Telling the traffic story with Reada Kessler

Photo by Alejandro Alvarez

By Tony Glaros

When Reada Kessler turns on her microphone middays, her soothing, sultry voice fills the WTOP radio airwaves over three frequencies, creating an audio footprint extending from the Shenandoah Valley to the Chesapeake Bay.

Kessler, a 10-year veteran of the highly rated all-news station, 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 seventh-largest region. And unless a big event unfurls —say a gasoline tanker truck overturns on the Beltway — she has to do it in seconds.

Her reports, which come on the eights, originate in the station’s traffic center in Chevy Chase, where the three-person staff synthesizes reams of traffic intel gleaned from traffic monitors, crackling police scanners and from listeners who take the time to call.

Kessler, who says she’s in her early 50s, was born and raised in Silver Spring. Her family attended Shaare Tefila when it was located in White Oak. As a student at Springbrook High School, she snapped up an internship program.

“At the end of the semester,” she recalls, “you had to do a presentation on your internship and you got class credit for the program.”

She was then assigned to work at what was then WRQX, a Top 40 station. Using that as a golden opportunity to chisel her skills, Kessler scored “my first paid radio job,” working in the station’s research department and answering phones for the evening disc jockey.

“When WTOP decided to create an in-house traffic team, I knew that was where I wanted to be.”

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. “I don’t like to fly,” she says, yet it was exhilarating to get a bird’s-eye view of traffic.

Kessler, a Gaithersburg resident, said she arises each weekday at 3:30 a.m. “I’m not a jump in the shower, out the door person,” she says. 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 in to a wide range of music. “Spotify is my friend.”

Being only mortal, Kessler says 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.”

While Jack Taylor, WTOP’s traffic voice during morning rush hour, is 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 DMV.

“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.”

Kessler isn’t one to draw attention to herself off the air. Still there are moments when people recognize her smooth voice. In her younger days on the radio, she says, 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 summertime drivers stew in miles-long traffic to cross the Bay Bridge, Kessler agrees it’s out of hand. “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!”

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