Former KMBZ / KCMO Host Russ Johnson Dies

Very sadly, this just in from sources close to the family of former KMBZ 980 AM and KCMO 710 AM talk show host Russ Johnson

Johnson was found dead at his residence yesterday in or around Aurora, Colorado, the victim of an apparent suicide. Calls to the local coroner’s office were yet to be returned at this writing.

“It’s so sad,” says Craig Glazer, a friend of Johnsons. “He had suffered dramatically the last three years from multiple sclerosis and he had just gone through a very bad divorce and that hurt him. His mother had passed away and he’d lost his radio career. So when you lose your wife, your family, your job and have a debilitating disease, that’s pretty tough. And Russ was a very nice guy – he was good at what he did – I’ll miss him.”

Johnson’s quirky Saturday shows and work with talk show legend Mike Murphy on KCMO-AM in the mid 1990s pointed towards what appeared would be a bright future as a talk show host. And after leaving Kansas City at the turn of the century for a late night talk show gig on Denver’s KOA-AM Johnson appeared well on his way towards achieving that success.

However Johnson’s return here in 2004 for an afternoon drive gig on ultra conservative KMBZ 980 AM proved to be a critical miscalculation. At the time of his decision to take the KMBZ post Johnson had established himself as a rising star in Denver on superstation KOA . He had been promoted to an earlier time slot at night and the likelihood was that he would be further advanced when a daytime gig opened up.

However as the Pitch’s Luke Echterling aka

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41 Responses to Former KMBZ / KCMO Host Russ Johnson Dies

  1. Anonymous says:

    Ben
    So sad, when I was at KU he came and spoke to one of our Journalism classes about his show and career.

    He seemed like a great guy, really intelligent and unafraid to say what was on his mind.

    RIP Russ Johnson.

  2. Anonymous says:

    rick
    Now that was a good journalism and worthy of Russ’s memory.

  3. Anonymous says:

    Rick in PV
    Amen, brother!

  4. Anonymous says:

    tracy thomas
    Russ was my friend. When I got Adam Bold his radio show on BZ, Russ coached him for free, how to generate calls to the show and make it a worthwhile show, not just an ego-torial. He was generous and funny and bold.

    People–especially as this recession goes on and on and on, we need to be kind to our friends who might be silently suffering. (Russ rarely shared about his MS and his intermittent blindness.)
    And we need to remind them that they are NOT their job, they are NOT their relationship and they are NOT their health. Those things may suck, but at their core, they are a worthwhile human being who can make a difference.

  5. Anonymous says:

    greg
    Wildly talented, a brilliant mind, big heart, a great source for everything from rock music to presidential debates, short fuse, huge voice, great smile — best set of choppers ever bestowed on a human, and a man who (apparently) allowed the devil to eventually claim his tortured soul. Mourn but do not follow. Life is a challenge to be met not surrendered.

    GH

  6. Anonymous says:

    Parks
    I first met Russ when the two of us worked at KJHK at the University of Kansas in the early 90’s. We later went on to work together at KCMO and KMBZ when both were owned by Bonneville and later Entercom. He was as talented and fun as he was unpredictable.

    He was a good friend, and I will miss him terribly. His presence was felt the second he would walk in to a room. His fuse may have been short, God knows I was on the receiving end of that from time to time, but his heart was huge. And what a voice. It’s a shame. I am stunned.

  7. Anonymous says:

    rick
    Needless to say that is a trait that sadly men, myself included, are known for. Our identity being meshed with our job, career, work, etc. Where women have a tendency to let their children become their focus. Thanks Tracy for the reminder. Which i’m sure I’ll need another 1000 times in my life. I’m not my job.

  8. Anonymous says:

    MandDshagger
    This is so sad. The guy had the Socratic method method of debate down stone cold. As fucked up as the world is I’m sure that God will say, “don’t blame ya”. When a guy as talented as Russ can’t score a gig and we’ve got to listen to Chris Stigall, Mike Shannin, Scott Parks, Darla Jaye and have idiots like Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid running the asylum you know that life is not fair. God bless you Russ. Maybe you can help us with some Divine Intervention.

  9. Anonymous says:

    Murphy
    What sad news. I met Russ years ago through Hearne and we hit it off immediately. I didn’t know him well – but we had a very fun, sarcastic acquaintance. Little did I know he lived just 20 minutes from me, here in Denver. I loved his quick wit and great sense of humor. Thanks, Hearne for introducing us. He will be missed.

