WASHINGTON – When Reada Kessler turns on her microphone middays, her soothing, sultry voice fills the WTOP radio airwaves over three frequencies, creating a giant audio footprint that reaches from Virginia’s Shenandoah Valley to the Chesapeake Bay.
Kessler, a 10-year veteran of one of the country’s largest stations, has her work cut out for her: to crystallize the traffic story in bite-size chunks for listeners motoring in and near the nation’s capital. And unless a big event unfurls – say a gasoline tanker truck overturns on Interstate 95 between Baltimore and the Delaware Memorial Bridge – she has to paint a picture in seconds, not minutes.
Her precise, reassuring updates, originating from the studios in Chevy Chase, MD, are bursts of finely honed snapshots. They contextualize the reams of traffic intel gleaned from a room overflowing with traffic monitors and crackling police scanners, and from listeners who take the time to call in.
Kessler, who said she’s in her early 50s, got her first taste of radio in high school, when she scored an internship. “At the end of the semester,” she recalled, “you had to do a presentation on your internship and you got class credit for the program.” She was then assigned to work at a Top 40 station. She used that as a springboard to chisel her skills and that experience served as a springboard to other jobs at places like XM Satellite Radio (now Sirius XM).
“When WTOP decided to create an in-house traffic team,” she remarked, “I knew that was where I wanted to be. Luckily, they agreed with me and hired me as a full-time traffic anchor.”
Earlier in her career, Kessler’s boss asked her to take a ride in the traffic plane, a Cessna. Watching traffic from the air was more common during that period, before the digital phenomenon arrived. “I don’t like to fly,” she confessed, yet it was exhilarating to get a bird’s eye view of traffic. “Do I want to do this every day? Absolutely not!”
Kessler said she arises each weekday at 3:30 AM. “I’m not a jump in the shower, out the door person,” she acknowledged. Fueling herself with coffee at home, she then drives to work, arriving between 5 and 5:30. But she doesn’t listen to the station on her way in. Instead, she relaxes by tuning into a wide range of music. “Spotify is my friend.”
When she gets to the studio, she checks in with Jack Taylor, the morning-drive traffic anchor.
With 25 years of watching traffic to her credit, Kessler exudes a quiet brand of professionalism. “Throw me a (computer) screen with information on it,” she affirmed, “and you can kind of pick and choose” which events – accidents, cherry blossom peeping, protests and football games – merit valuable airtime.
Being only mortal, Kessler said she will occasionally miss a big incident. “Oh, man, I forgot (Interstate) 270! Somebody’s going to call me and be mad.” Deploying her internal coping mechanisms, she is comforted by the knowledge that redemption is as close as her next report. Overall, “you learn how to paint a broad picture. We try our best. We don’t always get it right. You hit the big things.”
Jack Taylor, WTOP’s traffic voice during morning rush hour, was blunt when describing his as a peculiar occupation. While he’s on the air, Kessler takes charge of the scanners, fields phone calls, and keeps a close eye on 20 cameras that train their lenses on the roads across the area. “There’s lots of overload in sound and visual acuities. “Many people train with us and have to leave our studio. It’s a sensory overload… We ask ourselves all the time why we have these crazy jobs that have you pulling your hair out at times.”
While Kessler isn’t one to draw attention to herself off the air, there are moments when people recognize her smoothly distinctive voice. In her younger days on the radio, she said she had a stronger ego, which has been tamped down with age. “The spotlight makes me a little uncomfortable…Radio Reada is different from real Reada.” Still, given the outsize platform she has, “when you turn on the mic button, there’s a little bit of a rush.”
As weekend drivers stew in miles-long traffic to cross the notoriously clogged Chesapeake Bay Bridge, Kessler agrees things are out of control. “Lord knows we could use another route to the beach. But what about the congestion it will cause to build it?” She doesn’t pretend to have a magic recipe for easing the quagmire. “I don’t know if there’s a solution. But, quite honestly, if there was, there goes my job security!”