But with the team playing its home games this season without fans because of the pandemic, it’s just Johnson and his usual broadcast partner, former United player Devon McTavish, providing the live soundtrack to D.C.’s matches on WJLA-24/7 News (formerly NewsChannel 8). To Johnson — best known for his signature “It’s in the net!” goal call — commentating a game without his 20,000-person backup band has been an adjustment.
“It’s like singing with electric guitars all these years, and all of a sudden you’ve got to sing a cappella,” says Johnson, 56. “Sometimes when you’re calling a home game for the Wizards or D.C. United, you get the feeling of what it must be like to be the lead singer of AC/DC because the crowd is into it, and as you’re calling it you feel the rhythm of the game. Now it’s, ‘Wait a minute — who unplugged the guitars?’ ”
Johnson, the senior sports director at WTOP, also is coming up on a quarter-century as the station’s play-by-play voice for the Washington Wizards. On his ideal day in the D.C. area, the Annapolis native fast-forwards to a time when spectators can again flood stadiums and arenas so they can accompany him for a soccer-basketball doubleheader in the District.
When I consider a dream day, I think about where I am in my life and also what has always brought me joy, and I think about a picture I look at often — it’s me with my mother at a Baltimore Orioles baseball game when I was a kid. She had multiple sclerosis and, sadly, she passed away in 1979. I now have multiple sclerosis, and my journey has kind of become what her journey was. It certainly makes me very reflective of life, but it also makes you realize what has given you joy. As a kid, I loved going to any kind of game because, for those three hours, it wasn’t about the health concerns or whatever else. It was just a cocoon of joy.
Given that, what would be my perfect day? It would be a way to connect with people. And it’s not because I’m necessarily lonely — it’s that I love being in those environments where I see people coming together.
I wake up every day at 2:30 a.m. for WTOP, so getting up at 6 for a Premier League soccer match would be sleeping in for me. I’d go to Ireland’s Four Courts in Arlington or Across the Pond in D.C. and get with the people. And not that you order 12 beers, but it is fun to order one beer at 7 in the morning and be a little bit crazy. That would bring me joy because, again, you’re a part of a community.
For lunch, there’s a place near Annapolis called the Point, and it’s fabulous because everything is outdoor seating. I’d get the Chesapeake wings with the Old Bay on them.
Then a perfect day obviously would be all lined up — and this has happened before in my career — where you have a D.C. United game in the afternoon and the Wizards at night. At Audi Field, I’d be broadcasting the game or, even better, hanging out with the fans and enjoying that whole experience.
For dinner, I’d go to the Grilled Oyster Co. in Potomac with [co-owners] Rick and Valerie Dugan. Not only does the place have great food and great people, but when I walk in they’ve always said my name — that’s like my “Cheers.” People know you, and that’s always a good feeling. And there’s a salmon Caesar salad there that’s just terrific.
Then I’d go to Capital One Arena for the Wizards game and, again, connect with people, for a lack of a better way of saying it. There’s no greater joy than being with the people, talking about how [well] the seasons are going, how bad the seasons are going. So if I could dream something right now, it would be hanging out with fans. I don’t do what I do because I want to hear my voice — it has just given me a great excuse to be in arenas and stadiums with people, and I’ve loved that dynamic since I was a kid.