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  • Writer's pictureMichael Burns

A Good Time to Check the Mirrors

As we roll down the road, experienced drivers have subconscious timers that insist, “It’s time to check the mirrors.” It may be every 10 seconds, every 30 seconds – whatever the interval is, it becomes automatic, just another habit for a professional driver. If the usual time span is exceeded, there is a sense of nervousness – even dread – time to look. For me, it’s time to look in the mirrors.

Twenty-five years ago, when I was driving to make a living and learning the fine points of being a professional over-the-road driver, it was an interesting time. The most important truck of our time, the Kenworth T600, had already been in production for over a decade. The T600, had re-written the rule books. In design studios, aerodynamics and efficiency had become king. The oil crisis of 1973 was still fresh enough in our memories to spur the desire to gain what advantage we could as an industry. Every day, new truck designs from all the Class 8 manufacturers, left the assembly lines showing lessons learned from the most innovative truck of our time. Yes, there were still classic designs being built, but it was easy to see their ranks dwindling in fleets of all sizes, accompanied by the use of new software to analyze efficiency in hauling the nation’s freight.

Cabs were getting more accommodating and larger. Some (my Volvo 770 comes to mind) had begun to resemble well-furnished tiny condos. Truck stops had changed to supply food and fuel, chrome and gadgets. Sleeping accommodations for drivers were no longer considered in their plans. We still scanned and searched for our favorite trucking radio DJ’s on AM radio, most of us committing to memory the relationship between where we were and which station carried them in that area, a feat no less complex than learning to properly shift a eighteen-speed transmission. The days of buying and trading rights to trucking lanes had ended, and The Motor Carrier Regulatory Reform and Modernization Act of 1980 was a forgotten date for most of the drivers on the road. The 1995 abolition of the ICC was not even discussed any longer. It was the “Wild West” in some ways, and deregulated rates were proving to be good and bad for the industry.

Change was everywhere in trucking, and even though I didn’t know it at the time, imminent in my life. On December 14th, I stopped at the T/A in Gary, Indiana (always one of my favorites), walked past the racks of publications near the entry, and stopped, stunned almost unable to breathe. There on the cover of Road King magazine was the face of my beautiful bride. Yes, I was in the picture too, (I was the one with the stupid mustache) but it took a while to notice me standing next to her. I grabbed two copies.

Later that night, at about 2:00 am, while driving west on 90 toward Rockford, I was listening to Dave Nemo on the radio, but seriously distracted by other thoughts – you know, bills, plans, places I couldn’t be, things I needed to do. It was a cold clear night, and my favorite time to drive. Dave played a new song, catchy little tune, and I started to sing along. I sang along with the first verse and let loose on the chorus like nobody was listening. Why do I know this song? Dave said first time play, new song . . . HEY!! THAT’S MY SONG! "Christmas Comes on Eighteen Wheels," the song my beautiful bride said was the silliest song idea she’d ever heard, was on the radio! A few days later I met Dave Nemo face-to-face for the first time. The rest of that story is history.

Looking back in the mirror, that was twenty years ago. The friendship and partnership have endured, and I consider Dave my best friend. From what I’ve been told, that’s extremely rare for business partners of two decades. What we have been able to accomplish behind the scenes, RadioNemo’s weight and presence silently benefiting drivers, has been my proudest achievement.

But when you check those mirrors, it’s important to remember to quickly turn your attention back to the windshield and the road ahead. Our association with SiriusXM and the people who work there has been very rewarding. At SiriusXM, and here at RadioNemo, the torch is being passed to a new generation of exceptionally bright, talented, energetic young people who love and honor the art of radio as much as we do.

It’s a beautiful day to drive, and the road ahead looks good. It’s been a great ride so far. I’m keeping the left door closed and putting the hammer down.


Photo by Gaia Armellin on Unsplash


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