  10. Anonymous says:

    hearne
    If I’m not mistaken, the above post is from former Rock 98.9 superstar Murphy Wells. I remember well introducing Wells and Russ for the first time. Russ was home sick and couldn’t make it to my Super Bowl party around 1995 or 1996. I had him on the phone and handed it stone cold to Wells, who proceeded to chainsaw Johnson within an inch of his life for being a wimp, home sick and not at the party. She had no idea really who Russ was. And as quick on his feet as Johnson was, the combination of Wells star power, lightning quick tongue and molten hot scolding rendered him utterly speechless. When she got done with him, Russ didn’t know what hit him. That was then!

  11. Anonymous says:

    Scott Simon
    I am stunned. I worked with Russ when he was at KCMO. He was doing all the right things to climb the talk show ladder. His show at KOA was great, I thought he had the right stuff to be another late night icon like the late Jim White was at KMOX. Unfortunately, coming back to KMBZ knocked him off the broadcast career ladder. He did the right thing on air to cultivate listeners. Because of management that dismissed Russ (and the same type of lame management that made me decide to leave KMBZ in 2000), I choose not to work in broadcasting, nor will work in it again. So Russ my friend, your death makes me angry – that you are not with us on earth anymore, and angry against the management of broadcasting that didn’t see in you that I and other found refreshing.

  12. Anonymous says:

    craig glazer
    Russ I am glad you had so many great friends here that already miss you my friend, I am one of them….you had such talent, you really did..

  13. Anonymous says:

    craig glazer
    PS Murphy you are missed, I deal with JD(Dare) every week, I even think he kinda misses you…hope you are well, if in KC please call me or stop by the comedy club, you are always welcome…you are a good person Murph….

  14. Anonymous says:

    Bruce Efron
    This is so sad. I was with 61 Country at one of Russ’s tours at KMBZ and he was always a very amiable and genuinely pleasant guy to be around.
    He deserved better.

  15. Anonymous says:

    Joyce Mason
    Oh my gosh, I am shocked!!! I am just sick about Russ, He was a great guy!!! This is a terrible loss!!My prayers go out to his family!!!

    I WILL MISS HIM!!!

  16. Anonymous says:

    Scott Voorhees
    It always struck me as funny how someone as devious as Russ Johnson could have a twinkle in his eye like you’d expect Santa Claus would have. Whether sharing air time with him, hanging at his apartment, or sneaking him back into the Entercom compound after he got fired in ’99 as we worked on his demo tape together, I always enjoyed my time with Russ … even as he was threatening the life of a friend of mine because he hadn’t paid Russ back his 10 bucks. But that was Russ!

    Well said, Tracy Thomas. Well said.

  17. Anonymous says:

    James
    Russ did a fine show at 850KOA, but with so many nights taken up with baseball once the season hits, it’s hard to maintain a rhythm. It’s tough for former Denver listeners to think about losses like Russ and George Weber occuring in the same year.

  18. Anonymous says:

    amber
    i am saddened to hear russ is dead. i just can’t believe it. it fucking pisses me off. i guess i always thought he would prevail through the dark times; for which we both are no stranger. i think back on all the times he would make me laugh in college, stoned or not. and, how much i admired his talent at kjhk, where we both met and began to hone our skills in the broadcasting biz. russ not only introduced me to the man who would become my mentor and good friend in radio, but he also was instrumental in helping me to attain enough funds to go to the big apple to receive an award. to this day i still have the letter he composed for me, it was brilliant, even better because it suggested he believed in me. we lived doors away from each other then, when he started at kcmo, doing his saturday morning schtick. on slow day i would call, just as we had rehearsed, and talk about breast-feeding in public, all the garage sales i had hit thus far, nude sunbathing … whatever we could come up with to get the mid western conservatives outraged. the phones always lit up! russ, i’m sorry your light is no longer shining. you will be missed.

  19. Anonymous says:

    Dan
    What can I say, I only knew Russ through my brief career in radio. But I remember running an overnight board op shift my first weekend at KCMO. I was new and barely trained and the morning producer didn’t show for his shift leaving me to run the Russ Johnson show. It was an absolute nightmare and I had heard stories about Russ and was exspected to get reamed, but he was really cool and helped me the best he could during breaks to get through. There was something in me he liked I guess and we hit it off every since then. I lost touch with him after I left Entercom but would always tune in and listen and I am just deeply saddened by this…He was treated in radio a little like me and thus is why I don’t work in the business anymore and never will. Rest In Peace Russ and thank you for what you did for me, you will never be forgotten.

