Some people are just naturally good story tellers. One that comes to my mind is Ralph Story, who through his news and entertainment reporting for CBS and PBS, told a lot of stories about the history of Los Angeles. Former CBS staff announcer Bern Bennett was another who could make almost any topic interesting. And he was a master of jokes... you didn’t care if you already heard him tell one a million times, he made them so incredibly interesting.
Now you can add JJ Johnson to the list. The veteran broadcaster with an amazing set of pipes -- heard on the original KDAY, KACE and others locally along with legends like KFRC/San Francisco -- recently released a Kindle book that covers his career in broadcasting.
Unlike other similar books, it isn’t what I would call an autobiography, though in reality, that’s exactly what it is. But it’s different than most. Reading it you feel like you’re sitting down next to Johnson, relaxing with a beer (soft drink if you’re under 21, of course) and hearing him tell stories.
Interesting stories about something I dearly love: radio.
There is no plot. Just stories. Some of them related, some not. Some I can relate to directly, such as when he describes a “radio guy” as someone who turns up the volume to hear the special elements of a station -- DJ talk, transitions, jingles -- then turn it down again when the music plays. “To non radio people, this is odd,” he writes. Yes, my wife thinks I’m odd.
He describes so well a programmer’s intuition -- something good programmers have -- in that they can tell what is happening at a station just by listening to the on-air sound, even if they are nowhere near the station itself. Describing his own programming days at KDAY, Johnson writes, “I knew by listening, for instance, when one of my jocks was reading the newspaper in the studio” rather than paying attention to details. “No one ever protested when I would (call and) say, ‘put the paper down and pay attention, please.’ They knew I knew.”
He talks of the people he met and worked with, musicians he met and befriended, and overall gives an amazingly detailed look at the life of a radio DJ. Called, in fact, “Aircheck: Life in Music Radio,” it is a fascinating look at radio in general, not just Johnson. It’s a fun read, and its less than $5.
The creator of one of the most memorable tunes in radio, Johnny Mann, passed away June 18 at the age of 85.
Mann and his Johnny Mann Singers were famous in many circles, including radio and television. But I will always remember him for the classic a cappella “93 K-H-J” jingle that became a staple of top-40 radio stations nationwide, eventually morphing into the jingle still heard on KRTH today, “K-Earth 1-0-1!”
Chris Ebbott has been named programmer of KRTH; he will assume his new position July 16th. I’ll have more on Ebbott and his Los Angeles connections next week. In the meantime, I find it interesting -- and a potentially positive move -- that owner CBS decided to name Ebbott exclusively to KRTH, and will name another person to program sister KTWV in the near future. That should make both stations stronger; the last two PDs at KRTH also had to program KTWV and it, well, just didn’t work out, at least for The Wave.