National Press Club

NPC Honors Johnny Holliday’s Coast-to-Coast Career

November 22, 2016 | By Adam Konowe | adam.konowe@tmpgovernment.com

Johnny and Mary Clare Holliday are joined by NPC member Camille Bohannon (standing).

Johnny and Mary Clare Holliday are joined by NPC member Camille Bohannon (standing).

Photo/Image: Mark Hamrick

On Monday night, long-time sports announcer and former Top 40 radio disc jockey Johnny Holliday became the latest “Legend of Broadcasting” honored by the National Press Club’s broadcast/podcast committee.

Holliday was introduced to dinner guests in the Winner’s Room by committee member fellow broadcaster and former WWDC colleague Camille Bohannon. While hired to spin records, Holliday quickly became famous for other talents, including his impressions of television newscaster David Brinkley and others. Bohannon noted Holliday’s attention to detail, paired with compassion for others, by simply stating during her introduction, “Nobody studies as hard or cares as much.”

A Florida native, Johnny Holliday played football, baseball and basketball at North Miami High School and fondly remembers throwing a touchdown pass on his birthday. Sadly, that pass made little impact on the 59-6 score, but his love of sports ignited a desire to be a coach or teacher. The path forward wasn’t clear however, so the 18-year-old Holliday accepted his grandfather’s offer to work in a drug store in small-town Perry, Georgia. When a radio ad sales rep visited the store one day, the relative introduced young Holliday as “my grandson, the DJ.” More than sixty years later, Holliday admitted, “It doesn’t take talent, it takes luck.”

A career that began in Perry at WBBN took Johnny Holliday to WFEC in Miami, WRVM in Rochester, N.Y., WHK in Cleveland (where he also did television, theater and the public address for the Browns), WINS in New York (before they went to an all-news format), and then Top 40 powerhouse KYA in San Francisco. That West Coast gig led to Holliday being named the No. 1 disc jockey in the country in 1965 and he emceed the final Beatles concert in 1966 at Candlestick Park.

Holliday came to WWDC in Washington in 1969 and later joined WMAL. His 2002 book, From Rock to Jock, details his move from music to sports broadcasting. He has covered the Senators, Nationals, Redskins, Wizards (formerly Bullets), and U.S. Naval Academy Midshipmen, as well as being the voice of the University of Maryland Terrapins for more than 1,200 games since 1979. Along the way he learned, “You’re only as good as the people around you.”

Holliday’s passion for broadcasting is matched with a lifelong love of the theater. An accomplished performer, he recalled some trepidation when he brought his portrayal of President John F. Kennedy from Cleveland to Washington for a performance in 1963. He need not have worried; the response here was also positive and Holliday had the chance to reprise the role at the NPC later that year. Since then, he’s performed in dozens of productions and even received a Helen Hayes nomination as best actor.

Yet despite all these accomplishments on air and on stage, Johnny Holliday repeatedly brought the evening’s discussion back to his charity work. A 1975 chartered plane trip to deliver hurricane relief supplies to a 90-year-old woman he interviewed on the air ended in a crash on the return leg. Holliday spent more than a a month in Sibley Hospital and his well-wishers included friends and arch rivals alike. He’s since raised more than $1.7 million to date through charity games featuring professional athletes. Mary Clare, his wife of 58 years, summed up her husband’s relentless outreach, saying that if it would help “he’d talk to a tree.”

At age 79, with more than 60 years on the air, a lifelong partner, three daughters and 10 grandchildren, Jonny Holliday still embraces new challenges. “I never say no. I love the variety of working different things.”