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Why Brad Johansen Leaving WKRC-TV After 26 Years

Courtesy Brad Johansen
Brad Johansen with Lauren Hill at the Cintas Center.

Monday, Feb. 26 update:  Brad Johansen's last day at WKRC-TV is Wednesday, Feb. 28. See my new post today, "Brad Johansen's Top 12 Moments At Channel 12."

10:30 a.m. Thursday Dec. 28 update: Why is Brad Johansen leaving WKRC-TV after 26 years?

He's going to "journalism heaven" and "basketball heaven" at WRAL-TV in Raleigh, N.C., near the University of North Carolina, North Carolina State and Duke. But the decision wasn't easy.

"You don't spend 26 years in a place and just say, 'Let's leave!,' especially when your wife is a life-long Cincinnatian. It was a very difficult decision," Johansen tells me.

"Change is never easy. It's very exciting, but there's a lot of scary to it. (The holidays) have been a touch stressful, and this is just the beginning."

Credit WKRC-TV
Brad Johansen

On the day after Christmas, the North Carolina station announced that Johansen would join the news team April 2. The station needs a No. 1 anchorman to replace David Crabtree, who will retire at the end of 2018 after 35 years. The No. 1 anchor job was out of reach for Johansen at WKRC-TV as long as a second-generation Cincinnati broadcaster named Braun was on the payroll.

"I'm just going to come in and do whatever they ask me to do. Hopefully I'll do a lot of storytelling, and I'll fill in on the anchor desk when needed," Johansen says.

Johansen is best known at Channel 12 for telling stories about Lauren Hill, the Indiana teen with terminal brain cancer who wanted to play basketball for Mount Saint Joseph University. His Hill interview aired in October 2014, a month after WKRC-TV managers forced him to step down as sports director after 18 years and give up his play-by-play work for the CBS Sports Network.

He called WRAL-TV "journalism paradise." Unlike most TV stations (including Cincinnati), it still has a team which produces documentaries throughout the year. Johansen produced the "#Playfor22" Hill documentary with news videographer Eric Gerhardt.

"It's really a very old-school shop with a documentary unit.  They have all the toys, and all the people in place to do it right. That was very appealing to me. The documentary unit produces multiple documentaries every year on topics they believe are the important stories of the day."

As his contract was expiring in August, he "got a phone call that they (WRAL-TV) were doing a search (for an anchor). I didn't know how it would play out." He has been working here on contract extensions that end Feb. 28, his last day at Channel 12. Raleigh-Durham is TV market No. 25, while Cincinnati is TV market No.  35.

He will be missed.

--At Channel 12, he's the only other evening male co-anchor to sub for Braun. (The station has two popular morning hosts, John Lomax and Bob Herzog.) 

--Through their annual Party For A Purpose, Johansen and his wife Colleen, a teacher at Mason Middle School, have raised more than $2 million for charities. 

"My wife and I have never named our foundation. We just help charities we believe in. We give 93 cents of every dollar to our charities," he says. They have donated to The Cure Starts Now, Cincinnati's One City Foundation, Neediest Kids of All and the Mason Recreation Department.

In the station's announcement (below), Johansen said he loved going to work "in basketball heaven."  Capitol Broadcasting, his new employer, also owns the Durham Bulls minor league baseball team in addition to three TV stations and nine radio stations.

Has he talked to his new bosses about possibly doing some play-by-play again?

"We've had that discussion. If it doesn't interfere with my duties I have there, I could have the opportunity to do some there," he says.

Original post Wednesday, Dec. 27: Now we know why Brad Johansen has been working so much over the holidays – he won't be around WKRC-TV next year for Christmas week. He'll be in Raleigh, N.C.

WRAL-TV announced Tuesday that Johansen will join the anchor team on April 2 after 25 years in Cincinnati.

Johansen has been Channel 12's 5:30 and 10 p.m. news co-anchor for three years, after his bosses forced him to step down as sports director and return to news in 2014.

During his 18 years as sports director, Johansen did radio play-by-play for the Cincinnati Bengals for 11 seasons; Xavier University basketball and high school football play-by-play for Fox Sports Ohio; and college football, basketball and baseball play-by-play for the CBS Sports Network.

His most memorable news story was about an athlete: Lauren Hill, the Indiana teen with terminal brain cancer who wanted to play basketball for Mount St. Joseph University. His did multiple reports on her, did TV play-by-play for her college basketball debut, and produced an award-winning documentary on her life.

His coverage of Hill won two consecutive national Gracie Awards, including Best Documentary for "#Playfor22." Johansen has collected more than 60 journalism awards, including 21 Emmys, while working at Channel 12 and TV stations in Peoria, IL; Lansing, MI; San Luis Obispo, CA; Las Vegas, NV.  He and his wife, Colleen, also organized a celebrity golf outing and party that has raised more than $2 million for charities here since 2003.

"Brad is a great addition to our outstanding and experienced team of evening news anchors," said WRAL-TV news director Rick Gall in the station's story. "He understands the great opportunities, challenges and responsibilities that come with the job. He'll bring a passion for storytelling and commitment to excellence. On the anchor desk, you'll see someone who's engaging and excels at breaking news."

Steven D. Hammel, WRAL-TV vice president and general manager, praised Johansen's "varied experience…. (which) will complement our existing team and make us that much stronger."

Credit Provided / WKRC-TV
Brad Johansen interviewed Stephen Colbert in 2015 before the debut of Colbert's "Late Show" on CBS.

Johansen, an Illinois native, was hired in 1992 to anchor Channel 12's first Saturday morning newscast. He moved to sports, which he had done at previous stations, when Ken Broo left Channel 12 in 1996. His Channel 12 bosses re-assigned him news in 2014, ending his lucrative cable TV sports career, after CBS offered him a chance to do play-by-play for Mountain West Conference games in California, Nevada, Utah and Colorado.

Leaving sports after 18 years of sports "was not something I initiated," Johansen told me then."The CBS football schedule made it really difficult to manage for both the station and CBS. I had to make some decisions. When you go out to do Mountain West football, you leave on a Thursday and get back Sunday afternoon."

Johansen, who lives in Mason, said he's looking forward to moving to North Carolina.

"I love the beauty of the area, the beaches, the mountains and being in basketball heaven," he said in the WRAL-TV announcement. "What everyone has stressed to me is the warmth of the people here. I'm a big believer in giving back, so I can't wait to get involved in the community."

Johansen is the third high-profile Channel 12 personality to leave the station since October, after anchor Sydney Benter and meteorologist Scott Dimmich.

John Kiesewetter, who has covered television and media for more than 35 years, has been working for Cincinnati Public Radio and WVXU-FM since 2015.