  20. Anonymous says:

    hearne
    I gotta tell you guys, I’ve been thru a lot this past year, but your words and sentiments about Russ truly moved me. All the other things in my life weighed heavily on me, but since my mother’s death, only now come the tears. And you know, journalists are not supposed to admit to these sorts of feelings – never applaud at performances, dance at clubs or concerts, etc.. My bad.

  21. Anonymous says:

    Monkeyhawk
    Back in the mid-90s I was moonlighting on talk radio, filling in for Russ on KCMO, subbing for Glorioso with Cashill on KPHN, and tormenting Shannin once or twice a week: the token liberal fired for “making the conservatives look bad.” Russ was a remarkable talent. And even more remarkable human being. I’m sad to learn of his passing, but glad he passed though my life for even a short time.

    I’m reminded of a line from that old Don McClean song:

    “this world was never meant
    for one as beautiful as you.”

  22. Anonymous says:

    luthur
    I remember listening to Russ and liking him a lot. And who knew he was a String Cheese Incident fan?

  23. Anonymous says:

    uncle,
    I just read all the comments about Russ and
    how he was part of your lives in the radio business. I know he really loved his work always
    talked steady about his differnt experiences with
    us when he came home to Minnesota. We were able to listen to him live on the air many nights, if the weather permitted and really enjoyed soom of his topics. My wife and I were in Denver this spring and again most of the long conversations were about his career and what he was trying to come up with next. Naturally in Broadcasting.

  24. Anonymous says:

    jack poessiger
    Russ and I both were single at the time. To say we didn’t have some interesting conversations over drinks would be putting it mildly.
    I loved his sense of humor. His timing. He made MY ‘time spend listening’ go way up!
    Never forget the two of us showing up at Craig Glazer’s wedding at the Four Seasons (?) hotel on the Plaza.
    Now there was a day–and night.
    Come to think of it. Was Craig’s bride old enought to drink?
    Memories.
    Russ Johnson. You ARE missed.

  25. Anonymous says:

    Ralph Toynbee
    Russ was the LAST guy at KMBZ to actually EDUCATE rather than grovel for listeners. I guess the station just couldn’t handle that. I’ll never forget the time someone parroted Hannity and called to say the Geneva convention doesn’t cover combatants out of uniform. Russ asked him if he had a copy of the Convention and he answered no. Then he asked if the caller had readit lately and the caller said, not lately! Then, Johnson said, well I just happen to have a copy of it here…let’s read it together. Then he proceeded to blow the guy away. That’s how one deals with facts.

    But today, we have Darla Jay.

  26. Anonymous says:

    Doug James
    I didn’t actually work with Russ directly but I ran into him in the halls over at Belinder. It’s so sad to lose a guy like Russ THAT early in his life. I’ll never forget he told me one time when you lose both your parents that’s when you REALLY become an adult. God Bless and Rest in Peace,Russ! You WILL be be MISSED!

  27. Anonymous says:

    erin
    everybody had a hard time connecting with russ toward the end. but i loved him and his heart. we were married shortly before he began his gig in KC and while we had some rocky times we certainly had some great times there in kansas city and i will always remember our time there. a good chunk of my soul has followed russ to his resting place and will never return. i loved him so much i at times couldn’t fathom life without him…his intelligence, his wit, his charm, his unfailing humor and his beautiful voice. rest in peace my love. you will be dearly missed by myself and many many more.

  28. Anonymous says:

    Amanda
    I’ve known Russ for almost 20 years after meeting at KU when he was doing his show on KJ. Within the first two days of meeting we were playing practical jokes on his friends, such as hanging roadkill on their door handles, then knocking and running. God did we laugh when the doors came open and people were smacked with possum and rabbit roadkill. Shortly thereafter we shared a super crappy tiny basement apartment on Tennessee. Russ has been a huge impact on my life and as I see the world. We’ve always kept in touch after all these years and I’m going to miss him so much. I adored him, his spirit, his wit, and his passion.

  29. Anonymous says:

    craig glazer
    Jack my wife was 22, so yes, and oddly one of Russ Johnsons best friends she spent hours over their house, at that time Russ was married…so was I…the memories

  30. Anonymous says:

    Melissa
    I’m Russ’s step-sister and am very sadden by his death. We didn’t keep in touch much after he left for Kansas except for his occasional trips back to Minnesota and Christmas cards. But something in my heart the last month or so told me I should reconnect with him. He always could make you laugh and when he wasn’t he had you in deep conversations. Russ was a great person and will be missed by all family and friends. I will miss you Russ and wished we would have gotten back in touch. RIP RUSS!!

  31. Anonymous says:

    rick
    Sorry for your loss Melissa.

