Rob Oxford: "We Can Be Heroes" (David Bowie)

Monday, April 16, 2018

Eric Johnson
KOMO Sportscaster
By Rob Oxford

You've heard the saying, "It takes one to know one"? Well, KOMO's Eric Johnson knows a lot of heroes and he's been introducing them to us since 1994.

In the beginning they were just pint-size and believe it or not, his extremely popular feature "Eric's Little Heroes" began out of desperation.

As Eric explained to me recently, it was another "slow news day" in Portland. He was a sportscaster at the time and there wasn't a whole lot going on that lazy summer day. 

Nonetheless he needed a story. He'd seen a group of kids playing T-Ball nearby and suggested to his then cameraman Cory Long, to go over to the field and shoot some footage. What was captured on that video would turn out to be pure gold.

Kids running to third instead of first, gloves being worn on their heads instead of their hands, watching a shortstop who doesn't realize a slow grounder just rolled between his legs.

We've seen it all before, especially if you're the parent of a very young athlete. But what made this special was the commentary that accompanied the video, Eric's own professional... "play by play".

He described it as "watching children through the eyes of a sports announcer, expecting to see how an adult (or seasoned athlete) would react... it becomes comedy". Combined with the beautifully edited video and witty dialogue, the result was "some really funny stuff". The best part he realized, "this stuff happens all the time".

24 years later Eric would admit to this writer, ("Eric's Little Heroes")... literally "made my career in Seattle".

I've met Eric Johnson and I confessed to Eric that HE is one of MY heroes. Warm, compassionate, able to handle his celebrity with style and grace, Eric seems genuinely interested in meeting his viewers.

Unfortunately there are many "celebrities" who can't and would simply rather not. He explained that he's "a person first... I'm still going to be who I am when it's all over". Eric enjoys engaging with people and loves hearing that someone "likes what he does."

A graduate of Washington State, Eric attended the prestigious Edward R. Murrow College of Communication and knew at age 10 exactly what he wanted to be when he grew up.

He says he was watching the Rams and Vikings on Monday Night Football and was captivated by the great Howard Cosell. High School Radio, College Radio and some 40 or so Regional Emmy Awards later (not to sound flippant, but he's lost count), he couldn't be happier.

He's worked for and with some of the truly greats in our region, Bruce King, Dan Lewis, Kathi Goertzen, and Bob Rondeau to name just a few.

Married with 2 children, Eric somehow manages to write music and tinker with his antique car when time allows.

In 2006, "Eric's Little Heroes" was discontinued. Fortunately for Seattle, two years of viewers asking why and confessing it was "their favorite segment" on the air, a newly appointed News Director brought it back. A very wise decision, if I may be so bold.

Eric has broadened the focus of his award-winning segment in an effort to encapsulate more of what surrounds us. He says "People feel disconnected" these days. There's too much focus on the negative.

He thought to himself "how many terrible people do I know... none." He'd ask his friends the same question and "the answer was always the same... none". Then why do we just hear stories about the bad guys? Great question. "Eric's Heroes" is his gift to his KOMO audience, "stories about the little things that people can all relate to" like, "The Sweeping Angel", "The Renegade Rooster" and Shoreline's "Walking Man".

Before I could conclude my interview, Eric had a question of his own. It was actually a request, "Next time you're on KZOK could you play a little more Beach Boys?" Eric is all about giving and receiving those "Good Vibrations".

He also wanted to make sure that I knew about his "team" without whom he could "not do his job". Eric sang the praises of his Producer Joan Kinsey, "the organization to his disorganization", his Cameraman Doug Pigsley whom he called "the very best" and Editor Darrin Tegman... together they are "all the legs of the table."

Final Question: "When your career is over and you're kicking back on one of the Galapagos Islands with one of those umbrella drinks in your hand (at which he laughed and said "yeah that's me"), what do you want people to remember about Eric Johnson?

"I would feel I had a successful career if the stories I shared with my viewers reminded them that deep down we all have the ability to be compassionate human beings". I'd like them to say, "That dude could tell a story".

If you know of a hero Eric should feature on KOMO TV, submit your ideas


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