Longtime Portland newsman Dick Johnson dies at 69

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Postby Glen Livingstone » Fri May 26, 2006 9:35 am

Portland newsman Dick Johnson dies at 69

By RAY ROUTHIER, Portland Press Herald Writer

Dick Johnson "was a very understated guy, the complete opposite of phony," said Cary Pahigian, president and general manager of the Portland Radio Group, which includes WGAN (560 AM), where Johnson did news and sports broadcasts for 40 years. Johnson died Wednesday.

Dick Johnson, the radio newsman who reported most of Maine's major stories for the past 40 years, died Wednesday following a cardiac arrest suffered in January. He was 69.

Johnson reported stories for Portland station WGAN (560 AM) right up until his heart attack. One of the last big stories he worked on was the closing of the Brunswick Naval Air Station, and its effect on Maine's economy.

"He'd either be in the field or on the phone, working his contacts all the time," said Cary Pahigian, president and general manager of the Portland Radio Group, which includes WGAN. "I'd walk by his desk and say 'Hey Dickie, what's happening?' and he'd smile and say 'Cary, I got one.' Then he'd give the headline for whatever story it was."

Johnson was remembered Thursday by colleagues as a man passionate about his profession, who was quiet off the air, and completely lacking in ego. He was a gardener and an avid NASCAR fan. His son Rick works on the racing circuit.

Johnson was inducted into the Maine Association of Broadcasters' Hall of Fame in 2003.

"He was a very understated guy, the complete opposite of phony," said Pahigian.

"He loved what he was doing and the people he worked with and never cared about making a name for himself," said Bob Fuller, a former owner of Portland radio station WBLM (102.9 FM) and Johnson's first cousin.

Besides his reputation for breaking news, and for a no-nonsense delivery, Johnson was a well-known sports reporter on local radio and TV. For years, he did high school basketball tournament games on radio with Frank Fixaris, a long-time sportscaster on WGAN-TV and WGME-TV. He also filled in for Fixaris on TV sportscasts on weekends or when Fixaris was on vacation.

Fixaris, who first met Johnson while the two were at Emerson College in Boston in the 1950s, died during an accidental fire at his Falmouth home in January. It was later in January that Johnson suffered his cardiac arrest.

"They were very good friends," said Fuller of Johnson and Fixaris.

Johnson grew up in Ipswich, Mass., and was fascinated by radio at an early age. Fuller said he and Johnson created their own "imaginary" radio station in the basement of Fuller's childhood home and dubbed it WJFA - for Johnson, Fuller, Associated.

Fuller said Johnson got his first radio job as a summer fill-in on a radio station in Newburyport, Mass., while he was a student at Emerson.

Johnson began his career on Portland radio in 1959, as a disc jockey on AM station WLOB, spinning records from the station's studio in the Columbia Hotel. In 1962, he went to work for Portland station WPOR.

But by the mid-1960s he had become known as a news and sports reporter on WGAN. He spent some 40 years at that station.

Jeff Wade, who became WGAN's news and program director last year, said he was immediately struck by the fact that even though Johnson had been reporting news for 40 years at the same station, his passion for it was still intense.

"It's almost unheard of, in this day and age, to work at one radio station for 40 years," said Wade. "Off the air he was not a glib man, just very easygoing. He was extremely friendly and had a lot of friends."

Pahigian said Johnson was "the heart and soul" of WGAN, which is a news-and-talk station.

"When you wanted a story done right, you gave it to Dick," said Pahigian.

Pahigian said Thursday that WGAN would probably air some sort of tribute to Johnson, but that was still being planned.

Johnson leaves behind his three sons, Brian, Mark, and Rick, and several grandchildren.
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