shea, who became a Realtor about the time she started at KGO. Broadcasting gave her not only health benefits, but name recognition. It’s hard, in some ways, to give up.
Still, you can take the girl out of the adventure, but you can’t take the adventure out of the girl. When O’Shea isn’t showing property for East Bay Sotheby’s International Realty, she’s listening to emergency calls on a 911 scanner.
“It’s an app you can download,” she says with her signature enthusiasm. “I’m addicted to it. I’m listening to it right now.”