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My story begins on August 24, 1960 - that's when I was born in Seattle, Washington.
I guess I was pretty lucky; I was born about two months premature, and the odds for preemies weren't as good then. I spent plenty of time in an incubator at the hospital before I was allowed to go home. Before my parents named me, the nurses called me "Little Joe," after Michael Landon's character on "Bonanza" (we used that when we got a dog about ten years later). Once I was taken home, I lost weight, soon became emaciated, and no one could understand why. Turns out that a nurse had mistakenly given my mom the wrong formula! But that was soon corrected, and I was more or less on track.
I'm a full-blooded Norwegian, a first-generation American. My parents were both born in Norway (my dad in Tromsø, my mom in Arendal), but they first met in Southern California.
My dad, Kaare (pronounced CORE-uh), was a ship captain and fisherman who took crab boats and processors to Alaska. My mom, Kari (pronounced KAHR-ee), stayed at home. My sister Marion was almost nine by the time I was born. We lived in the Ballard area until we moved to Seattle's north end in the fall of 1962 (during the Columbus Day storm!). I attended Haller Lake Elementary School, and moved on to Thomson Junior High in 1972.
My childhood was pretty dull, I guess. An adventurer or troublemaker I really wasn't (my sister would disagree with that, though). I went to school, went home, watched TV, and that was about it. I wasn't interested in sports, so I never played after school with any of the kids. I hung around my sister a lot, and shadowed poor sis through a lot of her after-school activities.
I spent a lot of afternoons with my best friend, Larry Heiner. He lived a block away from me, and we hooked up when another friend of ours moved. He was the athlete I wasn't, and involved me in some sports - bowling, baseball, football, especially billiards. If I had a penny for all the games we played on his dad's pool table, I could probably retire. (If I had a penny for all the times I beat him, I'd have, well, a penny. Maybe.)
Larry also helped me open up to different kinds of things. Even though now I still come pretty close to being a nerd, it's hard to believe what a stuffed shirt I was back then. I thumbed my nose at just about anything that was "cool." Well, one day Larry told me that if I was to have any hope, I'd have to make some attitude adjustments. It came in the nick of time - with his help.
At school, I was a pretty good student. But junior high was not fun (I don't know of anyone who thought it was!). Some kids decided I was ripe for some vicious razzing, and throughout my time at Thomson Junior High I was the most teased person there (even all these years later, I'm still not sure why). The scars from that still run pretty deep.
When I got to Ingraham High, however, it got better, and I managed to mostly enjoy it. One reason: we lived right across the street, and it was a quick escape. Although I certainly wasn't an athlete, I had enough friends who were, and somehow got away with hanging out in "jock hall" without seeming too conspicuous.
Aside from a semester on the school newspaper, I didn't participate in much. But the one thing all my classmates seem to remember probably made more of an impact than anything else I could have done.
It was 1978. "The Gong Show" was a big hit then, and I was a big fan (funny thing is, all these years later, I really can't explain why). Well, when Ingraham decided to put on its own "Gong Show" that spring, I was asked to be the host. I think Chuck Barris would have been proud, if I may say so myself. We all put on a good show (even though I have a hunch that the outcome was rigged) - and it was one of the few times up 'til then that the auditorium had been filled (too bad we didn't charge admission!).
What I enjoyed most, however, were the football games in the fall. Larry and I would take the bus down to the Seattle Center, walk around the Fun Forest, and spend plenty of time in the penny arcade - pinball, air hockey, and the electronic trivia game that I got hooked on (favorite category: showbiz). By then, we were ready for some football, and although the Rams weren't champions, they always "showed up." Afterward, it was back on the bus to go home, but the night rarely ended without a visit to the nearby 7-Eleven (when we were little, it was called "Speedee Mart," and to this day, we still call it "Speedee") for Cokes or Slurpees (always cola) and more pinball.
