Music vet and New Times scribe Lee Zimmerman shares observations, insights, and updates relating to South Florida's musical environs. This week, a radio veteran shares his joy.
In the radio business, where a year or two signifies longevity, Joe Johnson is the definition of a true survivor. He's been a mainstay on classic hits station WMXJ, Majic 102.7 FM, since 1987, serving as production director, DJ, and producer, winning a number of notable industry awards before landing in his current slot holding down middays from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. five days a week. He also hosts his own Beatle Brunch
program on Sunday mornings, which airs across the country on more than 100 stations.
The idea for Beatle Brunch originated during a lengthy road trip. He brought along a stack of Beatles CDs to keep himself entertained, and hearing those songs, still sounding so fresh and exhilarating, he began to ponder the prospects of having a show devoted exclusively to their music.
After getting the green light from his program director, Beatle Brunch made its debut on May 31, 1992, and 20 years later, it is syndicated nationwide by Dial Global Radio Networks (formerly Westwood One), the nation's largest radio syndication company.
Week after week, Johnson plays the ever-engaging host, offering exclusive interviews with those closest to the Beatles' inner circle, including the band members themselves, along with music, trivia, and cool prizes for his loyal listeners.
We recently spoke to Joe about his radio career and his fascination with the Fab Four.
New Times: First, give us a little history. How did you get started in the biz, what was your first gig, and where did you work before Majic?
Joe Johnson: I started at Love 94 back in 1978. I won a heart-shaped Bobby Caldwell 45 of "What You Won't Do for Love." And it was skipping when I played it, so I called the station and asked if I could come trade it in. That was really just a ruse to get into the station. I met program director Rick Peters, who then played my record on his turntable and it didn't skip. He gave me a new one anyway, which I still have.
I started to ask him about radio, and he told me some things about processing and carting up songs. As we were wrapping up, I asked him if there was anything I could do at the station, and he told me that the morning guy (Skip Herman) needed someone to help him gather traffic information, so I came in the following Monday and started to help Skip. I actually used an AM radio with push buttons to "steal" the traffic from the stations with planes, and I would pass that on to Skip. However, he kind of ignored me on the air.
It wasn't until they hired Greg Budell that I actually went on the air. Rather than read my scratch, Greg just flipped my mic on and made me do the traffic, so then it was Budell and Allen (that's Keith Allen, his partner) and me as a backup or third sidekick chiming in and producing some bits from Greg's tapes he would bring in.
What turned you on to the Beatles? Was there some special moment where they lit up your life?
I was always a fan, but I was a little young when they played Ed Sullivan, only 6. Still, I remember it well. It wasn't until the late '60s and early '70s that I really started to get into them, maybe around the "Lady Madonna," "Hey Jude" period. I still have my 45s. I also have older sisters who had the records. I liked the songs and the melodies. I didn't understand the political undertones of the band at that time, but I appreciated their songs. I especially recall a fellow student coming to school with a cassette of Sgt. Pepper and the guy was going off on it, how great it was.