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Friends Pay Tribute To WGUC Announcer Frank Johnson

Cincinnati Public Radio
Frank Johnson was a WGUC staffer from 1998 to 2019.

Update noon Friday, March 22: Services for WGUC announcer Frank Johnson will be private. A private gathering in memory of Frank is being planned by his family and friends.

Update 11 a.m. Thursday, March 21: A high school broadcaster on WCIN-AM, the guy on the WEBN-FM airwaves the night of The Who concert tragedy in 1979, "a very kind soul… with a beautiful voice" – these are some of the remembrances of WGUC announcer Frank Johnson by his family and friends.

Johnson, 65, died of cancer Tuesday, March 19. He grew up near the Cincinnati Gardens, where Frank was a ball boy for the old NBA Cincinnati Royals, says his sister, Denise Johnson. They also lived in Silverton, across the street from Reds centerfielder Vada Pinson, she says.

The Bowling Green State University graduate joined WGUC-FM as the All Things Considered news host in 1998, after working for WEBN-FM, WBLZ-FM, WRRM-FM, WVAE-FM (smooth jazz WAVE 94.9), WSKS-FM (the original "96 ROCK" in Hamilton) and Dayton's WTUE-FM.

Here are some of the comments and stories posted online. You can add your tribute to Frank at Cincinnati Public Radio's "Remember Frank Johnson" page.

"Although WTUE-FM (in Dayton) was his first job after college, Frank's radio career began while he was still in high school. Junior Achievement had a public affairs program that broadcast from the studios of WCIN. Once bitten, he was hooked on mass communications. An elder neighbor introduced him to shortwave (ham) radio. In order to get a stronger signal, Frank climbed up a telephone pole outside of his bedroom window to connect a wire to the telephone cables." –Denise Johnson, Frank's sister

"Frank and I worked first at WBLZ-FM in the early '80s, then at WARM98. He was one of my first friends at WBLZ (103.5) in 1983 when I arrived on staff. He was always so kind and encouraging. And we always laughed because he couldn't be pigeonholed into a particular sound. He loved all types of music.  What I loved was his quiet, kind nature. His sense of humor was subdued but pleasant. He always made me smile. I thought the world of Frank." –J.D. Hughes, WARM98 and WGRR-FM.

"I was in Philadelphia on the night of The Who concert in 1979. When the news came on TV, I phoned the private line to the WEBN studio. Before cell phones, calling the on-air DJ was a common way for scattered radio employees to get in touch. All the regular DJs had gone to the concert, so the guy left on the air was the new part-timer: Frank Johnson. He was pretty frazzled, trying to do a show while answering several constantly-ringing phone lines. But he shared everything he could. Frank was a pro, a gentleman, the proverbial good guy. Sad." –Jay Gilbert, WOFX-FM, former WEBN-FM DJ.

"Frank was one of my favorite co-workers for many reasons. I loved his wit, his humor, his charm and his passion for great music. We also shared an affinity for comic books and the early music of Pink Floyd. However, in my house, Frank will always be remembered as the guy who tried to teach my middle child to juggle." –Jim Nolan, Cincinnati Public Radio.

"Condolences to his family and the WGUC family." --Thomas D. Jordan, WCPO-TV.

"Frank was a kind soul who always had a hello for you in the hallways or something nice to say. Knowing I am a huge soccer fan, Frank brought me souvenirs from the FIFA Museum and headquarters where he visited on one of his many beloved trips to Europe. Farewell, Frank. We miss you." -- Tana Weingartner, WVXU reporter

"Frank was a humble soul who cared for his fellow man." --Arun Lai, former WEBN-FM staffer.

"Frank was an avid comic book consumer and collector… His obsession with science fiction led to a book collection that earned him an award in a contest sponsored by the Public Library of Cincinnati and Hamilton County… His literary pursuits and graphic art skills led his to publish fanzines; the first, "Conglomeration" a collaborative effort with other teen sci-fi fans and a solo effort titled Schmoob, published on a hand-cranked mimeograph machine from typewritered stencils. He managed to snag contributions from top-shelf authors like Ray Bradbury -- all while still in high school." –Denise Johnson, Frank's sister.

