The Traffic Guy, Johann von Bargen, hangs up his headphones after his last broadcast at the East Coast Radio studio. Picture: S’bonelo Ncgobo/ANA
The Traffic Guy, Johann von Bargen, hangs up his headphones after his last broadcast at the East Coast Radio studio. Picture: S’bonelo Ncgobo/ANA

Traffic Guy hangs up his headphones after 33 years on radio

By Frank Chemaly Time of article published Nov 4, 2017

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Durban - His voice has guided Durban motorists through the city’s traffic hotspots for 33 years, but on on Friday’s Drive with Bongani and Mags show, Johann von Bargen, better known as JVB or The Traffic Guy, hung up his headphones.

The Independent on Saturday joined him for his final show in a studio that was as busy at the M41 and M4 interchange in uMhlanga, with staff popping in to say goodbye and all his “roadies” phoning in their latest updates and sending their best wishes.

Von Bargen has been with East Coast Radio since it was born 21 years ago and before that with Radio Port Natal and RPN Stereo. “And I haven’t missed a show, morning or afternoon,” he says. “And I’ve never been late. Although it’s been close,” he smiles.

He started his career as a traffic cop and his first five years on the radio were spent in the helicopter reporting from the air.

“I saw tons of things others would never have seen. A circular rainbow, dolphins body surfing and fish eagles building their nests and raising their chicks on the Ohlanga estuary.” And that’s beside the many suburban stories he wasn’t supposed to see. “People don’t expect a chopper coming over,” he says.

He has also broken some records for the highest and fastest traffic report. It involved a jaunt in a Czech L29 fighter at 13 000 feet doing Durban to Richards Bay to Pietermaritzburg and back at 800km/h.

And then there was a dare from Daryl Ilbury, who for Von Bargen was very much his broadcasting tutor. “At the intersection of Stanger and Argyle I got into a fire department cherry picker. They took me up eight storeys in a harness and just this thin cable. I could see all the way to the top of Ridge Road.”

Von Bargen is not retiring. He intends to continue his pro driving company which specialises in courses on anti-hijacking techniques and defensive driving and cutting down the country’s accident rate. 

“I will miss the staff,” he says. “And my hundreds of ‘roadies’ who phone in and give me information. They’ve become my friends. They repeat my phrases. They know my number and I know theirs. They even phone me when the traffic’s all clear. That’s what I like.”

He races back into the studio. “I am a messenger, I just pass it on,” he says.

And he will pursue his passions. He is a keen amateur photographer. You can catch his pictures under fun stuff on his website

He is also a keen aviation fan. He tells of weekends spent on another hobby – his flight simulator which has a number of different planes loaded that he can fly in real time to Port Elizabeth or Cape Town. He also has a radio-controlled helicopter, drone and glider.

 “I’ve never missed an airshow. In fact, I made aviation history as the first passenger on a commercial aircraft at an airshow.” 

It was the Olympic 747 and as a result of his Argyle Road dare, he was invited by the captain to join him on a mock landing at the Virginia airshow. “It was quite something with a slow flypast and then you floor it and turn out to sea,” he said.

Asked about his many fans who will be sad to no longer hear his reassuring voice on air, he says: “It is reported that I have some, but I don’t know who they are. Can’t they send me their phone numbers?”

Boni Mchunu, the station’s general manager, adds: “JVB has been a good friend to the station and our listeners.

“Therefore, we can never say goodbye. We will simply say see you soon on the KwaZulu-Natal roads. Thank you for your reliable reporting, and all the best for your new chapter.”

The Independent on Saturday

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