A Q&A With Jim “JJ” Johnson on Retiring From Detroit Radio After Half a Century

After half a century, the local WOMC DJ discusses his career, send-off, and what’s next.
JoAnne Purtan, Jim Johnson, and Jason Raithel, of the “JJ and JoAnne Morning Show.” // Photograph courtesy of JoAnne Purtan

This past Friday, Jim “JJ” Johnson, a popular host and DJ on Detroit FM radio for over half a century, retired and signed off for the last time on WOMC 104.3’s JJ and JoAnne Morning Show following a “Final Countdown” week of emotional farewells from the likes of Tim Allen, Bob Seger, Kid Rock, Mitch Albom, Darren McCarty, Dick Purtan, George Baier, Ken Calvert, Eli Zaret, and colleagues who worked with him over the years at W4, WRIF, WLLZ, WCSX, and WOMC.

After his final show, Hour Detroit caught up with JJ to ask him a few questions about his career and retirement.

Jim “JJ” Johnson at WRIF in 1979. // Photograph courtesy of Jim Johnson

What was the farewell week like for you?

“It was very emotional. When I announced that I was retiring, I mentioned that I wanted to go out quietly without a big circus. On one level it was embarrassing, but on the other hand, I did like being talked about and loved by all those people, because I have an ego too. The amount of work that JoAnne Purtan and Jason Raithel put in to make it all happen is beyond heroic. I’m a huge fan of the Curse of Oak Island on the History Channel so it was a thrill when Rick and Marty Lagina called in and invited me up there.”

What are your favorite moments during your time on Detroit radio?

“I had a million great moments but four of my favorites includes:

  • Traveling to Moscow and Copenhagen to see the Rolling Stones perform and doing remote broadcasts from there.
  • Taking some listeners to Rio de Janeiro for the three-day Rock in Rio Music Festival held at an abandoned army base with what seemed like a million people.
  • Taking Karen Savelly (fellow W4 DJ) out on a date to the Bob Seger concert at Cobo Arena in 1975 when his ‘Live Bullet’ album was recorded.
  • Attending Bob Seger’s induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame (2004) and seeing Prince perform ‘While My Guitar Gently Weeps.’ It was the greatest guitar solo I’ve ever seen. We then did a remote broadcast from New York the next morning.”

What are you most proud of from your radio work?

“There is a rule in broadcasting that stations must provide community service. Over the years through different radiothons, we raised a lot of money for local charities, and I fulfilled my responsibility as a broadcaster.”

What was the secret to your longevity in the radio industry?

“I grew up in Redford Township, and all towns have their own identities, but what we all have in common is that we’re Detroiters. I stayed here my entire career because I knew the listeners and they knew me. It was my connection to the radio audience.”

When did you decide that you wanted to be a disc jockey?

“It started when I was a kid under the covers with my Zenith transistor radio and a plug in, one earpiece switching between CKLW and WKNR, and sometimes WLS in Chicago if the conditions were right. There were a whole cast of characters on those stations.”

Why did you enjoy the work so much?

“It was easy because every station I worked for had marching orders, with the mission to have fun every day. If you’re having fun, the listeners are having fun. When you sign on to a job and your function is to go and have fun, how is that bad?”

What are your three all-time favorite songs?

“Number one is an instrumental, called ‘Europa’ by Santana and number two is ‘Renaissance’ by Jean-Luc Ponty. I can’t pick a third because there are hundreds that could fit into that position.”

What will you miss the most from working in radio?

“My co-hosts JoAnne Purtan and Jason Raithel. Of all my 52 years in radio, the last four with them have been the most rewarding, stress-free, and fun-loving years of my career.”

What are you planning to do in your retirement?

“I don’t know yet. This is all I’ve known my entire adult life. I told myself a few months ago that I’m not going to put any pressure on myself to figure it out. I’m giving myself the next three months to think about it.”