KSTP-TV traffic reporter Josie Smith’s usually upbeat demeanor was tested in a most tragic way.
Smith, who previously provided traffic reports for WCCO-AM for 11 years, was off work because her baby girl died shortly after birth.
I decided not to explain her absence to curious readers until she was feeling better. She is better but understandably not completely recovered.
“It’s very, very difficult,” she told me. “It’s only been a few months, so it’s very fresh. I think maybe a couple of years from now, you know, it will be easier. It’s obviously very difficult to see other families happy. I thought, “Yeah, this is great and we were really excited. It really brought us a lot of joy and then all of a sudden …”
We talked about this at the end of this Q & A, which I had been trying to arrange months before she and her husband experienced their tragic loss.
Readers have been bombarding me with questions about why Smith is the only Twin Cities traffic reporter who talks about the roads while seated, instead of standing at the road map.
And that is where I kick off this Q & A —special thanks to KSTP’s Trish Juers for the set and map work — which online provides a startribune.com/video visual you’re not going to see weekdays on KSTP-TV anytime soon. After my time with Josie Smith, I can tell you she hides from her TV audience what a character she is off camera. For example, this was her admonition regarding video: “Make me look skinny!”
Q: I’m here to investigate whether you have legs and feet? (Not that many don’t do well without them.)
A: Yes, ma’am [Laughter] Short legs. But they’re there.
Q: How many e-mails have you received asking why you do the traffic sitting instead of standing at the map?
A: Ah. I haven’t been flooded or anything but probably at least 10.
Q: They ask me. I’ve received more inquiries than that!
A: Other people get e-mails and we got a call a couple of days ago, too. Somebody said, “I just want to know.”
Q: Why do you sit?
A: When I came over they wanted to do things a little bit different and we talked about having the police scanners and the traffic cameras and being able to call when I needed to call local officials on some sort of traffic incident and talk to MnDOT. So I have everything right in front of me, instead of having to walk somewhere. They like that feel; it’s real newsy and on top of it.
Q: Will you ever stand?
A: You’ve probably seen me standing in promos maybe. I’ve been doing some things because it’s summer: going out, doing hits talking about construction and I’ve been standing. People maybe have only seen a couple of them.
Q: Does being seated mean you only dress for TV from the waist up to the neck?
A: Obviously I’m fully clothed when I come to work, but I only have to worry about here on up, which is kind of nice if my slacks are all wrinkled, ehhhh. I don’t want to look like a slob when I come in but, ehhh. It is easier, I have to admit.
Q: Would you ever go with shorts?
A: I don’t know if they’d let me. I asked because I came from radio and they said it’s business. On radio, I would wear a hat. That was kind of nice, you know, you just didn’t feel like doing your hair. In radio you just throw the hat on, but not anymore, right?
Q: What do you know about traffic now that you didn’t before it became your job?
A: I wouldn’t have known that people are as interested in it as they are. I took the job, I thought it sounded like a fun opportunity way back a number of years ago when I did it on the radio. But I find, it’s kind of that water cooler talk. Did you that crash? Did you see that car fire? or when it’s winter Oh, my drive took me three hours. People want to talk about it.
Q: If you could write a bump sticker related to traffic what would it state [Mine: Snow is slippery stupid drive slower and Respect My Bumper By Staying Off It]
A: I would say something like “Do the Zipper Merge, It’s Minnesota Nice.” Do the zipper merge. People here think, What are they doing speeding in that lane? It’s where you fill both lanes and take turns but you see a lot of people get into a work zone or just a crash where they leave one lane open and everybody lines up and you are supposed to do the zipper merge. But people think that guy is a jerk who’s flying by, so I am like, “Do the zipper merge.”
Q: Are you a native Minnesotan?
A: I was born in Minnesota and then we moved out of state. I lived in Montana until I was almost in high school and we moved back.
Q: There are no rules to roads in Montana!
A: [Laughter] I think they finally did put the speed limits back in.
Q: I think Minnesotans are terrible drivers for the most part.
A: I hear a lot of people say that.
Q: And now people are so inattentive, which just exacerbates being a bad driver.
A: Yeah, I don’t know how people can do the texting and driving. How can you write an entire message, sentence to your friend while driving. That’s crazy.
Q: When was your last speeding ticket?
A: A long time ago. And that’s the truth. [Laughter] They don’t catch me [she said in a trucker voice]. I’m just kidding. I’m going too fast [again in the trucker voice]. My friends would say I do have a little bit of a lead foot. But I’m just a normal person. I know better but sometimes you … This is my problem. I get a good song on the radio and I’m cranking it up and then I start going a little too fast.
Q: I do kind of regret that I didn’t take you on a little driving test today, so I could decide if you are a good driver.
A: That would have been interesting. I would have been like so scared because she’s going to report everything.
Q: Did you apply or did KSTP-TV come to you?
A: I was looking. I was putting some feelers out and sending some résumés and I applied here for a different position. I had a friend who said, “Hey, the traffic position is open.” I thought maybe they had filled it, I didn’t know. We just got to talking, that’s how it came.
Q: How long did it take for you to get comfortable looking into the camera after making the switch from radio to TV?
A: Because when I’m talking into the camera, I’m not on for a super long time — like the anchors telling an entire story — it didn’t take real long. And since I was already talking about something I had been doing for a long time, I felt comfortable with the words and what I was talking about so it didn’t take real long. I just ad-lib, I’m not reading a script.
Q: How much earlier are you getting up for KSTP vs. your rise time when the company you worked for supplied traffic updates for WCCO-AM?
A: About an hour earlier because when I was at ’CCO radio, I was getting up around 4 or a little earlier depending on the weather. Fortunately, since I have been getting up that early for a long time, it wasn’t too hard to get used to but it’s early.
Q: You’re this big gardener. Did you remember to cover your delicate plants during our May cold snap?
A: I like to garden. That doesn’t mean I’m good at it. I can water them, that’s what I do. My husband says, You’re in charge of the watering. I planted them all by myself this year. I think we lost a mini-Minnesota cantaloupe and the cucumber doesn’t look too good.
Q: Why are you wasting your time on mini-cantaloupe?
A: Every year we try to throw in a different fruit. One year we had melons and they were the size of bowling balls. They were huge. They weren’t so good.
Q: What is the most decadent dessert you’ve made, since you are known for a sweet tooth?
A: I have a Wolfgang Puck recipe that I got out of the paper. Chocolate morsel cupcakes, and that pudding on the inside. It’s difficult to make because you can’t overwhip the eggs and then when you put them in the oven if you don’t cook them long enough, they are just kind of liquidy. If you overbake them, they are more like stiff cupcakes, still good but the ideal is to have it firm on the outside and pudding on the inside.
Q: You were off the air recently because of a personal tragedy.
A: I was pregnant. We were expecting our first child, a daughter, and I went into labor six weeks early and she didn’t make it after she was born.
Q: Did you get to hold her?
A: Yes. I had a natural delivery, it wasn’t a C-section. I think they always put the babies on you now.
Q: Are you doing OK now?
A: It’s very, very difficult. It’s only been a few months, so it’s very fresh. I think maybe a couple of years from now, you know, it will be easier. It’s obviously very difficult to see other families happy. I thought, “Yeah, this is great and we were really excited. It really brought us a lot of joy and then all of a sudden …”
Q: Any plans to try again?
Interviews are edited. To contact C.J. try firstname.lastname@example.org and to see her check out FOX 9’s “Buzz.”