"I have been listening to WGUC since I moved to Cincinnati 10 years ago. My first book was written listening to WGUC. All the on-air personalities are like friends. I loved Frank's smooth voice, I always thought if they re-make '2001: A Space Odyssey' (although they better not!) that Frank should be the new voice of HAL. My condolences to Frank's family and friends." –Kenton Clarkson.

I listened to Frank on air for years before coming to work at WGUC. He was the first person I met when I toured the station before beginning my job here. I remember being star-struck. Little did I know how close we'd become. I looked forward to his daily visits to my office, when he'd share countless bits of knowledge about a variety of subjects including music, movies, comic books, and his travels. He loved working in radio and it was obvious. I'll always fondly remember getting to pitch on air during fund drives with Frank, when he coined my nickname "Jessica Lorey M.D." (No, I'm not a medical professional -- I'm just the music director!) Thanks for all the memories and good times, Frank. You are loved and will be missed." --Jessica Lorey, WGUC-FM music director.

"It was my pleasure and honor to have worked with Frank at WEBN. A kind soul, great radio host and very good producer." --Tom Sandman, WMKV-FM host.

"He will be missed. He was our production director at WARM before Tom Sandman. Frank was a funny guy." –Ted Morro, program director at WAXS-FM "Groovy 94.1" in Beckley WVA, former WARM98 DJ.

"Sad loss of a true professional." –Bob Nave, former WVXU-FM and WNOP-AM DJ.

"When Frank was hired at WGUC, I was on the search committee, and vividly remember him saying, "Working for WGUC would be my dream job." He LOVED his work, and he also invested more than 100% of his passion in it. We shared a love of travel, and he would regularly send me articles about travel and specific places to see, or share stories about some of his favorite destinations. When he learned that I like musicians such as Sheryl Crow, the Rollings Stones, and others, he started sending me articles about them, too. As others have said, he made note of THEIR special interests, too, and supplied them with interesting tidbits, too. And of course, he kept on top of his own long list of special interests. All that, AND he did the most detailed and voluminous show prep of any radio jock I’ve ever known! His obit says he knew all the good CD shops in Europe... but Frank also knew all the good artisanal CHOCOLATE shops there, too!! … He was so thoughtful, so playful, so smart, so full of life. I miss you, Frank." --Suzanne Bona, WGUC Sunday Baroque host.

"I worked with him at (Hamilton's old) 96ROCK. Loved him. A very kind man." --Mary Kuzan-McConnell.

"When we started Cincinnati After Dark on WARM98 in 1987 (before smooth jazz was a format), Frank hosted the first show and started with some crossover tune, maybe Chuck Mangione;  then a Steely Dan album track; then some way too hip for the room mainstream jazz track by Miles Davis. That was followed by a phone call from Joe Schildmeyer, the GM, explaining that this was supposed to be a little more nuanced than that!" –Michael Grayson, a WXVU-FM announcer and alum of WRRM-FM, WVAE-FM (WAVE 94.9 smooth jazz) and WNKU-FM.

"I met Frank years before I started working at Cincinnati Public Radio. He was one of the kindest, most genuine people I have ever known. When I came to Cincinnati Public Radio, it was a pleasure to be able to see Frank more often. He always brought back chocolate from his many trips out of the country to share with the staff, and when he found out my daughter was a Harry Potter Fan, he brought her many Harry Potter items, only to be found in Britain. He was thoughtful and never took himself too seriously…. I will miss my friend." --Maryanne Zeleznik, WVXU news director.

"A good man."  --Craig Kopp, WMNF-FM general manager in Tampa, former WEBN-FM news director.

"I remember Frank at WEBN. He was a very kind soul."  --Deneal Schilmeister

"Wonderful man, beautiful voice." –Cheri Lawson,WEKU-FM host in Richmond KY, former WNKU-FM.

