Johnson

Phil Johnson, the morning show host at AM 1150 - News/Talk is pictured in a recent publicity photo.

For four hours a day, five days a week, Phil Johnson is the morning show host at AM1150 - News/Talk in Kelowna.

Born in Spirit River, Alta., his first job as an announcer, working all night at tiny CKKR in Rosetown while still in his teens.

He moved to Kelowna in 2003, to sell advertising but when the Okanagan Mountain fire broke out that summer, every available voice to cover the fires was needed and he was back behind the michrophone.

Shortly after, the station's format was changed to all-talk radio and he's been on the air ever since.

He spoke this week with Daily Courier managing editor James Miller about his career and the the radio industry.

COURIER: What turned you on to radio as a kid?

JOHNSON: In the '50s, television didn't exist in Northern Alberta. Radio was how Canadians were in touch with their world. I grew up, listening to the classic radio dramas ... Superman, Green Hornet, the Shadow.

COURIER: Do you remember your first shift?

JOHNSON: Like it was yesterday ... sitting in the studio at CKKR studio, sweat on my palms, heart thudding in my chest. Clicking the switch that turned on the michrophone. Sheer, stark terror.

COURIER: Which announcers and radio personalities were you most influenced by?

JOHNSON: In my teens, in Edmonton the "jocks" were the coolest guys in town and they were at 630-CHED. Years later, at age 20, I was working at the station of all my hopes and radio dreams — 630-CHED. At 20, I had arrived. I was living the dream.

COURIER: What brought you to Kelowna?

JOHNSON: I was living and working in Whistler, for Rogers Broadcasting when I was approached to move to Kelowna to work for the stations owned by Walter Gray, The Bullet, and Sun FM. I'd always wanted to live in the Okanagan, now I could work in the business I loved and living in the most beautiful part of Canada.

COURIER: What time do you get out of bed in the morning and is it tough? Do you nap during the day?

JOHNSON: My alarm goes off at 3:30 a.m. I start my day with all of the U.S. and Canadian morning TV news shows and 10-plus news sites. From the NY Times, to the Vancouver Sun, to the Daily Courier and all of the local websites. When I walk in the door at AM1150 at 5:30 a.m., I have a pretty good idea what's happening in our world. I do not nap. I generally go to bed at 10 p.m. I run on about five hours of sleep in any 24-hour period of time.

COURIER: What do you enjoy about your job?

JOHNSON: I am the most curious person you'd ever want to meet. And for hours, upon hours more, can satisfy my desire to know. TV news, online news sites, local, national and international websites, I constantly satisfy the desire to know why.

COURIER: What's the greatest misconception people have about your job? You actually make it look easy.

JOHNSON: They marvel that someone talks for four hours a day. I ask questions, look for answers, speculate as to why, offer critique and receive my share of criticism. After these many years, I have a large list of names, phone numbers, email addresses and I am continually using all of them, to look for the voice, the person to have a conversation with, about the stories, the subjects of the day. I always laugh, when someone wants to spend time in the studio to see how the show comes together. Frequently, halfway through the morning they ask, 'Ho you do this day after day?'

COURIER: Who was your all-time favourite interview subject?

JOHNSON: An impossible question to answer. Politics, business, life, lives, the deeply personal and human stories, the little story about people being people, human interest ... all are deeply fascinating. I never tire of the conversations that go with each of them.

COURIER: Has anyone ever walked off the air on you? JOHNSON: No.

COURIER: When people meet you for the first time by recognizing your voice, do they say 'I didn't think you'd look like that?

JOHNSON: No, most hear my voice and say, 'Didn't you work at...' and then list a radio station in another market, another city. They remember the voice from way back when. I've been blessed to have a love of words, a passion for stories, a creative brain, that keeps on clicking, weaving it all together.

COURIER: In your opinion, has Donald Trump's war on the media — "the most dishonest people in the world" — made it harder for journalists to do their job? Has it even rubbed off on the people who don't take Trump seriously?

JOHNSON: In fact, I think the opposite. I think Trump's inability to tell the truth, his constant lies, branding the "mainstream media" as fake news, as Trump has labeled us, the public has come to realize most of the media has a desire to set the record straight, to tell stories that are real and true. The true value of an independent news media (be it newspaper, television or radio) has never been more critical or more appreciated

COURIER: What was the most significant Canadian national story during your decades in radio and what was the most significant local story during your time in Kelowna, from 2003 to present?

JOHNSON: The story that I remember clearly was the sense Quebec was moving towards separation and the efforts made by Jean Chretien, then the PM, and Canadians across the country to make Quebec realize they were valued and had an important place in the fabric of the nation.

Kelowna was the fires of 2003 as firefighters, trucks, the army, as American crews, all came to the assistance of the part of the world I called home. The story of the the fires of 2003 will never be forgotten because of the magnitude, and up until that time, there had never been a fire like it anywhere in Canada. Now, northern Alberta, California... such fires have become almost common place. But then, neither will the floods be forgotten. The thousands of sandbags, neighbour helping neighbour (meeting them for the first time), sandbag parties as the city pulled together. I was never more proud of this city, the people who live here.

COURIER: What person, living or dead, who you would love to have as a round table on your radio show.

JOHNSON:I think the most fascinating person in our world today, is Elon Musk. He created PayPal, sold it, then took the millions he earned turning that money into TESLA. He, singlehandedly started the movement, the shift to electric vehicles, at the same time as he made autonomous drive, a household word. Simultaneously he brought together the best young brains in the world to create his space company SpaceX. SpaceX built "The Dragon" robot space capsules that regularly supply the international space station... (he calls it a pickup truck). His heavy-lift rockets, will within the next years take space tourists off the earth. He will take men to the moon and ultimately may send the first privately-funded vehicles, to Mars.

I would love to have him at the table, with one of the greatest interviewers of all time, Peter Gzowski sitting opposite. I would just sit back pour them a beer and revel in their conversation.

COURIER: Did video kill the radio star? How about features such as Sirius radio and the internet?

JOHNSON: Radio has died a million deaths over the decades. But if, on your way to work tomorrow morning, you see a huge column of smoke, rising over the hills or from downtown Kelowna, if you see red flashing lights of emergency vehicles racing down Harvey heading to where, you'll turn on your car radio to find out what's happening. You will be looking for the radio host, male or female, to tell you what's happening. My listeners cover the age spectrum, come from all walks of life, but tell me constantly they like spending time at the other end of the radio. They appreciate having a sense of the world, the issues of the day. I consider it a privilege to have the opportunity to talk with them. I'm honoured they choose to spend time with myself, the team that prepares the news and Daniel O'Hara, who produces the program. I never take them for granted.

COURIER: You've been at it for so many years. Is the word "retirement" in your vocabulary?

JOHNSON: When you truly have "the best job in the world," would you retire? I love to tell stories, love to have conversations, love getting up early in the morning... why would I retire.

Recommended for you