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Nation's Largest Radio Traffic Report Provider Was Built On Barter

Metro Networks, the nation’s largest provider of radio traffic reports, delivers them to more than 1,300 radio stations and 114 TV stations. It is the creation of 56-year-old David Saperstein, who got the idea for traffic reports while stuck in a Baltimore traffic jam in 1978.

At the time he was a Ford dealer, figuring he could get free advertising for his car lots if he assembled traffic reports and offered them to radio stations in exchange for air time. Within a month of his brainstrom he had signed up three stations and two traffic reporters.

As payment, Saperstein asked for ten seconds at the end of each broadcast. Today stations pay him a mix of cash and air time, which Saperstein resells to national or regional advertisers.

Local legend has it that when he built his $3 million home in Houston’s posh River Oaks neighborhood, he was so good at bartering radio time for goods and services that you could tell what stage of construction the house was in by the ads that ran on Metro’s traffic reports—from roofers to pool men to electrical contractors.

In October 1996, Saperstein sold half of the company to the public (IPO) and put $58 million of the $132 million raised into his pocket. He still owned the other half of Metro, a stake quoted at $180 million.