One of the titans of traffic broadcasting has died after 35 years on the air.
Jim Russ, the morning traffic anchor for Baltimore’s WBAL and 98 Rock, died of a heart attack Wednesday, WBAL announced. He would have been 58 on Thursday.
Russ had been at WBAL since 2011; he was also a traffic and news reporter at WTOP from 1986 to 1991, and had co-hosted Tech Talk Radio on Federal News Network since 2007. He had also been at Metro Traffic from 2000 to 2012.
That’s where WTOP’s Bob Immler met him. “He was my boss for several years,” Immler remembered from the Traffic Center on Wednesday.
Immler remembered Russ as someone who would run out to breaking news scenes in the middle of the night.
“He would have his scanners on at home,” Immler said. “He’d leave them on when he’d go to bed at night, and he would run out to scenes in the middle of the night.”
He was the same way regarding traffic, Immler said: “He was always trying to get to the facts. And if it required doing it in the middle of the night, that’s what he did.”
Former WTOP traffic reporter Bob Marbourg said Russ brought his work home and “carried his work with him.”
“Jim had scanners at home and tried to keep up with public safety developments. Just about pretty close to 24/7,” Marbourg said.
In the 1980s, Marbourg said, mobile units were installed in traffic reporters’ vehicles. He remembered Russ going to a train wreck north of Baltimore, and having one of the early bag phones, “which was something akin to a large toiletries case” that you can take out of the car and go out to the scene of something that was happening.
Others, too, recalled Russ’ dedication to his work.
“No one loved the job of reporting traffic more than Jim did,” WBAL General Manager Cary Pahigian wrote in an email to staff Wednesday. “He saw it as his duty to keep people in Baltimore moving to their destinations as quickly as possible and attacked that responsibility with passion and dedication.”
WTOP General Manager Joel Oxley called Russ “such a great pro and great person. No matter what he did, he did it right. He was smart, fun and incredibly dedicated. He treated everyone with respect and he’s already sorely missed.”
“This was quite a shock,” Immler said. “I really didn’t expect this at all.”
Russ, like others who report on traffic, let drivers know that someone knows that they are out there.
“That was our job — to create a picture that they could see, to manage expectations, to have a plan, and to know when it was time to change your plan. And that was the mission and the work, and the gift that Jim Russ gave to his audience,” Marbourg said.
WTOP’s Michelle Basch contributed to this report.