Johnny Holliday: The Voice Of The Terps

September 30, 1990|By Nora Frenkiel

To a lot of people, he is the voice of the University of Maryland. Coaches have come and gone, players have gone on to the pros or gone on with their lives, and he remains.

He is Johnny Holliday -- for a dozen years a regional fixture as a sports announcer, disc jockey and voice of collegiate and professional sports. He's now working a number of jobs: as broadcast announcer on WMAL-AM radio in Washington for the University of Maryland football and basketball games, as well as providing pregame shows for Home Team Sports and doing sports news on the ABC Information Network.

"I don't know if I feel like an institution," he laughs. "I'm not sure 12 years with the University of Maryland makes you an institution, but it's nice to be identified with the team. Is that another way of saying I'm old?"

Not quite. At 52, he may be a grandfather, but he has the youthful enthusiasm that drives any fan to the game and keeps him loyal.

And now, as the Maryland Terps are having a great kickoff to the season -- winning three of their first four football games, an achievement that already matches their wins in an entire lackluster season last year -- all ears are tuned to Johnny Holliday.

"This is a pretty good time," he says in his best announcer's voice. But he follows conventional wisdom -- days before yesterday's game -- that a win against Michigan "would be pretty incredible."

But miracles have happened before, and he's been there as the witness. He cites as one of the high points of his career the Nov. 10, 1984, game at the Orange Bowl "that was the greatest comeback-from-behind victory in college football. Maryland was down 31 to nothing at the half. And in the second half they came back to win it, 42 to 40. It was incredible."

He admits, "I get attached to the coaches and the kids, but I like the broadcast, to be honest. No team wants a broadcast that covers up mistakes. I call the game as I see it. But I never criticize an individual player. It's the coach who can do that."

Generally, though, he's more of a supporter than a critic. For instance, on a recent radio call-in show, a caller complained that the Terps' coach, Joe Krivak, in the last year of a four-year contract, should not be retained because the team had not performed spectacularly. Mr. Holliday rose to the defense of the coach: "I think he's a terrific person and he's been a good example for young people."

Coach Krivak in turn appreciates Mr. Holliday's support, calling him "just a very ordinary nice guy. He's so professional, and he guides you along and he makes you feel comfortable." However, he observes, "Although he's very professional and objective,

sometimes emotionally he gets involved and he certainly supports the local teams. I think that's a plus."

On the subject of recent controversies in college sports -- recruitment violations and drug use by athletes -- Mr. Holliday says he's seen no evidence of that at Maryland. But he does say, "I was most shocked when Len Bias died of an overdose. I saw what that did to the whole team and what an uphill struggle it has been for the team to regain respectability."

Mr. Holliday's schedule is a grueling one, up every morning before 5 and off to the radio station for both local and national sports spots. In addition, he attends all the Maryland games on Saturdays, and the Redskins games, and hosts a Redskins preview show and "Coach's Corner" on Home Team Sports.

"It sounds worse than it is," he says. "I actually have a lot of free time."

He works almost seven days a week from September through March, and slacks off during the off-season. In his free time, he does commercials and acts in local dinner theater productions. The most recent role was in "Me and My Girl" at the Harlequin Theater in Rockville during the summer, which ran for 13 weeks.

He also likes to play golf. In fact, he was quite an athlete as a boy growing up in Miami. At North Miami High School, he played football, baseball and basketball, but because of his size, he realized he didn't have a future as a professional, although he did think about becoming a coach when he studied physical education at the University of Miami.

However, by chance and family connections, he found a job in Perry, Ga., working for a small radio station. And he continued working in radio, and TV as well, in Cleveland, New York and San Francisco, until he came to Washington in 1969.

Although originally a Washington disc jockey and a TV host of "Bowling for Dollars," he eventually found his niche when he switched full-time to sports in 1979 and joined WMAL, which has the rights to broadcast University of Maryland games.

He likes sports but says they don't rule his life. He's married, lives in Kensington and has three daughters. He's devoted to his family.

"After an experience where I nearly died in a plane crash in 1975 -- my daughter and I were in a Cessna -- nothing else but my family seemed important," he says. "You realize that compared to that, a ballgame is just a ballgame."

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