PORTLAND, Ore. - William "Bill" Johnson, the radio play-by-play voice of the University of Portland's men's basketball program for 23 years and the Linfield College football program for the past seven seasons, died of heart failure on Sunday, Nov. 29. He was 71.
Johnson's sports broadcasting career spanned six decades, beginning at Portland television station KATU in 1969. He spent time as sports director and news reporter at KXL radio, was general manager and operations director for the Oregon Radio News Network, and worked five years as director of communications for Peter Jacobsen Productions, which annually managed the Fred Meyer Challenge golf tournament.
In addition to Portland, he served as the basketball play-by-play voice at various times throughout his career with the Oregon, Linfield, Lewis & Clark and Sonoma State University. He also called radio and television for the Portland Trail Blazers from 1974-76. Johnson's football play-by-play experience also included time with Oregon, Portland State and Lewis & Clark College.
Sadly, Johnson's most recent broadcasts came within days his death. He called his final Portland basketball game on Nov. 24 and his last Linfield football game Nov. 28, a 38-22 NCAA playoff victory over Cortland State (N.Y.).
At University of Portland, Johnson was voice of the Pilots men's basketball program for a total of 23 seasons over three different stints starting in 1978. He hosted the weekly Portland Pilots Coaches Show on 910 AM (KMTT) and was behind the microphone during Portland's run to the 1996 NCAA Tournament.
"Bill was a very valued member of the Portland Pilots athletic family," said Buzz Stroud, associate athletic director at UP and a 1971 Linfield alumnus. "He had a wonderful touch and special relationship with the students, coaches and administrators he interviewed, and worked with. I will miss him very much, not only as a colleague but a great friend."
"Bill was a great radio play-by-play broadcaster but he was an even better person," said UP director of athletics Scott Leykam. "He cared deeply about the University of Portland, but more importantly, he cared about people. He fostered relationships with players, coaches, staff members, and fans that went well beyond an interview or conversation. Bill always appreciated getting to know the student-athletes and often asked more about their lives off the court than what happened on the court. He will be greatly missed."
In 2009, Johnson filled in for Darrell Aune, calling the play-by-play of Linfield's 2004 national championship victory over Mary Hardin-Baylor. He also announced one season of Linfield basketball before migrating to central California where he worked as a radio station news director in Sonora.
With Linfield, Johnson became known throughout the McMinnville community as the athletic department's sponsorship marketing representative. He helped pioneer Linfield's multi-media marketing program, combining sponsorship elements of radio, print, video and electronic display advertising. He spent considerable time in the community cultivating relationships with McMinnville area businesses.
"Bill took our athletic marketing to a new level that provided us with much greater outreach to the McMinnville community, our alumni and fans," said Linfield director of athletics Scott Carnahan '73. He became part of the Linfield family and his friendly personality and vision for our marketability enhanced our athletic department immensely.
"Bill was always very generous when it came to praising other people," said his Linfield broadcast color analyst Dave Hansen. "I appreciated his positive point of view. He would often go out of his way to be effusive other praising other folks. He was a man of great faith."
Johnson enjoyed getting to know coaches, student-athletes and fans of the Linfield program.
"Bill especially enjoyed interviewing players on the team," said Hansen. "He never met a player didn't think highly about. That's the one element of the broadcast I think he probably enjoyed the most."
Johnson connected with the business community on a personal level, also.
"Bill always knew how to put together a package that worked well for promoting our business," said Tom McFadden, a 1980 Linfield graduate who runs an accounting firm in McMinnville. "Being associated with the Linfield athletic programs and having our company's advertisement in the weekly game program gives me great joy."
Bill Johnson is survived by his wife, Laurie.
"Linfield athletics has benefited from his association and friendship with all our staff and coaches. He will be tremendously missed," said Carnahan. "He adopted us and his pride and love for our athletic department and in particular for Linfield football was always present. Our thoughts and prayers go out to his wife, Laurie, his family and friends."
Johnson's passing will be recognized with pregame tributes and moments of silence Saturday before Linfield hosts Mary Hardin-Baylor in a football playoff game on at noon and when the University of Portland hosts Boise State later that day at 7 p.m. in the Chiles Center.
A memorial service honoring Johnson will be scheduled at a later date.