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Traffic Accident 

Clear Channel has traffic reporters in Tucson. Our mistake.

It's still too early for the doors to open at Clear Channel's castle on North Oracle Road, but we've gained access courtesy of Debbie Cruz.

She is pleasant and efficient, both in a brisk tour and while performing her Total Traffic job guiding Tucson's frequently myopic motorists through a Friday morning commute.

Thank you John and good morning. Watch for an accident on Ajo Way just north of Kino Parkway. Also, the eastbound 10 commute continues to move well from Ina to I-19 with no slowing reported. Westbound 10 traffic remains very light just before Sixth Avenue ... I'm Debbie Cruz with Time Saver Traffic on news talk 790 KNST.

This is existential. And Cruz has every right to not be gracious, considering a story in the July 17 issue of the Tucson Weekly that questioned if anything but computers and some people at Total Traffic regional headquarters in Phoenix were putting out Tucson traffic news on KNST and seven other stations.

Total Traffic has a team--though dwarfed by its competitor, Metro Networks--in Tucson. (The Weekly reported otherwise on July 17 because of bad information we were given, and because the Clear Channel rep whose name we were given didn't call us back until after the story ran; we apologize for the error.)

Greg Ritchie, Total Traffic's energetic regional boss in Phoenix, says most of the reporting and airings are done in Tucson. Some data and a few voiced reports are done in Phoenix, he says.

"It's not like there are faceless people doing the traffic reports," Ritchie says.

Cruz grew up in Douglas. She started in the radio biz as a high school sophomore, and has been doing the job of three, sort of, for Clear Channel in Tucson. She has been Lucy Lopez on Pantera (KTZR 1450 AM) and Tina Catalina on KOYT (92.9 FM). She is shedding the alliterative on-air names, but not the duties to steer drivers around wrecks, construction zones, slow-gos and no-gos.

She's not alone. Mike Hafner, aka Hollywood Hafner, shares on-air and traffic reporting duties. Chris O'Gorman, who sells the traffic spots to car dealers and other advertisers, is also on hand this morning.

"You can do a lot in 15 seconds," says O'Gorman, who also is a member of the college rock band Year of Acceleration.

Cruz and Hafner, who also began his radio career as a teenager, patrol Interstates 10 and 19 and the surface streets by computer, scanner and phone. They are in contact with the assorted flacks populating area cop shops and transportation departments. Their computers can tap into key locations along the interstates.

Something up at Orange Grove Road and Interstate 10? Cruz types in the location, and Total Traffic's man inside the Arizona Department of Transportation command center in Phoenix calls up a camera for the location. All clear or all messy? Cruz or Hafner will know instantly. Then they can call local law enforcement or government transportation public information officers for more details.

"It's instantaneous," Cruz says. "People talk about their aircraft in the air. ... I mean, by the time you two-way communicate (with an aircraft) and say, 'Go over here and take a look at this,' it's almost too late. This technology gives you instant information, which is pretty awesome."

Police scanners are full of chatter as Cruz readies to help the hapless.

Good morning. Watch for an accident Ajo just north of Kino Parkway. Also restrictions in both directions of Harrison at Pantano Wash--that's due to last night's storm, so use Houghton as your alternate. Also the eastbound 10 commute continues to move well with no slowing reported ... watch for debris at Flowing Wells and Prince Road.

What is debris? Litter? Rocks? A body? "It was (plastic) pipe last time," Cruz says.

Hafner intones, "I think if it were a body, the helicopters would be all over it."

As drivers lap around Tucson, Cruz does a few laps inside. She's got info to drop off at the various stations housed in this building.

Here's Tucson radio legend Alan Michaels doing his morning show. It was Michaels who put the "Hollywood" in front of Hafner. Hollywood is a humble and conscientious sort who studied history at the UA and thought he would be a teacher until he accepted the lure of radio.

Hafner successfully read for The Postman, the 1997 Kevin Costner bomb. "So I went down for four days of filming ... and after it was all said and done, Alan Michaels said: "Your name is now Hollywood."

So Hollywood Hafner is giving Tejano listeners advice on how to get past the waters of the Pantano Wash.

Meanwhile, Cruz is done for the morning shift. She'll come back for the afternoon drive, which is much more troublesome for Tucson drivers. Throw in a monsoon, and it can get real busy.

The important thing for Cruz is seeing conditions first-hand. "You may read about something every day, like Skyline Drive, but when you go there you see for yourself and realize, damn, this is a mess."

One favor please. Somebody please tell somebody that an Ajo Way pileup can't be north of Kino Parkway.

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