Men of Substance & Style: Joshua Johnson

by Virginia Coyne

The Radio Star

1A host Joshua Johnson, photographed at WAMU in Washington, D.C.

At the first anniversary celebration for his daily radio program, “1A,” Joshua Johnson wore an open collar shirt, a sports jacket and light wash Levi’s jeans. He stood out in the crowd of women dressed in neutrals and men wearing suits, ties and crisp white shirts. Both his attire and speech were not-so-subtle references to his outsider status — something he relishes. “I am relieved,” he told the crowd who’d gathered to celebrate the show’s success, “that people desperately want to take a break from talking about politics all the time.”

It’s a sentiment that has resonated both inside and outside the Beltway. The San Francisco transplant took over beloved radio host Diane Rehm’s time slot in January 2017, growing the listenership to an unprecedented 3.3 million people a week on over 300 stations nationwide. “1A,” which is produced by WAMU, is now the third-highest radio talk show on NPR, behind “Fresh Air” and “Here and Now.”

Johnson’s “national conversation” covers topics from health care to the arts, and yes, politics, too, but in a prolonged, thoughtful manner that is foreign to the now ubiquitous on-air cable news battles between political rivals. “We would be missing a piece of our mission by reducing people to that kind of Jets/Sharks dichotomy,” Johnson says. ‘It’s very profitable in broadcast news … but it’s also kind of dehumanizing.”

The self-proclaimed geek is a huge fan of what he calls “modern-day mythology” in the form of Marvel Comics, “Harry Potter” and “Star Wars” movies, calling them a release valve. On his desk at work, he keeps a keychain of the ark reactor from “Iron Man” – a reminder to not let the job kill him. He’s also a gym rat, where the former skinny kid has worked hard to build an undeniably hulking physique. “I said I was going to be the biggest thing in broadcasting one way or the other!” he jokes.

“Every skill you gain builds on everything else,” says Johnson, tying his workouts to his job. “It makes a difference that I can go to the gym and beat myself down because then work feels less difficult,” he continues. “I will always work myself harder than anyone else can work me, so no matter what you throw at me, I’m fine.”

Joshua’s Style: “I despise wearing suits,” Johnson says emphatically. His daily uniform: a t-shirt, jeans and sneakers or boots. “I don’t think a suit makes me credible. I don’t think a tie makes me a better journalist,” he explains. “I do not need to feel like the star. I need to feel like the host of the show and make the guest feel like the star.”

At the gym, the broadcaster wears superhero compression shirts by Under Armour. He says he’s baffled why the company has not yet released a “Black Panther” version given the film’s popularity. “I think the impact of the story was so incredible, I don’t understand why they haven’t done it already.” He even pled his case on social media, recently tweeting: “Dear @UnderArmour. Please make a #BlackPanther compression shirt ASAP. Size XXL. I will pay you all my dollars. Sincerely, Me.”

This story appears in the April 2018 issue of Washington Life Magazine.


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