Tuesday, January 26, 2010

An Icon - in the Sky even! - Retires

As the Year of Our Lord 2010 got started and got running into the usual work weeks, I noticed on WSM-AM 650, that traffic reports were not being provided by Richard Thomas, who had done this duty since before I moved to Tennessee the first time (mid-summer A.D. 1983). And when the traffic reporter on duty was introduced, it wasn't with something like "filling in for Richard, who's on vacation, is" so-and-so. I suspected that the silence indicated that Richard had retired.

Retirement is usually a planned and welcome transition in a working person's life. But I knew that if true of Richard Thomas it would be sad for me and many others. Richard and his little Cessna have been an icon in the sky over Music City for decades! Over the course of my extended sojourns in Middle Tennessee, listening to his WSM traffic reports had been entertaining and at times had provided very helpful information. I remember that during one of the phases of widening Interstate 40 east of downtown, there had been an evening "rush hour" report -- why do they call it "rush hour" when driver generally creep along at those times rather than rush? -- that Richard commenced with "On I 40 we have invasion of the rubber-neckers, due to an accident in front of Percy Priest Dam!"

The other thing that's fixed in my mind is that over the years his reports have chronicled, in a way, the growth of metropolitan Nashville, as the "hot spots" of traffic move out away from the inner city along with the growth of the suburbs. For example, to the south along IH 65, where the greatest growth has been, I can remember in the early years Richard would use the names of Concord Road and Moores Lane with frequency. But since I returned here in Ought Eight his "buzz locations" have been Highway 96 intersection in Franklin and more often "Goose Creek-Peytonsville (Road)" further south. I was ready to start hearing constant references to the IH 65 and Loop 840 intersection - even further out south. But that didn't get to happen.

I finally broke down a few days ago, phoned Bill Cody on the "Coffee Country & Cody" wake-up show and asked what had happened to Richard. I think I even couched my query in terms of had he retired. Bill paused and then answered solemnly that something bad had happened to him; after another pregnant pause, he added, "He's in prison." Now, I've listened on air to "Buffalo Bill" (as he was often called years ago on San Antonio's KKYX) for quite some time and interacted with him during several live-audience sessions of the show; I was sure that he was pulling my leg. He admitted that it was so, and that my guess that the "sky guy" had retired was correct. He added that they had wanted to have a proper send-off for Richard, but he had been quite ill. At earliest opportunity they would invite him into the studio and do it.

Well, this became a "done deed" today. Richard Thomas was in the studio for awhile, and let me tell you, dear reader, that he sounded totally different on the ground than doing the reports from his little airplane. Totally different! A couple of callers-in and Bill's sidekick Charlie Mattos all remarked about this. All the callers I heard wished Richard well and expressed that we listeners were going to miss him. Especially those who rely on the reports for their drive-time commutes. He has a successor doing traffic reports, of course, but Richard's personality cannot be duplicated.

We will indeed miss Richard Thomas flying the sky-ways over Nashville and giving his traffic reports over the airwaves of WSM. Happy retirement, Richard!

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