From Rock to Jock Review

One of the most entertaining themes of the "Forest Gump" movie was how Forest popped up at historic events and crossed the paths of many people who later became rich and/or famous. These themes also run through "From Rock to Jock", the new autobiography by Johnny Holliday (co-authored by Stephen Moore, published by Sports Publishing, LLC, 256 pp.), and his stories actually happened.

To anyone under the age of 30, Holliday is known as the voice of University of Maryland sports and a television and radio pitchman. Maryland's recent NCAA basketball championship did not seem official until I later heard the replay of his announcing "THE KIDS HAVE DONE IT!"

Anyone expecting to pick up this book, however, and read a history of the Terrapins will be surprised. In an accurate reflection of his career and his life, only two chapters of this book is devoted to Maryland sports. While justifiably proud of his affiliation with the school, he also has a lot more to talk about.

Holliday started out as a disk jockey, a career path that saw him travel from Rochester, NY to Cleveland (where he was "every teen queen's dream"), New York City, San Francisco, and finally Washington, DC. Along the way he hosted wildly popular record hops, was an MC at the final Beatles concert, did commercials for a local restaurant with actor Tim Conway, and founded the "Radio Oneders" basketball and softball teams which have raised millions for numerous charities. Pretty good for someone once described as "a guy who talked as though sitting on a block of ice."

The first sporting event Johnny covered set the tone for the rest of his career. It was a high school basketball game he announced into a tape recorder perilously plugged in under the bleachers in Perry, Georgia. The star player was a young man named Sam Nunn, who later became a very influential U.S. Senator from Georgia.

Johnny dabbled in sportscasting at his different stops across the nation. He served in various functions for games involving the Cleveland Browns, Oakland Raiders, San Francisco Warriors, San Francisco Giants, The University of California, Washington Senators and Washington Bullets. He was play-by-play announcer for the George Washington University basketball team before moving to WMAL radio in 1979 and becoming the announcer for Maryland football and basketball. He has also covered nine Olympics for ABC Radio.

Holliday is also a talented stage performer, dating back to his first role in Finnian's Rainbow in Cleveland during the early 1960's. He was a regular performer at the old Harlequin Dinner Theatre in Rockville, MD throughout the 1970's and 1980's, and continues lighting up the stage to this day. He appeared in the first show at the University of Maryland's new Fine Arts Theatre, "The Music Man" which opened in the fall of 2001.

Johnny's television credits include the legendary "Hullabaloo" show, ACC women's basketball, numerous telethons, and "This Week With David Brinkley."

This book is not a "tell-all" about the music industry of the 1960's and 1970's or about college sports in the 1980's and 1990's. Rather, it is the story of a man who feels he has been very blessed to reach the point he has in his life. As I read the book, I felt like Johnny was sitting next to me with a huge photo album, going through it picture-by-picture, identifying the people in the photos and telling me the stories behind them.

Holliday's life has touched and been touched by many people in various walks of life. At times, this book seems like an acceptance speech at an award show because he wants to acknowledge the contributions these people have made to his life. Most of these names won't mean anything to the reader, but it is clear they are all important to Johnny.

Adding perspective to this book are contributions by celeberties such as Gary Williams, Ralph Freidgen, Willard Scott, Sal Bando, Tony Kornheiser, and Dick Vitale. Family members and lifelong friends also added their insights. Interestingly, two of Johnny's friends are Rick Barry and Denny McClain, former star athletes not known for being particularly warm and fuzzy.

As with anyone's life, not all of the stories in this book are happy ones. Holliday talks about the plane crash in 1975 where he nearly died from hospital negligence in not properly diagnosing a ruptured spleen. He also has some less-than-kind words for a few radio station executives he worked with.

If his story has one message, it seems to me that it would be "Work at what you enjoy doing, keep your integrity and sense of humor, and the rewards will follow." A secondary message would be that he is a bad golfer, but that's beside the point.

I had occasion to speak to Johnny a few months ago regarding a piece I was writing when he mentioned to me "You know, I have a book coming out." He said he has hesitated to write one before this because he did not think his life was very interesting. Fortunately, Stephen Moore convinced him otherwise.

I found "From Rock to Jock" to be very readable and entertaining. The worst thing I can say about it is that I wish he had added 50-100 pages of additional details to some of the stories he shared. In show business, they say always leave your audience wanting more.

I would say "From Rock to Jock" has a happy ending, but there appears to be no end in sight to the career of multi-talented Johnny Holliday. He writes, "I enjoy what I do more than ever and can't imagine stopping."

Good for us.

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