Russ Johnson, who gabbed as an evening talk-show host at KOA from 1999 to 2004, and subsequently worked at KVOR in Colorado Springs, died earlier this week at his Aurora home. John Turk, a producer of AM 760 who was friendly with Johnson, confirms that he took his own life.
Turk says "it's hard to speculate" about his reasons. "There were some notes, but he didn't say. He had MS, which was rapidly progressing, and then he had a divorce in the last couple of years, and some financial problems, as well -- and he was out of work. I just think the whole world caved in on him."
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Turk met Johnson at KOA in 1999, shortly after he started working at the station, "and I was immediately drawn to him," he says. "He was so clever and quick-witted, and he had what he called a 'pithy comeback' for anything people had to say."
On at least one occasion, he offered a response that went too far for station management's comfort. "He had a discussion going about why parents don't listen to kids, and a pre-teenager calls in," Turk remembers. "To prove his point, Johnson said, 'Why don't you scream, "I'm going to kill everybody at school!"' And when the kid did it, his parents rolled in and said, 'What's going on?,' and the phone hangs up. He was suspended for two weeks over that one."
After leaving KOA, Johnson bounced around to a Kansas City station as well as KVOR, but of late, "he was putting together demos, trying to get another gig -- and you know how hard it is to get a job in radio these days," Turk says.
Surviving members of Johnson's family don't live in the Denver area. As a result, services are pending. We'll pass along the details when they're available.