​​​​​​​Hidden History: WDIA’s Bev Johnson’s Celebrated Radio Career That Almost Wasn’t


This year, WDIA’s Bev Johnson will become the first black woman inducted into the Tennessee Broadcasters Hall of Fame.  

In her 40 years as a Memphis radio personality, she’s been a three-time Marconi Award nominee, the Emmys of radio. Johnson has also been named Billboard Personality of the Year and honored by local and state leaders and the U.S. House of Representatives.  

So much success and Johnson never even wanted a career in radio.  

“I started off in Jackson, Mississippi, in radio,” said Johnson. 

The Memphis native was a graduate student at Jackson State University during the 1970s. One day while on the air at the University’s radio station, Johnson got a call that would change her life. 

“Carl Haynes called me, Program Director at WJMI,” said Johnson. “He said ‘I’d like to offer you a job.'”  

WJMI and WOKJ were Jackson’s urban FM and AM radio stations, but Johnson had other ambitions. 

“I said ‘Mr. Haynes, I’m sorry but I’m going to be a television reporter,’” said Johnson.  

Haynes wasn’t giving up. He called Johnson while she was on summer break from school to tell her the midnight to 6:00 a.m. DJ job at his station, WJMI, was still waiting for her.  

Johnson once again turned the job down, but this time her grandmother stepped in.  

“She said ‘baby, when somebody gives you an opportunity and it’s good, take it.'”    

Johnson took that advice and eventually became News Director at WJMI. The very person she replaced there hired her at WDIA in Memphis in 1983.  

“We were on Central Avenue.” said Johnson. “It was like, ‘I can’t believe it.'”  

WDIA gave Johnson a platform for community service as a mentor. From Public Affairs Director to News Director, Johnson has done it all in the radio industry, an industry she almost passed on.  

“42 years later, I’m still in radio.” 

©TEGNA Inc. 2019. All Rights Reserved.

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