Longtime WTVC-TV 9 anchor and on-air personality Bob Johnson has died

Bob Johnson / Contributed photo
Bob Johnson / Contributed photo

For 32 years, Bob Johnson brought the news into the living rooms of Chattanoogans as the news anchor at WTVC-TV 9. He died Monday night after a long battle with Parkinson's disease. He was 73.

Johnson, along with Darrell Patterson and the late Don Welch, were fixtures at the station. Johnson joined the station in 1975 at age 28. The station was third in the ratings in a three-station town when he started there and quickly turned things around.

"They had such great chemistry," said WRCB-TV 3 personality David Carroll.

Patterson said he met Johnson in 1975 in the WTVC parking lot the day that Johnson was hired.

"We stood there and talked for about an hour about radio, our pasts, music," Patterson said. "We became best friends right there on the spot."

Welch, who died in 2017 from Lewy Body Dementia, was hired shortly afterward. Patterson said the trio "did everything together. We were together seven days a week very often, eating dinner together or going to parties together.

"I wish we could bottle whatever that chemistry was, but we had it."

The three of them, along with the late MaryEllen Locher who joined the team later, pushed the ratings at or near the top for much of Johnson's time behind the news desk. Locher died of breast cancer in the mid-2000s, around the same time Johnson was diagnosed with Parkinson's.

Patterson said Johnson loved his job and loved being Bob Johnson.

"It was not an ego thing. He just really, really, really loved what he did, and he was good at it. I got to leave on my own terms and he and Welch didn't have that opportunity, and that hurt me so much because they loved being Bob Johnson and Don Welch and doing their jobs."

Kim Chapman, who was hired in 1999 to fill in for Locher while she was dealing with the disease that would eventually take her life, said Johnson was the ultimate professional and mentor.

"When they told me I'd be co-anchoring with Bob, I'd said, 'Bob Johnson? The Bob Johnson? I can't do that,' but he was so nice and so encouraging," Chapman said.

WTVC News Director Tom Henderson said Johnson set the tone in the newsroom in many ways, and that translated to what viewers expected as well.

"Bob was even-keeled and sensible and a gentlemen, and that was the behavior others in the newsroom followed," Henderson said. "He was very much in touch with the market, the people in the market, the people in the Tennessee Valley."

In addition to being the main face of the station, Johnson was instrumental in the development and production of the award-winning "Wednesday's Child" feature, which publicized the plight of hard-to-place adoptable children. He also produced and hosted the weekly public affairs program "Face to Face" in 1979.

He was inducted into the Tennessee Journalism Hall of Fame in 2014.

"If you were to create a TV news anchorman," Carroll said, "you would use him as a template. He had the look, the voice, everything. He made it look easy, and it is not.

"But the other thing I was was always impressed with was that he was a really good writer. He did all these specials over the years on people like James Gregory, and [country band] Alabama. He was very well read and talented. He is the standard that we've all tried to attain."

WDEF-TV personality Chip Chapman agreed, saying, "I think Bob was without a doubt the consummate broadcast professional. Without a doubt [he] raised the bar very, very high, to the point that there are very few who could even come close to his work ethic and execution.

"He had the capability, and only a very few broadcasters have it, to make you think he was talking to you and only you."

Contact Barry Courter at bcourter@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6354.

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