Here's the Play-by-Play

Brad Johansen '84 (Photo provided)

July 19, 2017

By Heather Baker

“Touchdown! At the buzzer…it’s good!” Phrases such as these were a part of Brad Johansen’s ’84 everyday vocabulary. Even as a small child, Johansen knew he wanted a career in sports. He didn’t see himself making it as a professional athlete, so he set his sights on sportscasting and play-by-play announcing. His requirements for college were that it was near Glen Ellyn, Illinois, (his hometown) and offered a broadcasting degree. Bradley University and Indiana University in Bloomington, Indiana, met that criteria. To help with his decision making process, he asked both schools when he would be able to use the television equipment. Their vastly different answers is why he chose Bradley. Indiana told him he’d have to wait until his senior year while Bradley students used the equipment as freshmen.

The most influential experience Johansen had while at Bradley was his involvement in the speech team, though it almost didn’t happen. Johansen had been hesitant to join the team and after his sophomore year was ready to quit and possibly transfer. It was at that point Coach George Armstrong challenged him to “be an influencer.” “He taught me how to stand in front of people and talk effectively,” Johansen said. “Coach Armstrong and the influence of my teammates, who were the best speakers in the country, gave me the foundation to be successful on television.”

While Johansen has had a successful career in broadcast journalism and sportscasting, including 21 Emmys, the career hasn’t been exactly what he envisioned. Thinking back on those early days, Johansen shared, “When I graduated, I looked like a high schooler. No one would take me seriously, so I had to take what I could get.” Johansen paid his dues in newscasting for twelve years in four different cities before he finally received an opportunity in sports broadcasting. “I thought I would never make it into sports. Once it happened I worked for three months without a break to prove that I had what it took.”

One of the most rewarding career experiences for Johansen was being able to live out his dream of calling NFL games. “I was a kid in a candy store.” Johansen said. “Even though it required a lot of work to prepare, once the game started it was the most fun I’ve ever had.” He was able to spend 18 years as a sports director at WKRC in Cincinnati, including play-by-play for the Bengals and calling college basketball. At that point, WKRC offered him a position as news anchor. Although he enjoyed his career in sports, the ability to spend more time with his family was appealing and he accepted the position.

His first assignment as anchor was to tell the story of a young athlete who had just committed to play college basketball for Mount St. Joseph. She had recently been diagnosed with a rare brain cancer and only had months to live but was still determined to play. You may have heard her story, her name was Lauren Hill. “When I met Lauren, I could tell immediately that she had a special aura. Everyone who came in contact with her could feel her special form of courage and commitment to making life better for others.” Johansen developed a special connection with Lauren and her family from the very beginning. After sharing her story for the first time, the viral response prompted Johansen and the WKRC team to commit to telling Lauren’s story to the very end. Lauren taught Johansen how to cherish every day because you aren’t promised a tomorrow.

When asked what advice he had for current Bradley students, Johansen says it’s important to have a passion for what you do and be willing to work to achieve your goals. He warns, “If you enter the television industry for the wrong reasons this business can eat you alive. Especially now, it is a very dangerous time in media. It is so easy to get lazy and you see less and less truth and honor in our world.” Johansen feels lucky to be a broadcaster and makes sure to continue earning that privilege. “I want people to say ‘he did it the right way’.” He says he is driven to produce his best work every day by people who are at the top of their game. “I’m hopeful that my best work is still in front of me.”