This is the inaugural entry of a Street Smarts chat feature. We learn more about Sprince Arbogast, who went from dancer to broadcaster. It was when she became a mom that she was pulled into the scintillating world of traffic reports — which she’s been giving NPR listeners now for 20 years.
Question: How did you get into this business?
Answer: I actually have an unusual background. I started my radio career at the NPR station in France. I came back to the States (when I decided to start a family). It was perfect. Traffic (reporting) was great when the kids were little and I could do it part-time. I could keep my feet wet with my career in broadcasting and also be there for the family.
Q: So I take it reporting on traffic was not your lifelong dream?
A: No. And to go even more bizarre, I didn’t even have a radio background. I was actually dancing professionally in a dance company in Europe.
Q: You say you shifted gears when you started to worry about arts programs being put under the budget knife?
A: I just said, “I’m on a mission. I’ve got to keep the arts alive.” My dance company was based in Paris and Grenoble. So I went knocking on doors at television and radio stations, and pushed my way into the industry. I produced an arts and entertainment program for Radio France. From there, the news department grabbed me to do some live news reporting and on-air translating.
A: (Laughs) No, but isn’t that just odd? I fit right in, don’t I?
Q: What is the story behind your awesome name?
A: Sprince is actually a nickname. I’ve had it since I was a little girl. My dad has it, I have it. We’re the only two.
Q: What’s the worst traffic spot in Snohomish County?
A: I-5. Without a doubt. Especially north I-5 in Everett where at U.S. 2 drivers lose an HOV lane and the roadway is reduced to three lanes.
I was born and raised here in Seattle. I remember when it was “last person leaving Seattle — turn out the lights” because everyone was moving out. You could go up I-5 through Snohomish County and be fine. Now, you can drive I-5 Sunday morning or afternoon and it’s congested.
I believe traffic is going to get worse as people flee King County looking for less expensive real estate. Drivers are going to have to think of better solutions. Until light rail comes, it’s going to have to be carpooling, Sounder train, Community Transit and working remotely or stagger your work hours.
Q: Is there something you say over and over, that you could just record and push a button to play it and save your voice?
A: Traffic is different every day. There are patterns in the commute. When I see those patterns change, I like informing the listeners — that they may need to allow more time for driving, or that a crash is going to cause them 15 minutes extra to get home.
Q: You get creative.
A: How many different ways can you say the traffic is backed up? I don’t write a script. I’ll gather all my information right up to the last second before going on-air, but I have no idea if I’m going to say “this backup moving through Everett looks like a slow-moving metal snake.” Or one time I said, “You can read the VIN number on the car in front of you traffic is so backed up.” “It’s a parking lot out there — you could pass the Grey Poupon to your neighbor.” That’s what can make it fun for us.
Q: What advice would you give drivers?
A: Make sure you have your coffee before you head out. Drivers seem more tired on Mondays as they start their work week and there can be more collisions. If you get behind the wheel, you’ve got to have a clear head.
When there’s collisions, people in California know to get over to the side of the road. Why, oh why, here in Washington state do people just stop and don’t move? … State Patrol encourages drivers, if you can move your car, steer it and clear it.
Q: You do a lot besides traffic and news. You produce a podcast called “Cinema Squabble.” Is this a typical side job for radio traffic reporters? I see Adam Gehrke is a host.
A: Adam is also a Seattle film critic. So I was able to get in with a bunch of these Seattle film critics. They would squabble about all things film prior to a movie getting started. I’m like guys, we’ve got to record this.
I also produce a thought-leadership podcast series for Microsoft (“Modern Workplace”).
Q: Who do you enjoy working with on-air?
A: With Ed (Ronco) at NPR (KNKX) I get to be live on-air. We can dive off and talk about something other than traffic. He’s my jokester — my George Burns, and I’m his Gracie.
Q: Anything else to add?
A: I still think there is a place for traffic reporters in this day and age, because we give you those little extra nuggets of information. I understand you have to get from point A to point B. How can I help you get there? Getting to inform people — and maybe a chuckle or two that can help ease those white knuckles on the wheels that we all get.
This interview was edited for length and clarity. With thanks to Herald copy editor Bill Pedigo.
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