Published on Tuesday, 30 April 2013 18:36
One strong voice has been consistently delivering the news on WLS-AM since 1968: Jim Johnson. All good things must come to an end, though. Today at 3:15pm, Jim Johnson announced on the WLS-AM airwaves that he had decided to call it a career after 45 years and retire this year.
Jim Johnson won't be gone immediately, however. He will work through his current contract is over, which takes him through the end of June.
In a conversation with CRM today, Jim Johnson said simply "It's time." Adding "I've done everything I've always wanted to do." He just felt it was right point for him to start a new chapter in his life, which means walking away from the radio business.
Johnson says that his decision to retire is entirely his own. There was no pressure put on him by station management or ownership to come to this conclusion. This summer when he exits, he will be doing so on the best of terms possible.
While earning his Bachelor's degree in Communications from the University of Illinois at Urbana–Champaign, he landed a television news reporter/anchor role at WIIL-TV in downstate Champaign. At the age of 23 and while still earning his Masters degree in Communications, he joined WLS-AM as a reporter/newswriter/editor. In one role or another, he has been a key part of the WLS newsroom ever since.
In 1995, Johnson was the proud winner of a prestigious Edward R. Murrow Award for news coverage.
Many of the greatest radio personalities in history have worked at WLS-AM during the four and a half decades that Jim Johnson has been there. Some of the radio giants he lists as working with include Larry Lujack, Fred Winston, John Landecker, Steve Dahl, and Garry Meier (twice).
For the most of last 20 years, Johnson has been reporting the news as part of Roe Conn's afternoon radio shows, becoming much more than a newsman. He has been an integral part of Conn's great success over the years. Many of Conn's co-hosts and contributors have come and gone, but Jim Johnson was always at his side, much to the pleasure of listeners. Johnson, with his quirky sense of humor, bottomless pit of stories, and fun opinions on life, became a fan favorite and much more of a co-star than simply a news anchor.
The two developed a great working relationship. Johnson says that he and Conn could almost read each other's minds and communicate with just a glance. More than that, the two men have become close friends over the years.
On Facebook today, Roe Conn said
"He's done it all! Congratulations to Jim on 45 years of a stellar career."
In the late 1970s, Jim Johnson also moonlighted as a weekend on-camera news reporter for then-sister-station WLS-TV.
He is famous for his "Jimisms" -- accidental flubbing of words in a newscast, which become comedic fodder for fans and show hosts. Perhaps he will be best remembered for something not totally news-related. It was Jim Johnson who invented the now-famous "Canarble Wagon," a large tray of alcohol bottles (along with glasses and ice) that gets rolled into the WLS radio studio each Friday afternoon. The term "carnable" came from Johnson's years of covering Chicago's City Hall for WLS-AM. There, another reporter, who liked to over-imbibe in drinks, would ask his fellow reporters out for cocktails, but in his drunken and slurred speech, "cocktails" came out as something like "carnables."
News reporting is truly in Jim Johnson's blood, as it was seemingly passed down to him via DNA. His father was a news writer with the City News Bureau of Chicago, as well as a reporter and columnist with the Chicago Sun-Times.
That newsy bloodline has also been passed down to Jim Johnson's daughter, Alexis Del Cid, who is currently the morning and noon news anchor at KCTV-TV in Kansas City, MO.
As for his future plans, Jim Johnson says he is planning to enjoy his retirement with plenty of traveling, as cliche as that sounds. He is also looking to spend his summer months in Wisconsin's North Woods, where he was raised, as well as spending time in the winter near his daughter, son-in-law, and grandson in Kansas City.
What about a return to radio at some point? Johnson said while smiling "No. Ask me again in a year, but most likely, the answer will still be no."