"Before I joined the Cincinnati Public Radio staff, I knew Frank as the voice who guided me through my work day. He shared music with me in the car and at my desk, and he educated me on so much more than simply composers, artists and orchestras. When I arrived at the station, Frank became a good friend. We bonded over film, travel, odd stories and anecdotes. We also enjoyed a few late day singing sessions in the WGUC studio. How odd it must have looked for passers-by to see us singing at the top of our lungs in the sound-proof studio all the while a classical piece played over the hallway speaker. When listeners visited, Frank always wanted to know something about them; he never wanted to talk about himself. Most of all, I will miss my friend's kindness and empathy."  – Conrad Thiede, Cincinnati Public Radio.

"Frank continued to hone his skills as the student newspaper editor at Courter Technical High School and was on the yearbook and 'managed' the school's radio station… While earning his Bachelor's degree in Speech and Mass Communications at Bowling Green State University, he was the manager of the campus radio station and earned pocket change DJ-ing campus dances and parties. The sum of his combined experiences created a first-call radio announcer, programmer and production manager. Enunciation and a smooth delivery led to a side hustle of voice-over work. He worked in his chosen profession for nearly 50 years." –Denise Johnson, Frank's sister.

Original post 11:50 a.m. Wednesday, March 20: WGUC classical music host Frank Johnson lost his battle with cancer Tuesday, March 19. He was 65.

The Cincinnati native, who started his career in 1975 at Dayton's WTUE-FM, joined WGUC-FM in 1998 on the All Things Considered news shift.

He had hosted afternoon and evening music shifts, most recently 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. He had been off the air since December.

Cincinnati Public Radio will pay tribute to Johnson today by playing some of his classical music favorites during his air shift. He loved Sergei Rachmaninoff's "Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini."

"The staff and listeners of WGUC and WVXU, as well as the Greater Cincinnati radio and music community – and science fiction fans everywhere – have lost a dear friend," Cincinnati Public Radio said in an announcement today. "Frank was a true radio professional and aficionado of all types of music, especially jazz, his soul music." 

"His sense of humor was all his own and always found its way into his on-air presence," the station's statement said. Johnson frequently saluted reporter Jay Hanselman and news director Maryanne Zeleznik in the hallways after they were honored as Kentucky Colonels.

"We will miss him dearly and extend our heartfelt condolences to Karen, his friends and family."

Coworkers described Johnson as a total broadcasting professional who was dedicated to his job. He continued to work at Cincinnati Public Radio during cancer treatments last year.

"Frank was a mensch. A great coworker always kind and willing to help," said Sherri Mancini, Cincinnati Public Radio vice president of development. "He had a wicked sense of humor. And he was one of the most thoughtful men I’ve ever met. I kept the chocolate he brought me from his last trip abroad. It still sits on my desk."

Before playing classical music on WGUC, Johnson worked at radio stations with rock, soft rock, jazz and other formats.

He played album-oriented rock (AOR) at Dayton's WTUE-FM for 2 1/2 years before coming home to Cincinnati in 1978 to work at rock station WEBN-FM, where he met Brian O'Donnell, now WGUC's morning host.  

Johnson also was heard on WRRM-FM, soft rock "WARM98;" Hamilton's old WSKS-FM, the original "96ROCK" in the 1980s; and old WVAE-FM (94.9), Cincinnati's short-lived "WAVE" smooth jazz station (1995-99).

"Jazz is my soul music," Johnson said in his profile on "I especially like jazz piano. Chick Corea, Herbie Hancock, Bill Evans, McCoy Tyner, Oscar Peterson are jazz masters. I worked for a time for a smooth jazz station, but I relate best to the real thing."

As a child, Johnson wanted to become a graphic artist, according to his WGUC profile. He was introduced to classical music "back in the old days, when they still taught music in school. Also, from time to time, the CSO would come around to the public schools and do special programs—they still do these programs today. I really enjoyed that as a kid."

Johnson also loved to travel, especially to Europe.

"I've been lucky enough to get to Europe once or twice a year for a while now. It’s good to see things you can't see in Cincinnati – really, really old stuff, very differently put together cities, and tiny picture postcard villages. And I've become a semi-regular in classical music shops in three countries now (England, Belgium and the Netherlands)," he wrote on the website.

A memorial page is available for listeners and friends to post their memories, comments and condolences. 

I'll update this post with funeral arrangements when they are set.

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.