OPINION: And a full salute to ‘Captain’ Herb Emory

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“Good morning and good driving to ya!”–legendary metro Atlanta traffic reporter “Captain” Herb Emory

I first met “Captain” Herb Emory in 1974. I was a teenager, fortunate to have the opportunity to be interviewing the ‘faces’ behind the voices of Atlanta radio for a local kids program on WSB-TV 2.

Back in that day there was no morning radio show hotter and no team more celebrated than Gary McKee and Willis the Guard on 94Q FM. This was the heyday of Atlanta’s morning drive-time radio, and McKee helmed an unstoppable and unflappable crew.

Herb Emory had joined “McKee in the Mornings” in 1971. In 1991, he made the move to the Cox Radio Group and became a staple and important team member of “Atlanta’s Morning News with Scott Slade,” on News/Talk Radio AM 750 and now 95.5 FM.

Then just plain, Herb Emory, the good Captain spent thousands of early mornings and afternoons as our virtual “eyes in the sky,” and if Herb didn’t coin the phrases, “Spaghetti Junction” or “The Big Chicken” or any of the many other humorous nicknames for Atlanta’s traffic landmarks, it sure seemed like he did. Herb’s brief and light-hearted warnings dotted the drive-time hours with wisdom, the occasional homily and always good humor. I thank God that Captain Herb was on call for both the Snow Jam in 1982 and this year’s Snowmaggedon, and every major winter/weather cluster in between.

Perhaps second only to the love of his wife Karen, and warning Atlanta commuters of the traffic ills of the day, Herb loved being helpful and of service to others.

Whether for Toys for Tots, Clark’s Christmas Kids, the FODAC Santa Breakfast, AFLAC Cancer Center Care-a-thon or other charitable golf tournaments and special events too numerous to mention, Captain Herb has been a perpetual presence. Always smiling, patting backs and spreading cheer, he has always been one of those gifted few whose presence can actually turn a frown upside down.

And no salute to our Captain would be complete without mentioning his love for NASCAR.  Herb’s father was a volunteer pit crew member for Ralph Earnhardt (Dale Earnhardt Sr.’s father) back in the 1960s during the infancy of stock car racing. From his father’s knee and the Blue Ridge Mountains of North Carolina, Emory’s love for auto racing spread to his bride Karen and later bled into his broadcast career, as Herb’s NASCAR tailgates and pre-, post- and race broadcasts also became legendary.

Mark Arum, who joined WSB in 1997, learned traffic reporting studying in the Captain Herb School of Broadcasting, “Without him, I wouldn’t have a career. I owe everything to him.”

In 2008, Captain Herb was inducted into the Georgia Radio Hall of Fame. And in 2012, he received the inaugural Excellence in Motor Sports Journalism Award. I think they should name that “The Herbie”—rolling Captain Herb and memories of the Disney Love VW Bug into one.

Herb was helping a stranded motorist on a rare day off near his Douglasville home when he suddenly became ill. Following transport to nearby WellStar Douglas Hospital, he succumbed to cardiac arrest.

Among those quickly paying tribute was Georgia Gov. Nathan Deal: “He is everything in person that you would expect him to be listening to him over the airways.”

To others, Emory was a celebrity, but one who remained humble and always ready with a self-deprecating quip. He was forever wearing a well-worn bomber jacket, similar to that worn by Colonel Hogan on the old TV program Hogan’s Heroes. The jacket lapels were littered with pins from NASCAR, the Centennial Olympic Games and many of Emory’s pet charitable causes. Often met with a hero’s welcome or introduction, Emory would often retort, “If I was a big-time celebrity, do you think I’d still be wearing this?” referencing that jacket.

I don’t know how we will handle rush hours without you, Captain Herb, but I do know this–with that new bird’s eye view you now have from your comfortable seat up there, you ought to be able to send some pretty good traffic tips down to your former teammates and the many you taught to monitor, transmit and broadcast on the Captain Herb frequency on all those scanners.

A crisp salute skyward, Captain. You were one of a kind and will be greatly missed.

 

Bill Crane also serves as a political analyst and commentator for Channel 2’s Action News, WSB-AM News/Talk 750 and now 95.5 FM, as well as a columnist for The Champion, Champion Free Press and Georgia Trend. Crane is a DeKalb native and business owner, living in Scottdale. You can reach him or comment on a column at billcrane@earthlink.net.

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