To the new year, 2016, I reflect and remember the life of Bill Johnson, a great voice in radio, who died on 11-29-15. He was heard in many different genres, but mainly as a sports radio broadcaster who spent most of his career in the Portland, Oregon area, with college radio, the Portland Trailblazers, and others. When I knew him, he reflected on being present for the Hank Gathers death during a late 80s game in the NCAA. I came to know Bill during my stint with KSRO AM radio in Sonoma County, California. At the time I had a college radio show going, during the busy hour, which probably yielded ten listeners, and was on the verge of getting my own variety show with two colleagues at another larger station, nearby. (James and Henry were part of my crew, with some assistance from Tommy; we were excited with the ambitious nature of our show, as the signal went all the way to Bodega Bay, San Jose and Los Gatos, while reaching as far west as Walnut Creek, including of course Oakland and San Francisco. Bill saw the excitement brewing, happy to lend advice.) Bill was new to Sonoma County, the hub of the wine country, just taking the job, wanting to try a new area. What Bill had, which I noticed right away, was the classic play-by-play radio voice, which he used very well to relay the news of the region and world, to the listeners of the Bay Area. It's one of those voices that you encounter in person and think, this guy can't be serious, but then it grows on you and within seconds you're hooked. There was a funny moment I recall, which I never actually shared with him. I thought it was funny, anyway. I was busy as his assistant, taking on assignments with alacrity. It turned out, maybe I was working too fast, as he gave me a look and nudge suggesting "If everything's done, I'll have no way to act like I'm working on something." Each day was a fresh start with Bill. He had a great attitude and was very open to show me tricks of the trade, accepting me as his partner...he'd ask me about this interview or that one, or he'd comment on the finer points of the equipment, even showing me how to edit the sound from his assignments (which I inevitably took over). Very quickly, I was actually editing stories for the feature news broadcast. Then he'd read it. To any editor out there reading, they're probably thinking: Yeah, and? It was exciting to do mundane things like this in his company. It felt like a team of guys from the 50s, encountering new digital technology, along with his shiny, silver, digital recorder that he'd plug into the computer system, yielding the wavelengths, going up and down from the inflection of voices, and the ability to fade a sound. The editing system "was new" as he said, and he had just started to tackle it. On many occasions, he'd say, "Come on, I've got the mid-day news to read," motioning for me to join him in the live broadcast booth - and I'd be sitting there, observing him in action, being part of the radio waves. It was weird, seeing the voice of the station talking into the mic, in real time. What also struck me, was the confidence he had to allow me in there, knowing me to be the prankster I am at times. But I behaved, watching a great master do his thing. The station manager had been giving me multiple assignments, like the birthday of a Harley Davidson store in Rohnert Park, California; the birth of a giraffe at a zoo; an interview with Duf Sundheim, who was head of the California Republican Party at the time; the Native-American casino debates in Rohnert Park, which was a huge ongoing story, among others. I'd return to the station and Bill would greet me with something like, "Okay, what've we got?" I'll remember his enthusiasm, professionalism and dedication to producing a quality product. With all the news coming in from the region, nation and worldwide there were a lot of things being juggled at once. The radio news room can get quite hectic. When it all came together, Bill was the end product, acting as the final medium in which the news flowed through and into a myriad of car radios and stereos across the region. A good twenty years or so my elder, I think he saw a little of him in me, mentioning I had a pretty good radio voice, from time to time. I learned a lot from him, and I hope to continue tackling projects with the same positive attitude he exuded.
(NS) refers to "Non-Soccer" related blog entries, stories and essays.
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