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Fixer, fixture and mentor: The Bridge's Byron Johnson Retires

Above image: Byron Johnson in production and on air at KCMW-FM, his first job in radio. Years later, KCMW would become The Bridge.

Byron Johnson has been the heart and soul of 90.9 The Bridge since its inception in August of 2001. Yes, he’s the guy who knows how to do everything. He fixes problems. He saves us. He’s also retiring at the end of November. His greatest value however, is in his humanity. When the station was owned by the University of Central Missouri, Byron mentored countless students. His door was always open. He has been an open-hearted, hard-working teammate. Mission-driven, Byron was always ready to go the extra mile in service of the listener. One can sense those qualities over the air, and our listeners over the years have responded with more pledge revenue during his shift than anyone else in Bridge history. 

A Kansas City native and Park Hill High School graduate, Byron’s radio career began at the University of Central Missouri as a student, working on the station -- then known as KCMW -- that would eventually become The Bridge. Bringing The Bridge back to the city of his youth is a wonderful way to complete a lifetime of service in the field. 

After serving his country in the Air Force during the Vietnam War, and radio audiences across the world, Byron will now focus on his wife, Connie, their five children and seven grandchildren. His Bridge family will stay in touch. We’ll probably need him to fix something on his first day at home. 

Byron, we will miss you. 

—Jon Hart

Above image: 90.9 The Bridge and KCPT – Kansas City PBS staff surround and celebrate the bittersweet moment of Byron Johnson's final funding drive break on Sept. 27, 2018.


Read a few tributes to Byron from his colleagues at The Bridge:

Jon Hart

Byron Johnson is more than a co-worker to me. He is a dear friend. I plan on bothering him regularly. He can look forward to phone calls in the middle of the night, as I check in to see how his retirement is going. Byron has always been the one with the honest critique, so I feel justified in weighing in on how I think he's using his post-Bridge time. Life can't all be Scotch and fine Cuban cigars. Byron, you can run but you cannot hide.

-XOXOXO, Jon

Sarah Bradshaw

Byron Johnson!? What is there to say other than he’s phenomenal, a steadfast calming force, a stanchion in the storm. You will hear others say it time and again, because it is such an integral part of who he is — Byron is the glue that holds everything he comes into contact with together. I know that I am not alone when I say that if I’m having a bad day, I can turn on the radio and when I hear his voice, it makes me smile. 

Without Byron, the world of radio would be foreign to me, as he was one of the motivating factors that initially steered me toward radio. As my Audio 1 instructor at the University of Central Missouri (then Central Missouri State University), he suggested that I volunteer at The Bridge. Since that time, he has continued to be a teacher, a mentor, and most importantly, my friend… and I am not the only one! Every time I reconnect with a former student or volunteer, the first thing they ask is, “How is Byron?!” He has had such a positive impact on so many people’s lives. 

The Bridge, Byron — those two terms are synonymous and have coexisted since the inception of the station. I am definitely happy to see him fulfill his wish for retirement, however (and I know I am not alone here) I love and am going to miss him SO MUCH!!! 

So, Byron, here’s the deal: When you and Connie run out of places to ride the Harley, have had enough deck time with your bourbon and a cigar, have spent enough time with the kids and the grandkids and… okay, wait a minute, where do I sign up for this retirement thing? 

But seriously, you have definitely earned it, dear sir. Thank you for all of your love and support over the years and don’t be a stranger.

P.S. You can always come back for pledge. ????

Bob Garrett

My first day at The Bridge was the Obama Inauguration Day in January 2009. Jon Hart gave me a tour of the station, and the first person I met was Byron Johnson. I’ve been in radio for a lot of years, and I’ve known Jon Hart for a very long time. But this was my first introduction to Byron. Little did I know when I met Byron Johnson that day, I was meeting a man of incredible radio knowledge and skill, and a man of strong character and judgment who would help me over these last 10 years be a stronger radio person.

Every day working with him has been a joy. Not only a person I could count on each and every day at The Bridge, but a terrific team player. I wish Byron a happy retirement, but I will sadly miss him. Thanks for the your diligence and friendship. My best to you always.

Clint Bradt

It is rare to find yourself in a work situation where the greatest reward you get from the job is to be allowed in the room with people you admire and respect professionally and personally. After over 40 years working in various forms of media, you figure out how things work and who the authentic people are in an often ego-driven profession. If you get to work with those kinds of people -- creating a shared vision, even once in a lifetime -- you are very, very lucky. 

Everyone of us at The Bridge have dreaded the day we knew Byron would make good on his threat to retire. Byron’s knowledge, skill and professionalism allowed us to accomplish more with the tiny staff and limited resources than anyone else could have. We knew he only stayed as long as he did because he knew we needed him, but we really didn’t want to do it without him. We still don’t, but we get it. 

I have been fortunate to work with many good people over the course of my life, but Byron’s generosity, empathy and again, authenticity, makes him one of the most lovely human beings I have ever had the privilege of being in the same room with, so thank you, Byron. You are leaving a big, unfillable void.

Andy Stanley

I met and worked with Byron through The Bridge, what I thought, at the time, was just a little college not-for-profit at Central Missouri State University. I had been asked to join in an effort to gain some sales/underwriting in the Kansas City area for a station that just barely had enough juice to hit the metro. Recently retired and looking for a niche, I thought, what could be better than to work with a couple of old KY102 buddies on a new effort? Byron Johnson was the icing on the cake.

