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Abby Ryan, Chicago Traffic Reporter

By Chris Karr in Miscellaneous on Apr 5, 2006 9:30PM

Abby Ryan is a familiar voice for all of us Chicagoists who spend too much time behind the wheel on many of the city's expressways, interstates and tollways. We can hear her on WBEZ, Z107, and a host of other stations. She has a fairly robust Google presence and many listeners speculate about that voice behind the dashboard.

Last week, we sat down with her to learn a bit more:

Chicagoist: Tell us about a typical day in the life of a traffic reporter.

Abby Ryan: Well, I don’t know if my days are typical because I spend most of my waking moments busy. I’m a very busy body. I think it all bleeds into the whole radio thing – everything is five minutes. When I’m at home and doing laundry, I time everything out. (Laughter) My roommates are convinced that I’m crazy, but anyways… For me it seems like I live my life twice as long as other people – my friends, their heads spin.

I get up probably around four thirty or four forty-five, depending on whether it’s summer or winter. I get up as late as possible. Most people in radio get up at two in the morning. Not me – I’m sleeping in until 4:30. And then I do my shift. I get there about five minutes before I’m supposed to be on the air. I get some coffee, put my headphones in the socket and badda-boom, badda-bing.

When I get done, I walk out the door, ride my bike home, get in the car and visit my mom and my other friends. I had lunch with one today. I do some shopping – whatever I have to do. In the summertime, I’m out the door at nine o’clock in the morning, going to the beach, or the zoo, or whatever. Navy Pier is a blast.

Then I come back in the afternoon, do my thing, go out to dinner or whatever. I probably go to bed around nine thirty, ten o’clock.

(More after the jump.)

Chicagoist: We know you do the traffic for several different radio stations. We imagine you going from place to place, rushing to be at each station before it’s your time to go on. That’s not really the case, is it?

Abby: No, I’m just sitting on my butt. I push a button and it changes stations. Some of the stations I do, I have to dial a special Zephyr-Getner phone system – my Indiana stations for the most part. I push two different buttons – one for my microphone and one for my headphones, so I can hear what station I’m on. And that’s it.

Chicagoist: Where does all this happen?

Abby: Near Daley Plaza.

Chicagoist: How many stations do you do the traffic for?

Abby: I am on six stations, but I have nine assignments. It gets a bit confusing. But all three stations that I’m on for the morning repeat in the afternoon. So I have three assignments in the morning and six in the afternoon.

Chicagoist: How much time do you spend on a station at a time? Is it like five minutes on, five minutes off? Or five minutes on one, then five on another?

Abby: It used to be a bit slower. Mike [a coworker] filled in for me the other day and said, “Ohhh, I don’t know how you do that!”

I like to be busy. If I have five spare minutes, then I tend to get distracted and forget what I’m doing and lose track of time. I like to be busy and regimented and before you know it, three and a half hours is over with.

So, I pretty much have a report every couple of minutes. There’s twice an hour where I can run to the bathroom – and I mean run. It’s down the hall, through two locked doors and back.

Chicagoist: Where does the traffic information come from? Helicopters?

Abby: Yeah, we have a couple of helicopters. We also have the cameras on the tollways and expressways. And we’re hooked up to the IDOT system. That’s where we get travel times from the different kind of sensors in the road. We can tell where the traffic’s pretty much blocked off. It starts on the highlighted screen and then starts flashing. When there’s traffic on the expressway, it comes as this big solid block on your computer and we can say that from Austin to the post office, it’ll be about seventeen minutes or something like that.

Chicagoist: Tell us a bit about your various radio personalities.

Abby: I guess I’m goofy on my other stations. When I was on the Fish a couple of years ago, I was the Christian single chick that every one wanted to know – “What’s Abby Ryan do for fun?” Actually, I got involved in a singles group that way. So that was my schtick there. That’s me, basically. It’s not really a schtick. Now when I’m on the Indiana station – it’s a country station – the guys there have everyone convinced that I drive six different Harleys and wear Daisy Dukes. They’re very into “The Dukes of Hazzard”. So, I’ll go to the Laporte county fair or the Porter county fair and these Harley guys are coming up to me looking for my Harley – which doesn’t exist. I ride a Schwinn to work. But anyway, they have wild imaginations. With Jeff Sanders in the morning on Z107, we’re basically the closest in age – in our early thirties – so we’re just like two peas in a pod. It’s crazy, I’m always giving him crap about multiple women and stuff like that. He wants to know what I did over the weekend and who I went out with, and we crack up about all my friends, talk about American Idol, and whatever.

Chicagoist: Which station do you have the most fun working with?

Abby: It would be the Indiana stations. Just because my personality comes out and I have fun. And they treat me as a co-host, too. It’s not just traffic reporting. I’ll throw it in, but we sometimes talk for five or six minutes.

Chicagoist: How’s the Dan Ryan closing going to affect you?

Abby: I’m gonna have a huge headache at seven o’clock with a bottle of Tylenol next to me. First of all, I’m going to have a hard time visiting my mother on the South side. My little secret, which would be Stoney Island to Lake Shore Drive and vice versa, will be out. Everybody else is going to be using it. So I don’t know what I’m going to do, but I just had lunch with her on Thursday. It was our last hurrah. Our new plan is to meet somewhere south of Midway Airport. She’s gonna take 294. It’ll be halfway, but out of the way.