You hear his voice at 15 and 45 minutes past the hour most days on WTOP, chronicling for listeners, in his signature folksy way, what’s what in the world of sports.
And if you tune into a Washington Wizards game on 1500 AM, you’ll recognize him as the team’s longtime play-by-play announcer and exuberant “radio party” ringmaster. Say you’re a soccer fan? He’s the voice on TV you hear cheering, “It’s in the net!” when D.C. United scores a goal.
WTOP’s senior sports Director Dave Johnson just might be one of the hardest-working men in sports journalism — and he’s just been named the D.C. sportscaster of the year by the National Sports Media Association.
“To be recognized by my peers is beyond touching and little bit overwhelming … It means so much, and I’m so appreciative,” Johnson said. “It really becomes hard to put into words for somebody who’s supposed to put words together.”
Johnson has been delivering sports news for WTOP for more than a quarter century. He’s spent nearly as long as the TV play-by-play announcer for D.C. United. In fact, he’s been calling games since Major League Soccer was created.
And Johnson’s spent 23 years as the official voice of the Wizards. Alongside color analyst Glenn Consor, he’s transformed a regular play-by-play sports broadcast into the social media-fueled “radio party” it’s known as today.
Johnson said working in radio has been his dream since he was a boy, sitting in the back of his parents’ car listening to the radio sign-off on the AM daytime country music station WDON — complete with the sound of the “cows coming home.”
He said he remembers his mother listening in the kitchen to the radio all day and night — “her lifeline was WTOP,” he said. He used to try to amuse her by imitating the sports broadcasters he heard and even — equipped with a box score from the newspaper — doing some imaginary play-by-play of his own.
“I’m 55 years old now, but I’m still in some ways doing what I did when I was 5 and 6 and 7 years old. I was trying to tell a story to my mom.” He added, “This is all I’ve ever wanted to do, broadcast and connect with people.”
Johnson’s philosophy toward delivering sports news isn’t just about repeating scores and game recaps.
“When we’re just with our friends and hanging out, we love to tell a good story,” he said. “Well, it may be called broadcasting, but the reality is, I’m just trying to tell the story to each individual person. And the genesis of all that, in the back of my mind, I can still visualize my mom sitting at that kitchen table.”
Johnson is no stranger to accolades. He received an Emmy as host of the NHL’s Washington Capitals “Face Off” TV show; an A.I.R. award as best radio sportscaster in D.C.; and an Edward R. Murrow Award in 2008 for best writing for his sports commentaries on WTOP.
Even so, the recognition is still nice, he said. “You think about all those days where you thought, this’ll never work or pan out; I’ll never be able to make a career out of this, or I don’t know if I’m gonna make it, and that type of thing,” Johnson said.
Amid a career spanning decades, moments to remember may be too many to count.
Still, when pressed, he can conjure up a few. Like the time the Wizards played their first game in what’s now Capital One Arena (then the MCI Center) in December 1997.
“I’ll never forget that night, because it just felt like a magical night and something special was happening,” he said. “And little did I know how it would end up transforming our city downtown.”
Or, the time the Wizards made it to the second round of the NBA playoffs in 2005 “after years of struggle,” Johnson said. “I still remember walking out of the arena that night and thinking, ‘Boy, we finally did it. We’re on our way.'”
When it comes to his affiliation with D.C. United, Johnson said he remembers the early days, when the team, one of the 10 original MLS charter leagues, played their first game at RFK Stadium. It was a time when some people “didn’t think soccer would ever last in this country,” he said.
After the fans began packing the stadium, he said he remembers thinking, “‘Maybe we’re on to something.’ But little did I know that we’d be on to something that 25 years later would lead to a stadium in the coolest neighborhood in D.C. — or what Forbes magazine says is the coolest neighborhood in D.C.”
“You’re gonna have wins and losses and significant games,” Johnson said, “but I’ll never forget the moments that, when you look back, it really was a start of something special.”
WTOP sports Director George Wallace was named D.C. Sportscaster of the Year by the NSMA in 2015 and 2016.