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A ‘million-dollar voice’ helps new SU broadcaster Mark Johnson live his lifelong dream
Some kids pretended they were Mickey Mantle. Others wanted to be Harmon Killebrew. That was fine for them, but Mark Johnson always wanted to be someone different.
“Sure, I would go out and play ball with the other kids, but at the same time, I announced the games,” Johnson says. “I was always that guy.”
Johnson’s childhood dream of broadcasting became a reality. In July, Johnson was named the play-by-play voice for Orangemen football and basketball. He succeeds Dave Pasch, who left after three seasons as the “Voice of the Orange” to become the play-by-play voice for the Arizona Cardinals.
A North Dakota native, Johnson spent the last four years as the “Voice of the Redbirds” at Illinois State University while also serving as the sports director at WJBC in Bloomington, Ill. Johnson’s voice won him three consecutive Silver Dome Awards, presented to the best play-by-play broadcast in the state of Illinois by the Illinois Broadcasters Association.
“He has this voice that is second-to-none–a dark, deep, big, booming radio voice,” says Mike Matthews, the color analyst for Illinois State basketball games. Johnson and Matthews teamed up in the booth for four years. “It’s a million-dollar voice.”
Though Johnson knew immediately that the move to Syracuse was good for his career, he had other matters to consider. He is a family man first and foremost.
“I do two things in my life-I work and I spend time with my family,” Johnson says. He and his wife, Susan, have two sons, Nicolas, 11, and Jacob, 5, and a daughter, Halle, 9.
“My wife and I always work as a team,” he says. “While I’m checking on the career aspect, she’s researching and checking on the community to make sure it is a good place to raise our family. It’s a joint effort.”
“We lay it all on the table and make the decision that is best for all of us,” Johnson says. “We have never made and will never make a move that is not in the best interest of the family.”
The Johnsons strive to become integral members of their new community. Both Susan and Mark served as hosts for the Easter Seal – United Cerebral Palsy Annual Telethon in Illinois. Susan also hosted the weekly a Christian-based motherhood radio program, “Hearts At Home On The Air.”
Johnson has always enjoyed volunteer work, but his perspective changed when Jacob was born.
“My youngest son has cerebral palsy, so people with disabilities hold a special place in my heart,” Johnson says. “I really enjoy getting involved with children with special needs.”
One of Johnson’s favorite experiences came when working at the Special Olympics. After graduating from college, he took up weight training to stay in shape. That sparked an interest and paved the way for him to volunteer as a public address announcer for the weightlifting competition at the Special Olympics.
“I got to know some of the competitors, and they became really excited when they saw me,” Johnson says. “They came up to me and said, ‘Mark, I want you to say my name like this’ or ‘Here’s my nickname-can you use it to announce me?’ Eventually, I started doing Michael Buffer-style intros for all of them.”
For as long as he can remember, Johnson has wanted to be in broadcasting.
“When I was playing for the high school basketball team, one family brought in a video camera to tape the games,” Johnson says. “I would go over and sit down to do a pre-game show. I’d interview the players and give a preview to the game.”
Mark Johnson and Syracuse seem to be the perfect match. Johnson is passionate about everything he does, going “head-first, 100 miles-per-hour” in all his endeavors. Listeners all across the state of Illinois can identify with Johnson’s attitude.
“He really gets involved to the point that, about halfway through the season, you’ll feel like he’s been broadcasting your games since he was a little boy,” says Matthews. “Every game to him is the most important one he does-he treats every game like it’s the Super Bowl or game seven of the World Series.”
Johnson loves every aspect of his job. Certainly he has paid his dues in the industry, doing everything from behind-the-scenes work to disc jockeying, from hosting human-interest talk shows to announcing play-by-play for almost every sport imaginable. He wouldn’t trade his experiences for anything.
“If someone came to me tomorrow and told me I’d never do another play-by-play, I’d still be a broadcaster,” Johnson says. “I thoroughly enjoy broadcasting, and play-by-play is the cherry on top of the sundae.
“Sometimes, during a break in the broadcast, I’ll just look out into the crowd and say, ‘I can’t believe I get paid to do this.’ I thank the good Lord above that I’m able to do this,” he says.