Byron earned most of his stripes in smaller broadcast markets, places where I also got my start will always hold a special place in my heart. 

But small-market radio, and the people who keep that magic alive, possess a humanity that can’t always be heard over the air in big-market broadcast and is not at all like many of the personalities you hear in the city. Unlike the cue-card readers in major markets, many of us in small markets started when we were teenagers and grew up in the industry. 

Radio in small markets is the lifeblood of farming communities all across the fruited plains. Folks rely on it for news and weather, market prices and even Aunt Mary’s apple pie recipe. Byron is the heart, the communicator, who understands the people who love the heartland.

Byron Johnson had a career in communicating with people, through the radio, the computer and the handshake-understanding he had with all who know him. He has a calm delivery on air -- comfortable and easygoing. Unpretentious and open. Enviable traits he showcased naturally. It shows.

He also sees the strategic big picture in a radio station. I’d put him in any position at any radio station and be comforted in knowing he’ll get whatever job he faces done, and done right. On air, traffic, logs, billing, federal broadcast rules, transmitters, numbers, personalities, owners, promotions. You name it — Byron has seen it all. He’s a hell of an asset in anybody’s book.

I’ll miss you, my friend and my fellow sergeant. You are the glue that holds The Bridge together. You’ve done a magnificent job, and no single person can ever replace you. You’re the guy many of us in small-market radio always wanted to be. Thanks for being there!

Bryan Truta

I’m the “new kid on the block” so to speak, having only worked in the building — and, consequently, with Byron — for a few months. So most of my relationship with Byron has  that one-sided feeling: I know him from the radio.

He introduced my favorite records: Ben Harper. Death Cab For Cutie, Regina Spektor. His was a voice through the ether, with me in times of joy or periods of sadness. His mood, regardless, was always the same; his delivery constant in that measured Midwestern pace. Sure, I’d go other places, try other things. But I could always come back to Byron. And there he was. Like comfort food. A stalwart. An institution. 

Thinking back while writing this, Byron and The Bridge have existed most of my adult life. That’s a sentence that will turn Byron red with embarrassment. I’m revealing something about him now -- about all of us.The fact that he’s been here, in one place, while I have been through nine radio stations and six ownership groups in that same amount of time leaves me with awe.

When I came to The Bridge just a few months ago, I heard that Byron was the glue — the person who held this whole place together. 

Well, Byron Johnson isn’t just the glue that holds the place together: he’s the glue, the paper, the fibers that make up the paper, and the tree from which it all sprang. 

Byron, congratulations on a stellar career, but even more importantly, thank you for being such a stellar person. It’s not just your work ethic that will be missed. Your smile, your laugh, your brain. We’ll all be lesser not having you around. Enjoy it, sir. You earned it!


Michelle Bacon

Like many avid listeners, I became acquainted with Byron through hearing his voice on The Bridge well before I met him. His authentic presence was one of many reasons why I tuned in, and one of many reasons why I knew The Bridge was dedicated to its listeners. 

In some form or another, the station has been reluctantly bracing for Byron's departure since I joined the team two years ago. He is The Bridge's unsung hero; a bastion of knowledge, mentorship and compassion. I've had the pleasure of sitting at the desk across from him and learning about the devotion he has to his family, his loved ones and the radio station he helped establish. Plus, he's never one to shy away from a wisecrack or from offering a tidbit of advice, both of which are welcome to an extreme introvert like myself. His devotion, his warmth, his humor and his encouragement have kept me coming back to work each day. I'll be taking over several elements of his job, but there's no way I can replace him. In fact, Byron, I’ll probably be calling you for help every day. You’re going to get sick of me!

Byron — You will be greatly missed by the entire Bridge family, but we look forward to hearing about all the adventures you’ll have in the next phase of your life. Cheers!

Comments

Taylor commented on November 29th, 2018:

Byron, I'm going to really miss working with you! Thank you for all you've done for the Bridge, and I wish you a wonderful and happy retirement!

Susan commented on November 30th, 2018:

Byron, I'm so glad to have had the chance to meet you after hearing you on air for so many years. You have brought so much life and love of community to the Bridge and will be dearly missed not only by your coworkers, but the listeners as well. Best of luck and much enjoyment in your next chapter!

Connie H commented on November 30th, 2018:

I never imagined a world where the Bridge didn't have Byron. Thank you and may your retirement be blessed.

Jeremy commented on November 30th, 2018:

Ever since about 2005 when I was a student at UCM listening to the best little small-town radio station, Byron (or BJ, as he was often called) has been a constant, confident, assuring voice in my life. I've not yet had the honor of meeting the man, but I will so miss hearing his warm-hearted, jovial voice on a daily basis. Best wishes, Byron!

Janet Bunce commented on November 30th, 2018:

Congratulations Byron!! While your voice has been a friend for years, actually meeting you sealed that deal. My one and only time "on air" for a fundraising drive was enough to make me an emotional wreck and face my fear of public speaking. You were my calm in the storm and got me through it and just made it FUN! I remember that day, you mentioned that you had told Jon you would give him 5 more years after the move to KC. And I believe that is exactly what you did!!! Enjoy your family, your time to do whatever you want, and a career to be proud of. May retirement be everything you've dreamed it would be! Cheers!

Eddie Osborne commented on November 30th, 2018:

Byron, I appreciate your help and guidance during my time on the Bridge. Your genuine kindness and positive nature made my time there more enjoyable. All the best to you and yours.

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