Tuesday, April 29, 2014

LA Traffic Expert: KFI's Mark Denis

"A gig's a gig.... Do what you love and you'll never have to 'work' a day in your life." - (Mark) Denis Melbourne

Like most of my colleagues in broadcasting radio, I first met Mark Denis through a conversation on a 2-way radio. His messages were always brief, happy and helpful. I was 19 at the time, a newbie in traffic reporting. Denis (his official first name) was an established radio legend at the time, the staple traffic reporter and station voice of KFI AM 640.

Despite the fact that he worked for a competitor, Mark heartily invited me to the radio station. Upon meeting him in person the first time, he wasted no time introducing me to the Program Director of the radio station at that time, David G. Hall.

You see, in an industry like broadcasting, and certainly in a competitive market like. Los Angeles, there was (and still is) NO ONE like. Mark Denis. He always thought of how to make other peoples' days brighter. He always asked how he could help. He always had a smile on his face.

With Mark's encouragement and endorsement, i never gave up on advancing my career and adding KFI to my broadcasting resume. Just months after meeting Mark, I was a regular member of the KFI weekend staff, facilitating show segments and producing promo and commercial material for the station.

I met Mark on what us traffic reporters would simply call "the 2-way" and we continued to have many conversations both as traffic reporters (where we were technically competitors) and as KFI team members. While he never said my actual name on the air, he graciously referred to me as "TIRK" - the Incredible Randy Keith - whenever referencing me for a traffic tip.

I had the pleasure of conducting one recording session with Mark. He laid down vocal tags for the shows I was producing at the time, Melinda Lee (still heard today weekends on KNX hosting "Food News") and Fred Ebert, a freelance talk show host. This was the nicest guy I had ever met, and he had the most beautiful (and low) speaking voice I had ever heard.

Mark made it a habit to, upon meeting someone, write down their birthday. I met Mark in the Summer of 1999. My birthday is May 1st.

In March of 2000, Mark had heart surgery which was supposed to be preventative. He seemed to be doing okay until coming do with pneumonia on April 27th, and he passed away two days later.

It may have been the first funeral I had ever been to. It certainly was the biggest funeral I had ever attended. It was quite fitting that there was literally a traffic jam on the road to the traffic reporter's funeral.

It seemed that everyone that had ever worked at a radio station was there... Colleagues, co-workers, producers, and bosses all came together to pay tribute to a man who clearly touched countless lives.

The Monday following Denis' passing, KFI Program Director David G. Hall delivered a beautiful on-air eulogy. Mark's voice survived on the air for several months before KFI went through corporate changes (including Hall) and graduated to a new voice.

After his passing, a group of fellow traffic reporters teamed up with legislators to commemorate a freeway interchange after Mark. Another traffic colleague, Bill Keene, had worked at KNX and passed before Mark. The "four-level" (101/110) interchange in Downtown Los Angeles was memorialized for Keene.

Denis lived in Orange County and when it wasn't feasible for him to travel Metrolink and other public transit, he would make the drive to the KFI studios (in Koreatown) starting on the 91 in Anaheim Hills. He would often "check in" with his fellow traffic reporters on the two way with his trademark "Code 5" when he would pass the 91/55 interchange. Therefore it was determined huh at this interchange would be named the "Mark Denis Melbourne Memorial Interchange."

The signs are placed at every entrance of the interchange, East and West 91 at the 55, and North 55 just before the 91.

I never got to receive a birthday gift from Mark. His friendship, legacy and inspiration have far outlived the almost-year that I knew him.


Randy Keith is the owner of PremierPianoShows,com. arizona's leading dueling piano entertainment company for corporate functions, weddings and private parties. Randy is a Southern California native, and prior to leaving LA and pursuing a dueling piano career in 2007, served as a traffic reporter. 

Working for Metro and Shadow networks, leading traffic service providers at the time, From 1998-2008, Randy reported from the studio and the air for KNX, KFWB, KABC, as well as affiliates in Los Angeles suburbs including KVEN and KHAY in Ventura, KBET and KHTS in  Santa Clarita and the Highway Stations in Barstow.

Randy is currently writing "Help! Get me Around LA Traffic: the SoCal Traffic Expert's Guide," slated to be available as a published guide, e-book, website and app. Like Mark Denis, Randy has a passion for helping people save time in their commutes and hope that his accumulated knowledge of freeways and traffic patterns will serve Southern California drivers better than any existing resources.

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