Monday, November 13, 2017

DJ Bwana Johnny

The word "Bwana" has a bit of an ugly history. It is borrowed from the Kiswahili word bwana which means "boss" or “master” and has origins in the Arabic word abūnā, meaning “father.” During the "external colonization" of Africa, the word was used to describe European (white) bosses, meaning "lord" or "master." Google Ngram tells us the written use of the word peaked around 1961. That year Bwana Johnny was only 15 years old, but apocryphally he had already been a disc jockey for a year. More here. It remains his most long-standing on air-name, though he had several. Including Dick Kilpatrick on KGW and Dick Johnson on KKCW.

One article from 1972 noted that he was 25 years old and already had 11 years of radio experience "since his first job as a 14-year-old DJ in Portland, Oregon." I've never found any other info on him DJing at the age of 14. But it's possible. Most official accounts start his career at KLOO in Corvallis, OR in about 1968. (But some accounts have him DJ'ing at WIRK in Palm Beach in 1965 at 18 years old.) In 1968 he was already in Billboard Magazine beside DJ Wayne Shane and R&B artist O.C. Smith in the WUBE studios. There Drake format consultants made him change his on-air name to Johnny Johnson to avoid offending listeners. More here.

He was on KJR in 1969 and somewhere in the middle of 1970 to hit 101.5 KFLYKFLY-FM only signed on in 1966, so his resume was longer than theirs at the time.  Regardless,when he came to the Bay Area in 1969, "Beautiful Bwana" landed at 1260 KYA-AM. He moved on to WWDJ in New York to do double-duty as a music director and afternoon-drive jock from about 1971 to 1973.  He went from there to 790 WFUN-AM. Different sources have him landing there in 1975 or time traveling backward to start in 1972. More here.

It was after that he  returned to his hometown, Portland, OR as "Crazy Dick Simms" on the Rose City's legendary KISN in 1975. In about 1980 when KVAN became KARO, Bwana Johnny was a repeat interim PD and morning man through 1981. Then Bwana became "Bronco Johnny," spinning country records at KUUY in Cheyenne, WY , in 1983.  He went back to being Bwana at KSND in Eugene, OR, in 1985. More here.

He went back to being Bwana at KSND in 1985. In 2000, he worked mornings at KKBR in Billings, MT, after which he worked in production for the Seattle branch of Jones Radio Networks. After that his declining health led to his retirement. He died on October 28, 2005, at the age of 59 at which time he'd been a DJ for 45 years - a life time on air. More here. In the May 5th issue of R&R Bwana Johnny was quoted as saying:
"Early in my career money and benefits weren't the big factors. Just the idea of moving to a bigger station in a new market was motovation enough. It was nothing for me to pick up and move on. Just pack up my stuff in my car or a trailer and go. It was a great adventure."
A full accounting seems almost impossible but it includes: KLOG, WUBE, KJR, KLOO, KFLY, KUUY, KYA, KGB, WWDJ, WFUN, KSND, KODZ, KKCW, KGW, KPNW, and KKBR. More here.