  32. Anonymous says:

    Ali
    (Erin, though I feel sorry for you, you must know that you were extremely influential in Russ’s decision. You hurt him deeply with your lies and toxicity. What a foolish, selfish person you are. I hope that you clean yourself up. You now have to live with yourself by yourself. You can no longer use and abuse the heart of the man who once loved you.)
    More importantly…

    Russ had an amazing way with people. He was a brilliant, lovable, genuine, vulnerable, sarcastic, firecracker and I loved him very much.

  33. Anonymous says:

    Scott Croushore
    I met Russ and his wife several years ago through a mutual friend. For a short time – we got to be close. I loved listening to his show on KOA – texting him with ideas and comments to feed the “Master of the Obvious”. We lost touch in the last few years as I had my own personal demons to slay – but I always thought of Russ with good thoughts.

    Lately, he’s been on my mind , I knew he was suffering over his divorce and illness – I should have called him to reconnect.

    This is a sad day for me.

    Russ – you will be missed !

  34. Anonymous says:

    kerri
    Erin, don’t judge Ali so harshly. I remember talking to Russ after he met Ali and he was so in love.
    Russ and I had a temultuous relationship, because we were ridiculously wrong for each other; nonetheless, I so wanted Russ to be happy and he wanted the same for me.
    Amanda, or Amanda-Bear as Russ accidentally called me one day, I know you cared for him, too. He spoke so highly of you and it is funny, because he mentioned the basement apartment.
    Russ Johnson is a remarkable soul. He took the many talents that God gave him, overcame demons that nobody else could, and loved people the best way he knew how.
    Although we had our awful days, I can say Russ Johnson made me a better person. I love him for who he is and am saddened by his departure. I understand (the best we as humans can) that he needed to be with God a little sooner than we may have wanted.
    Thank you God for allowing Russ to cross my path. Russ – keep on rocking in the free world!

  35. Anonymous says:

    kerri
    Erin, I apologize for reversing your and Ali’s name. Where is Russ to proofread? I suppose he is on to bigger and better gigs. 🙂

  36. Anonymous says:

    rick
    Ali this was not the place for your attack, legit or not. To bad the living can’t rest in peace.

  37. Anonymous says:

    Rowdy Reba
    Well,let me start by saying.I agree totally with Ali.no attack here !The facts are Erin you drug addictted fucking idiot,scam artist,dumbbutt teasing him about Lets go out Romeo and Juliet style really pisssed me off.And ultimately he cried for 2 days straight,which I, was there begging him not to carry out this ridiculous idea while Erin played games with cops,her parents, Russ fam.

  38. Anonymous says:

    Rowdy Reba
    This is To Melissa,RUSS really loved you!he knew your heart would be broken,but his pain was greater than you could ever imagine,he got to the point where he could not climb the stairs to his bed,and the emptiness of no one to hold his hand was too great!

  39. justinF says:

    Russ was a good guy.
    I met Russ a few months before his death and we became great friends. He was not like any friend I had since high school. We would sit and talk for hours, telling intimate stories about eachother’s lives, smoking pot, eating Mike n Ikes and listening to music and clips on his computer. Black Eyed Peas Boom Boom Pow was his favorite song at the time. We talked about politics and shared favorite book and movie titles. He had become one of my best friends and I am miss him so much. I wish I knew what he was planning. I wish I wish I wish. I had not spoken to him in a week or so because I was fighting with my ex girlfriend. When he stopped answering his phone, I figured he was laying low trying to avoid the drama that was happening on myspace with his ex. I did not know the real reason at the time and I wish I did. I will not mistake the warning signs of a friend in need ever again. Russ, you were a good friend and I miss you buddy. RIP

  40. Anthony The Evil Genius says:

    I miss you my friend.
    I just found out Russ died. He was my friend for many years and I lost contact with him when he went back to Colorado. I will miss you my friend and all of our talks on religion and politics. I miss the many times we pissed off listeners at KCMO together and also when you visited at KKFI. You will be sadly missed my friend and I wish I could have helped you with your pain.

  41. Sarah says:

    RIP old friend
    Russ and I worked together at Laird Noller Motors in Lawrence, KS selling cars toegether in the early 90s. Overall I remember him as a gentle soul, and loads of fun to be around. We stayed in touch for years and years after that, but lost touch after the last time he went to live in Colorado. He crossed my mind today and so I did a quick search for him online. I certainly didn’t expect to find this. I was just sure that he was still blasting his thoughts across the airwaves somewhere in the world. I’m so sorry for family and friends who were close to him, and sorry we fell out of touch. I loved working with him and calling him my friend. RIP old friend.

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