The common areas in the house are lightly sprinkled with Beatles memorabilia. A poster for the Beatles’ Cirque du Soleil show, Love, and an official print of Lennon’s “Dear Prudence” lyrics adorn the walls of the living room. There are actually more deer-related collectibles on this side of the house, but that’s his wife’s obsession.
In Johnson’s back studio he edits his nationally syndicated show Beatle Brunch, his passion project for almost 25 years.
Beatle Brunch ran on Majic 102.7 from May 31, 1992, until last December, when Johnson and other Majic DJs became unexpected casualties of the station’s push in a new direction. The station has since relaunched as 102.7 the Beach.
But Johnson continued to produce and stream online on brunchradio.com, an online platform that includes a devoted fan club and listeners in 50 markets.
Last week, after months without a local
As Johnson has written on the Beatle Brunch Facebook page, AM radio is, for many, “where you heard the Beatles for the first time.” He speculates there may be an unintended nostalgic appeal to hearing the Fab Four on this frequency once again.
“The funny thing is, I grew up [listening to] AM radio,” Johnson says. “It’ll sound, with the crackling of the thunderstorms and everything, probably similar to how it sounded when I was a kid. So if memories are important to somebody that’s listening, they'll get that nostalgic feel.”
While he concedes that millennials haven't yet rediscovered AM radio in the way they’ve embraced, say, vinyl, Johnson acknowledges that at the end of the day younger generations just want to hear the music. “There’s so many little kids getting into the Beatles that they’re not going to be able to relate to that [nostalgia], so that doesn’t matter. They just want to hear the songs.”
To that point, Johnson's first show back prominently featured a kindergarten class from Heron Heights Elementary School enthusiastically singing along to “Yellow Submarine,” “Love Me Do,” and “Hey Jude.”
Another generation of Beatlemaniacs is born.
Joe Johnson is no stranger to adapting to new formats. He began broadcasting Beatle Brunch locally on Majic 102.7 in 1992. “I might have had AOL,” he laughs. “When I started, everything was reel to reel.”
The bookshelf in his studio closet is stacked floor to ceiling with a visual timeline of the technological innovations to which he's had to adapt over the years. Opening the closet door he gestures, “If you look in here you can see the original shows are on DATs [digital audio tapes]. Then they went to CD, but mostly I have them on Pro Tools. I’ve digitized quite a few.”
Johnson has also needed to adjust Beatle Brunch to comply with new streaming laws. “There's this law now that says you can't play more than four songs by the same artist in three hours.” This rule recently garnered some media attention when it resulted in radio stations being unable to play extended tributes to David Bowie after his passing.
Johnson skirts the rules by intermingling Beatles originals with solo live tracks (because they technically count as different artists) and even cover versions of Beatle classics by soundalike bands like the Fab Faux.
Rather than limiting his capabilities on the show, Johnson finds that the new rules have bolstered his creativity instead. “For me, it’s become like a work of art,” he says. “It’s more than just getting on the radio and playing Beatles songs. I like to blend and mix and give people things to think about. We've heard the songs before, so what can I do to get people to think? To be creative? To give the show legs?”
After two and a half decades of rising to the challenges of the changing medium, Johnson has proven to be just as resilient as his subjects at adapting to changing technologies. Just as the Beatles transitioned from '45s to CDs to subscription music services and even video games like Rock Band, Joe Johnson surfed the airwaves from FM to streaming, and now back to AM radio.
His tenure as the host of one of the most popular Beatles-themed shows in the country has afforded him unique opportunities like a hosting gig at next year’s Flower Power cruise, appearances on CNN and the Today Show, and, one of the coolest moments of his career: interviews with Ringo Starr and Sir Paul themselves.
In 2005, while interviewing McCartney, he declined a friend’s request for an autograph, deeming it inappropriate. “I either have to be a journalist or I have to be a fan.” Once he left the room, however, Johnson swiped the Zephyrhills bottle McCartney had been drinking from. It now sits on a pedestal on his friend’s wall, along with a picture of Johnson, McCartney, and the same nearly empty Zephyrhills bottle on the table.
“The cool thing is now you could probably extract Paul’s DNA and make his child from it. Get a little of [someone] else’s DNA and put it together and you'd have another Beatle child.”
Sometimes, even after all these years, Journalist Joe briefly leaves the room, and only the fan remains.