Joe Morgan spent the end of his career high above Greater Boston reporting on traffic for WBZ Radio from a helicopter, sending shivers through commuters on clogged highways when he calmly uttered a phrase like: “There’s a hot spot.”
His feet were firmly on the ground, though, when he started out about 45 years ago, hitchhiking to work in Newburyport from his hometown of Andover.
“I still remember it was a rainy morning, knocking on the door of WNBP up in Newburyport, a little 500-watt station. You couldn’t hear it 5 miles down the road in any direction,” Mr. Morgan told WBZ Radio’s Carl Stevens in a 2011 interview that is posted online and on YouTube.
“Knocked on the door, there was a summer job, auditioned, got it, and that was the beginning.”
Mr. Morgan, who retired two years ago after a career that brought him to radio stations WCOP, WRKO, WHDH, and WBZ, died of throat cancer Jan. 30 in Kaplan Family Hospice House in Danvers. He was 67 and had lived in Peabody the past four decades.
Joe Morgan was his professional name, following a long-time practice among many in radio and television. He was born with the less radio-friendly name Joseph Patrick McEneaney.
“When he started, it was suggested to him that McEneaney would be a little bit difficult to say and spell,” his wife, Ellen McEneaney, said with a chuckle.
During his career, though, Mr. Morgan seemed capable of saying anything and saying it well.
“Like anybody who’s in the business, he loved being on the air, and he sounded great,” said Ed Walsh of Cocoa Beach, Fla., a friend and former colleague at WRKO and WBZ. “He had one of the best voices in Boston, no question about it.”
While they worked together when Walsh was a news anchor, “Joe and I for years had a sort of informal competition to see who could produce the most authoritative baritone every morning,” Walsh said. “He won nine times out of 10.”
Throat cancer, Mr. Morgan’s wife said, was a particularly cruel illness for someone who plied the radio trade.
Since being diagnosed three years ago, his voice slipped from rich, to gravelly, to a whisper. “It hit him where he lived,” she said.
As a radio reporter, Mr. Morgan was the reassuring voice listeners heard from the scene of often unsettling events.
“Joe loved the aspect of breaking news and appreciated what in those days radio did better than anyone, better than television, even,” Walsh said.
Years before video went digital, television crews had to process film before it could be put on the air.
“Radio, of course, could go on instantly, and there was a vigorous competition in those days,” Walsh said.
With news breaking as he spoke on air, Mr. Morgan “had a very commanding presence,” Walsh said. “In a typical radio report that lasts 60 seconds or less, one has to speak with clarity. He did it seamlessly.”
Walsh added: “Joe never needed a script. I could throw it to Joe live and might say to him in advance, ‘We have a 30-second hole, here,’ and he would go 30 seconds. If I had a follow-up question, he was always prepared. He was an absolute professional. I can’t think of him ever having an off day.”
Mr. Morgan grew up in Andover, the oldest of six children. His father was a physician, his mother an elementary school teacher.
He graduated from Andover High School, attended Nasson College in Maine, and went to a broadcasting school in Boston to smooth the rough edges of his voice.
“I had been going to speech school for about a year to get rid of this old New England accent I had, which was horrible back then,” he told Stevens.
Mr. Morgan’s family hoped he would follow his father into medicine, “but once he got into radio that was it,” his wife said.
From the moment he went on the Newburyport station “he was hooked,” she said, “and he would have gone wherever it took him, and it took him into Boston.”
At one point, Mr. Morgan was briefly between radio jobs. “I asked him, ‘Would you go back to radio if they didn’t pay you for it?’ And he said yes,’’ his wife said. “He would have worked in radio for free.”
Mr. Morgan met Ellen Ducey before becoming a radio announcer, when they had summer jobs at a hospital in Lynn.
“We met there in a training course,” she said. “He was an orderly and I was a nurses’ aide.”
They married in 1967.
According to WBZ’s website, Mr. Morgan won many awards for news reporting and public affairs during a career that included working at WCOP as operations director; at WRKO, where he was public affairs and editorial director, a news anchor and reporter, and news director; and at WHDH, where he was news director.
He became WBZ’s traffic helicopter reporter in 1997.
“I had never been in a helicopter in my life,” he told Stevens in early 2011. “I still have no idea how those things work. And from then, 1997, until just a few months ago, I flew every morning, every afternoon, had the time of my life.”
In addition to his wife, Mr. Morgan leaves a daughter, Karen McEneaney Owen of Methuen; a brother, Michael McEneaney of Boston; three sisters, Joan McEneaney Enos of Rockland, Maine, Mary McEneaney Fahey of Andover, and Cornelia McEneaney Rulon-Miller of Beverly; and four grandchildren.
A memorial service will be held at noon Saturday in St. Adelaide Church in Peabody.
Mr. Morgan may not have flown in a helicopter before becoming a traffic reporter, but he was no stranger to air travel. He and his wife honeymooned in Europe, and he was always eager for an adventure.
“I would just have to mention a place I’d like to see someday and in a few hours he’d have an itinerary for me,” his wife said.
“He’d have a folder started right away and have a map of the city we were going to visit and trace the route from the airport into the city,” she said. “That’s the way he was. He loved it. I’d say, ‘I was just thinking about something,’ and he’d say, ‘Why just think about it?’”