Profile: Bob Kelly
The Man Who Made Traffic Fun
By Kate Morgan

Bob Kelly always loved rock ‘n’ roll, and when the Philadelphia native was fresh out of Temple University, all he wanted to do was spin records. 

“I got started at 102.9 MGK and worked up and down the dial at all the hot stations,” Kelly says. “But the music industry was starting to change. Fewer DJs were actually live on the radio; everything was prerecorded. My agent said to me, ‘Traffic is going to be huge. What if you DJ that?’ Traffic is live; it’ll always be live, you can’t prerecord it. So instead of talking up the Rolling Stones, I decided to DJ the traffic.” 

Kelly moved to KYW Radio’s News on the 2s, where he quickly became a fan favorite thanks to his lively style and catchphrases – “Jammo,” “the Conshy Curve” and Kelly’s personal favorite, “double jelly donut delay.”  

“Dunkin Donuts was a sponsor way back when,” he says. “That was my way of getting that plug in, but people loved it and it stuck.”  

Soon, Kelly was reporting the traffic on  eight popular stations during rush hour. In 2001, CBS 3 came calling.  

“I was able to take something as cut-and-dry as the traffic and have some fun with it,” Kelly says. “They came and said, ‘Do you think you could bring this shtick to TV? We could use somebody to liven up our morning show.’ This was before the internet and Facebook and photos online. You hit TV and it’s like, ‘So that’s what that guy looks like!’”  

Kelly, with his trademark humor and enthusiasm, changed the way traffic gets reported – not just in Philadelphia, but everywhere.  

“I was the first traffic reporter to do the reports in front of the green screen,” Kelly says. “At that time, only the weather folks used the green screen, and the traffic people were in what I jokingly called the broom closet – this little black hole with the network’s logo behind me. When I went over to TV, I said, ‘Look, let’s think outside the box. Let me do the traffic at the green screen, give me some logos, let’s have some fun.’ Shortly after that, everybody followed – not just in Philly but across the country. It was an opportunity for people to say, ‘Let’s put some personality into this.’”  

In 2014, Kelly, who’s an Emmy winner and inductee of the Broadcast Pioneers Hall of Fame, moved to FOX 29’s Good Day Philadelphia. He is arguably the region’s most popular traffic reporter, and while he’s had offers to move to New York City and a larger market, he has no intention of going anywhere. What makes him so good at reporting the traffic here, he says, is the fact that he’s from here.  

“I was very fortunate to be born and raised in Philly,” he says. “I’m blessed to work in my hometown, which is rare in this industry. I’ve always had an advantage, because I know the neighborhoods, and I know what we call our roads. We don’t say Route 1; it’s the Boulevard. I know the landmarks. People in Philly sometimes still refer to where something is by the parish it’s in. I know those, too. I’ll tell you there’s traffic right there by Chickie’s & Pete’s, and people think, ‘Wow, ok, I know where that is.’ You never forget where you come from.”  

In addition to entertaining fans at Eagles, Flyers and Sixers games as host of the popular “Tailgate Takeover” broadcast on the jumbotron, Kelly’s developed a number of segments for Good Day Philadelphia that have almost nothing to do with traffic.  

“The thing I’ve really enjoyed since I came over to TV is that they loved the ideas I had for segments that give me an opportunity to get out into a community,” he says.  

“It’s nice, when you work for the news, to roll into a neighborhood and not talk about a murder or a fire, but to highlight something positive. Every Thursday I go to a different local breakfast spot for ‘Breakfast With Bob,’ and we have a party on live TV from 9 to 10 am. Every Tuesday I go to a different school for ‘Kelly’s Classroom,’ and we highlight something positive happening there. Maybe they’re having a 5K, or Sister Bernadette is retiring and they’re throwing a party.” 

“It puts the neighborhood on the map, gives the kids a chance to be on TV and gets us out there connecting with our viewers. Instead of through the camera lens, we’re doing it in person,” he adds. 

Bob Kelly during his “A Very Kelly Christmas” tour

On Mondays, Kelly hosts a segment called “Town Takeover,” where he heads to a Philadelphia neighborhood or South Jersey suburb to get to know a community, and during the holidays, viewers look forward to “A Very Kelly Christmas,” Kelly’s tour of the lavishly decorated homes of Northeast Philadelphia.  

When he’s not working on a segment, Kelly still loves the unpredictable nature of traffic reporting, which forces him to think on his feet.  

“I can never tell you what’s going to happen next,” he says. “From an overturned truck to fog, I’m going to be expected to ad-lib about what’s happening out there. I don’t have a teleprompter or script.”  

But Kelly also knows his viewers depend on him, and that sometimes his traffic report can make or break a person’s day.  

“People allow us into their homes each and every morning,” he says. “And I can be serious when we need to be serious, because it’s never enjoyable to report on a bad accident, and traffic does stink. But if I can be the guy to lighten the mood, I know that makes a difference in the start of people’s days. I’m a regular person, just like all the other reporters and anchors. We all have the same problems everybody else has; we’re all tired, kids are driving us crazy, we all have bills to pay, but when that camera goes on, it’s time to have some fun.”  

Kelly lives in a Philadelphia suburb with his wife and six children, three of whom recently became licensed drivers.  

“I’m always worried,” he says. “Maybe it’s because I see the craziness every day, so I’m just a little more sensitive to that.”  

And though he’s the self-proclaimed king of the little-known shortcut, Kelly says he tells his kids to just stay on the major roads. Better to be patient in traffic, he says, than to get yourself lost. That’s not to say, Kelly admits, that he always practices what he preaches.  

“I have no patience whatsoever when I’m the one sitting in traffic,” he laughs. “I’ll talk all morning long about construction on I-95 near the Blue Route, and then I’ll leave the station and drive right into it. Or I’ll tell people, ‘Don’t forget, Kelly Drive is closed this weekend,’ and then I’ll drive right into it and get stuck in a line of cars. Then I gotta keep my head down, because I don’t want anyone to say, ‘Hey, isn’t that Bob Kelly? He’s stuck in traffic!’”  

And as for apps that promise to help you avoid traffic, Kelly says he doesn’t feel threatened by computerized competition. What he offers, after all, can’t be replicated by a voice emanating from your phone.  

“Any computer or navigation system will tell you where the delay is or how to get from point A to point B,” he says. “But they’re not going to give you the fun stuff – the entertainment that goes along with it. If you want to just follow the arrow, go ahead. But if you want to know the best shortcut and you want to have some fun, listen to me.”   

October 2018
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