I also enjoyed spending weekends at the downtown branch of the Seattle Public Library, reading old issues of "Variety" and learning about the early days of television. It was always fun walking downtown - especially during the holidays (even when it rained!).
My interest in broadcasting started when I was a kid. I grew up watching plenty of TV - and pretty much memorized "TV Guide" each week (there were only six channels back then!). I really liked game shows, news and special event coverage like space shots, conventions and elections. It was the live, spontaneous aspect of it that intrigued me, I guess. (I have more about this on my radio page.)
Anyway, I graduated from Ingraham in 1978 and went to Junior College. The nearest one with a broadcasting program was Bellevue Community College, and I started classes there in the fall of '79. The college's radio station, KBCS-FM, was located in the lower level of a house just off the main campus, and the classes were held in what was probably a rec room in an earlier life. At KBCS, I did a little bit of everything - I was a disc jockey, as well as news and public affairs director (my main duty was to change the ribbon on the AP teletype machine).
I earned my Associates Degree in communications from BCC, left KBCS, and started looking for work. It took about six weeks, but I landed a job at KAPS in Mount Vernon. They had just switched to a country music format that was delivered by satellite (something relatively new then), and were looking for someone to produce commercials, read news and babysit the system. They said at first they could handle it on their own, but called a week later and asked if I was still available. Was I! I started work the next day.
A former co-worker once said you can't trust anyone in this business who hasn't been fired at least once. Well, don't worry. KAPS let me go nine months later, and I was looking again. Eventually, I found work - not in radio, but as a courier and an inventory counter (we'd go into stores and count everything on the shelves). The beauty of that job was that it was usually a morning gig, which left the afternoon free to look for something else. I also helped out at KBCS to keep my skills fresh.
In August of 1986, I was hired on at KPQ in Wenatchee. It was a board-operator position, and I figured I'd spend a year or two at it, then head back to Seattle or somewhere else. But I hung around. I did just about everything except play-by-play sports (sports is NOT one of my strong suits). I voiced commercials, read news, headed up remote broadcasts, and hosted almost every local show on KPQ while I was there. I covered car accidents, fires, council meetings, store openings and parades; my byline appeared on the Associated Press, and my stories have been heard on the ABC and NBC Radio Networks.
For years I was the principal reporter for KPQ's "Take Two," a daily series that devoted a week to one story. My 1999 series on a campaign to fluoridate drinking water in the Wenatchee Valley won an Associated Press award. I did "Take Two" full-time for five years, then once or twice a month, before the series ended in the fall of 2007.
But my real pride and joy was "The Two o'Clock Show," a daily interview show that debuted in May 2000 and ran for eight years. We tackled just about anything. You can find out more about it by clicking here.
A lot happened during my 26 years at KPQ. My parents passed on, my mom in 1988 and my dad in 1990. I took a month-long trip to Norway with my dad just before he died, and it was a joy to be at his side and explore his homeland. I've also traveled to the Washington and Oregon coasts, Los Angeles/Hollywood, Palm Springs, Las Vegas, Spokane (for jury duty!), a cruise with a dozen KPQ listeners to Alaska (click here for the details), Vancouver, Penticton BC, Philadelphia, Atlantic City, and even Quincy, Illinois (it was a business trip). I've also made more than a half-dozen trips to New York City (click here for the story of one of them).
All things - good or not - come to an end, however, and my last day at KPQ was in February, 2013. I intend to stay active in the communications industry, however, be it as a commercial voice, narrator, host or whatever.
In my off time - whatever that is (because true radio people are never really "off") - I enjoy reading (mainly non-fiction and current events), researching broadcasting history, business and finance (and managing my investments), baseball (the Mariners and the Mets), music (Sinatra, standards and contemporary jazz are my favorites, but I enjoy rock and some country as well), working on my computer (and this website); and, on occasion, sleep. By the way - no, I'm not married, nor do I have a girlfriend. Maybe that's something else I should work on . . .
Text and pictures copyright © 2013 by Kenneth I. Johannessen.
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