Johnson's rich baritone and his crimson-flavored remarks over the PA have been an integral part of the Cougar experience at Martin Stadium and Friel Court since 1980. WSU fans, players and coaches love it; opponents, not so much.
Johnson, a Cougar fan first and foremost, makes no apologies for supporting the home team as openly as possible without displaying poor sportsmanship.
"You can't please everybody," Johnson says in his usual jovial manner.
Johnson most definitely did not please the USC Trojans a many years back at Friel. A Trojan player was standing at the free-throw line, concentrating intently on the task at hand, the ball about to leave his fingertips, when Johnson kindly informed the crowd, "Shooting two!"
A split-second later, the ball shot off the iron, and the Trojans were hopping mad. Not at all coincidentally, the Pac-10 soon passed a rule banning such tactics.
JOHNSON: FRIEL COURT FIXTURE
CNN once carried footage of Johnson's introduction of former WSU basketball star Bennie Seltzer. Or, more precisely, "Ben-EEEEEEEEEEEEEEE Seltzeeeeeeeeeeeerrrrrrrrrr!" CNN actually put a timer to the theatrics; it lasted 7.2 seconds.
Craig Ehlo -- "EEEEEEEEEEEEEEE-lo!" is another basketball player who got the full Monty from Johnson. In football, there was Frank Madu -- "Muh-DOOOOOOOOOOOOOO!" and DonniEEEEEEEE SasAAAAAAAAAAAA.
After a while, Johnson let the fans yell out the finish on Madu's name. Likewise, Johnson often lets the fans finish another of his trademark lines: "And that's uh-NOTH-er Cougar ... first down!"
At 63, Johnson is every bit as energetic and enthusiastic as most of the students he guides in WSU communications classes and at the student-run television and radio stations. He performs the PA work and a few other associated tasks for a few hundred bucks a year.
"I put it down as a service to the university," Johnson said. "I do it out of love and respect for the school."
Johnson said his only PA experience prior to Washington State came in occasional fill-in duty at minor league baseball games in Sacramento. Johnson was rather conservative when he was first handed the microphone at WSU, but he expanded his announcing repertoire as he gained confidence and realized his words could help energize a crowd.
"I think it should be fun," Johnson said.
Johnson said a lot of the fun went out of his PA job when Rick Dickson was athletic director and -- according to Johnson -- specifically ordered him to stop giving the Cougars any "home-court advantage" in basketball. That is one of many reasons Johnson has few kind words for Dickson and an abundance of kind words for present AD Jim Sterk, who replaced Dickson in 2000.
"I have a lot of respect for Jim Sterk. I'm really impressed with him" Johnson said.
Johnson initially had no interest in pursuing education as a career. He got his start in broadcasting while still in high school in his hometown of Turlock, Calif. He continued to pursue broadcasting while attending Modesto (Calif.) Junior College, Sacramento State, UCLA and Iowa, where he obtained a doctorate in communications.
Johnson handled play-by-play radio at high school football games early in his career, but he spent much of his time as a radio news broadcaster, news director and station manager in Sacramento. Tired of big-city crime and wary of an ownership change at his station, Johnson came to WSU to teach in 1979.
"I enjoy it, and I like the students," Johnson said. "I like the energy they provide."
Johnson's office area is filled with photos -- many of them with handwritten messages of appreciation -- from such former students as current television broadcasters Cindy Brunson of ESPN, Eric Johnson and Kathi Goertzen of KOMO in Seattle and Ana Cabrera and Dana Haynes of KHQ in Spokane.
Visitors to Johnson's office also will find a photo of his daughter, Karen. On Christmas Eve 1996, Karen and her husband were killed in an automobile accident.
"You sit back and think, ‘What's the worst thing that could ever happen?' Well, that's it," Johnson said.
"But you've got two options. Are you going to hate life, or are you going to make something out of it?"
Johnson and his wife, Kathy (a retired WSU employee), opted to endow a scholarship fund at the Spokane nursing school that Karen attended. A son, Eric, is an elementary school principal in Moses Lake.
Johnson said he loves his teaching and PA work and has no plans to retire from either position "as long as I enjoy it." In November, he'll run unopposed for his second four-year term as mayor.
"I like the fact," Johnson said, "that you can actually make an impact on your community."
With or without a microphone.