“You guys are part of history,” Johnson told longtime sports television executive Joe Yasharoff’s TV production class, via Zoom and live on air, at halftime of the Wizards’ 118-114 win. “ … Everyone else listening tonight gets a half-credit in Joe’s class.”
Johnson, a D.C. broadcasting legend in his 24th season calling Wizards games, has spoken to Yasharoff’s students before. With Wednesday’s class falling at the same time as the Wizards’ story line-packed game, Yasharoff, who has known Johnson for roughly 30 years, reached out last week to gauge his willingness to spare a few minutes during halftime. Not only did Johnson agree to do it, he suggested they broadcast the entire exchange live.
“Why not?” Johnson said after the Wizards won their sixth straight game. “I knew it was going to be crazy, because once you get going in a game, it’s intense. I didn’t know how it would sound on air, but I think it’s important to try new things.”
That was the gist of Johnson’s message to Yasharoff’s class during Wednesday’s unusual halftime show, which normally would’ve been spent rehashing an eventful first two quarters in which Curry managed only four points and Wizards rookie Deni Avdija suffered a serious ankle injury.
“Whether it’s sports television or other aspects of the sports business, it’s been rocked very hard by the pandemic,” Johnson told the students, between commercial breaks. “It’s something that’s impacting all of us, and we’ll all have to adjust to the way we do things. This is an exciting time for all of you looking to pursue your own careers, because they are looking for people out there who are going to be versatile and able to handle surprises. That’s one thing that we’ve learned in the past year.”
Johnson, who is also the longtime TV voice of D.C. United, is no stranger to innovation and trying new things. He and his radio partner, analyst Glenn Consor, have transformed Wizards broadcasts into what they call a “Radio Party,” shouting out listeners by name and engaging with regulars on Twitter throughout the game.
Charles Nyonga, one of Yasharoff’s students, asked Johnson a question on air about fans finally being allowed back in the arena. Johnson adjusted his computer to give the class a better look at the scattered crowd.
“There was an emotional component to having people back,” Johnson said later. “It was just great to wave at somebody and have them wave back at you.”
Johnson’s message resonated with Nyonga, a senior with aspirations of working in the production or research department at SiriusXM Radio one day.
“I’m interested in a lot of different things when it comes to journalism, because you have to be,” he said. “All the guys at the top, they do radio shows, they write, they do television. That’s kind of how I see myself in the future.”
Yasharoff has taught at Maryland since George Solomon, the former director of the school’s Shirley Povich Center for Sports Journalism and longtime Washington Post sports editor, recruited him six years ago. He said Wednesday’s lesson focused on how to treat a big game as a TV reporter or producer. Before interacting with Johnson, Yasharoff’s class heard from WJLA’s Scott Abraham and WDVM’s Alex Flum, a former Maryland student, who were both at Capital One Arena.
“It’s a blast for me personally,” Yasharoff said. “Having worked in TV for 30 years at Fox 5 and Comcast SportsNet, it is really cool to be a small part of helping these students find their way. And I learn from them, too. … I went to Maryland, my daughter went there and now I get to teach there. Of all the things I’ve done, this is easily one of the best. I’m just really lucky.”
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