Thomas Johnson is one of those crucial people who, behind the scenes, keeps the world turning in all walks of life. He has missed only one Clinton High School football game in the past 31 years but has yet to walk through the gates of Wilder Stadium.
Johnson is the man who keeps the broadcasts going at WPCC. Buddy Bridges is the Voice. Gene Simmons and Harold Nichols are the analysts. B.J. Gardner keeps the statistics and chimes in on occasion. Johnson is back at the station, making sure the commercials are aired and doing the post-game scoreboard show.
He is the Man Friday: “an efficient and devoted aide or employee; a right-hand man,” descended from the original who appeared in Daniel Defoe’s 1719 novel, Robinson Crusoe. The original Friday was a name. Now Friday is game night.
Johnson is more literal than the original.
Born in Chicago and raised in Toledo, Ohio, Johnson, who now lives in Laurens, moved here when his mother and father retired. He moved here to help his dad build a house. Since Jim Warren hired him to work parttime at WPCC (AM 1410, FM 96.5, largetime.net), he has missed one Red Devil football game. That was when he attended his father’s funeral.
Warren taught Robinson all he ever really needed to know: “Never panic. Remain calm.” The rest he picked up by trial and error, advancing his skills with the technology’s parallel advance from analog to digital, live to tape, remote to in-studio. He has worked for Donny Wilder, Sandy and Rhonda Cruickshanks and, now, Pat Patterson. The station’s format has gone from country to sports to what Patterson now calls “Beach, Boogie, Blues & Beyond.”
“Pat’s the same way,” Johnson says. “He’s a pro who understands that the key is being a calming presence. I’ve been fortunate to work for people who are pros. They know that everything doesn’t have to be perfect. Not being perfect, but being natural and relaxed, is part of the charm.”
Clinton High has always had its niche, though, as well as Presbyterian College for most of those 31 years. Johnson has worked with Cruickshanks, Chris Burgin and Bridges as the “voices” he modulated. Always he has been behind the scenes, as much parttime at WPCC as in his “day job” at Woodbridge Clinton (formerly Bailey Manor), an assisted-living facility where he began working while his mother, who died in 2017, was living there.
Not many people know Johnson, but he knows lots of people in the business. At the station, he swaps scores with regional and statewide sports personalities Pete Yanity, Stan Olenik, Phil Kornblut and others on Friday nights.
He particularly likes WSPA-TV’s Yanity.
“Pete’s a fine fellow,” he says. “He never panics, either.”
Johnson is a sports fan, still dedicated to Ohio State stemming from his raising in the Buckeye State. He’s watched the Cincinnati Reds at the Great American Ballpark but not the Red Devils at Wilder Stadium, though he goes there through the descriptions of Bridges, Simmons, Nichols and Gardner. Though his voice is familiar to the fans, most have never had the chance to know him.
The “talent” knows. He makes them look good.
Behind every sportscast and every western lies a cool hand back at the ranch. For every Hoss, Little Joe and Adam out on the range, there has to be a Ben Cartwright minding the Ponderosa.
The result is a bonanza.