Captain Telegram just disappeared from Columbia airwaves. What happened?

Captain Telegram delivered traffic and safety tips to Columbia radio waves for over 10 years.
Captain Telegram delivered traffic and safety tips to Columbia radio waves for over 10 years. Photo provided by Captain Telegram

For the last 37 years, Michael Kelley’s alter-ego, Captain Telegram, has been a Columbia icon. Maybe you know him from his trolley rides through downtown, hot air balloon rides over the city, or as a sender (or recipient) of one of the 50,000 singing telegrams he’s delivered.

But most likely, you were one of many faithful listeners who tuned into 107.5 “The Game” sports radio where he reported local traffic with signature style. Captain Telegram even saved lives. He recalls being told the story of a young woman who was listening when he asked, “Are you wearing your seat belt?” and she realized she wasn’t. Within five minutes of buckling up, she was in a wreck that would have killed her if it weren’t for Captain Telegram’s question.

But on Monday, Oct. 16 when he went to the studio for his regularly scheduled spot, he was informed there was a “conflict.” As it turns out, Captain Telegram was not paid by the radio station but by advertisers he mentioned during the show. However, with the station’s new morning show’s affiliation with different advertisers, he says his spots were deemed problematic and he was let go.

“I really miss doing the job. I’m getting so many calls from people saying ‘where are you?’” says Kelly. “The idea that they would replace me with something that is... without me in the picture, it’s terrible.”

What, or who, he’s referring to is Joy, the new “dry” female voice that’s replaced his recognizable flair. He can tell just from the few times he’s listened in that she’s not local. He says Joy mispronounces street names regularly, gives accident information for Charlotte and, by his estimation, is just reading updates off the highway patrol website.

It may sound like he’s a little bitter – and he is – but he’s not here to bash the radio station. He just wants them to be aware of how important his job was, and how important it continues to be.

“People who don’t do this job don’t understand,” he says. “My job is not just to tell people where the accidents are to save them a couple of minutes. My job is to get people to drive safely. And somebody reading the highway patrol website is not going to know this stuff.”

Kelly says it breaks his heart he’s no longer with the station after 10 years. “I got to make a little bit of a difference,” he says, adding, “The weather man is treated like a doctor, but you can’t do anything about the weather. But traffic you can do something about.”