Although born in Virginia, Al moved to Tampa when he was five and considered himself a Tampa native. The Jefferson High School grad was a sergeant in the Tampa Police Department’s motorcycle patrol division in 1968 when WDAE hired him to do morning and afternoon traffic updates. After arrangements were made with Peter O. Knight Airport to rent a plane and use student pilots to make daily flights over the Tampa Bay area, this “son of a preacher man” was personally selected by Chief J.G. Littleton to become the department’s first pilot.
He was an instant hit with his folksy and direct style and urged his listeners to “give the boss a good eight-hour day” and to “go to church on Sunday.” In 1970 the department bought a 1962 Piper Colt (nicknamed ‘Tillie’) and taught him how to fly it. Although he retired from the force as a lieutenant the next year, he continued his daily traffic reports (for WDAE and later WSUN) until 1991 and logged more than 20,000 hours in the air during his 24-year radio career.
‘Tillie’ was retired from the TPD aviation unit in 1985 and acquired by the department in 1999. After being restored by chief aviation mechanic Richard Fernandez, the plane was placed on display in the department’s lobby in 2004. The following year, Chief Stephen Hogue honored the veteran traffic reporter and ‘Tillie’ with a plaque noting their place in history.
Al called his plane ‘Tillie the Toiler,’ but he, himself, had nicknames, too. Tampa International Airport’s traffic controllers referred to him as “Al One” and the Tampa Tribune called him “The Big Scourge in the Sky” (for his manner of chastising drivers for their bad driving habits).
Ford was a resident of Wesley Chapel at the time of his death November 8, 2008 at the age of 80.
1968 - 1991 Other Tampa Bay Area Stations (Traffic Reporter)