David Harvey "Detour Dave" Sandler Jr., the longtime WBAL Radio and 98 Rock traffic reporter who warned drivers of Bay Bridge backups and JFX accidents for three decades, died of a pulmonary condition Thursday at Johns Hopkins Hospital. He was 58 and lived in Reisterstown.
Born in Baltimore and raised in Pikesville, he was the son of RosaLea Finstein, who sold residential real estate, and David Harvey Sandler Sr., who founded Sandler Selling Systems. He was a 1979 graduate of Pikesville Senior High School and earned a communications degree at the University of Maryland, College Park.
“Dave grew up loving radio and sports. He idolized Chuck Thompson,” said a family member, Dorrie Anshel, who lives in Ocean View, Del. “It was his life’s dream to be on the air.”
He broke into radio work at a small State College, Pa., station and worked as an assistant in the news department at WCBM Radio in Baltimore.
In a 2017 interview with the Frederick Community College student newspaper, Mr. Sandler said of his early days at WCBM, “This got my foot in the door. [I] made very little money and I got my start in the radio business.”
“He learned the business through the back door and the front door,” Dorrie Anshel said.
He got a job with Metro Traffic Control and flew with pilots in a helicopter and later a Cessna aircraft. He created a persona for himself, that of the unflappable Detour Dave.
Radio colleagues said that after the Sept. 11, 2001, attack, air space around Baltimore became restricted and the use of traffic cameras was increasing.
He formed a 31-year association with WBAL Radio and 98 Rock. He worked the morning shift and an afternoon drive-time slot and became recognized at Detour Dave. He also appeared on camera on WBAL television. In a 2017 interview in The Sun, he said he got the job on a handshake. "We never really had what I would call a contract. We had an agreement...”
John Patti, a WBAL morning news anchor, said, “Dave was always calm and easygoing. He was reassuring. Nothing rattled Detour Dave Sandler. … He was an icon on the radio. He became a personality.
“He was born and raised in Baltimore. He was a local guy who knew the roads upside down,” Mr. Patti said. “If the traffic music bed didn’t fire correctly, he knew when to speak and he knew what his allotted time was. Because of time constraints, he knew how to prioritize. He was smooth as silk.”
Robert Lang, a WBAL reporter and news anchor, said, “Dave was one of those guys who what you saw on the air was what he was in life off the air. He never stressed out. All hell could be breaking loose, but Dave was calm and steady. You never saw him yell.”
Mr. Sandler had another business, Detour Dave Inc. He became a DJ for parties, weddings and bar and bat mitzvahs.
“Dave was a quick study,” said Mr. Patti. “We asked him if he wanted to get into this work. He said he had no knowledge of music, the recording artists or the equipment. His career took off after about one night at Lenny’s at the Pomona Square shopping center. He went on to buy his own equipment and get the jobs.”
Mr. Sandler left the station in 2017, after working there for 31 years.
A 2010 Sun article told of Mr. Sandler’s near-death experience on a baseball diamond the year before. “He said he passed out as he rounded the bases during a softball tournament last summer at Reisterstown Regional Park. Two physicians on the team recognized he was in heart failure and immediately administered CPR,” the article said.
He further explained that as a University of Maryland student in 1982 he was diagnosed with non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma. He was treated with radiation and survived. While his cancer was cured, the treatments had damaged his heart and lungs. He underwent quadruple bypass surgery after the blackout incident.
He later wrote of the event in “Taking a Detour: Life Lessons from a Near-Death Experience and the Long Journey Back,” a work published in 2015. He also gave motivational talks about the book.
Services will be held at 3 p.m. Sunday at Sol Levinson and Brothers, 8900 Reisterstown Road.
Survivors include his wife of nearly 34 years, Jody Hoffman, an office manager for a medical practice; a son, Brooks Sandler of Pittsburgh; a daughter, Alix Sandler of Baltimore; his mother, RosaLea Finstein of Pikesville; two brothers, Doug Sandler of California and Richard Finstein of Clarksville.