Perched in a fifth-floor broadcast booth overlooking more than 56,000 fans in Byrd Stadium, Johnny Holliday calls the ebb and flow of the gridiron matchup between Maryland and West Virginia as if it were a musical score.
The voice of the Terps for more than three decades, Holliday weaves stats with touchdowns and tackles, seamlessly slipping in spots for car dealerships and pizza joints like a masterful orchestra conductor.
After the game, he books across town to Nationals Park in DC for his MASN pre-game television show. Moving through the stadium, folks stop Holliday for a photo or to say hello. He obliges, smiling his signature smile and chatting with strangers as if they were old friends.
A woman passing by simply says, “I love hearing your voice.”
The Miami native—born John Holliday Bobbitt on October 15, 1937—has enjoyed 57 years in the broadcast business.
In the 1960s, “the Refugee from the Sunshine State,” one of Holliday’s many deejay monikers, was America’s Number 1 Top 40 Disc Jockey, serving up the “tippety-top of the ‘ol pop crop” in Cleveland, New York, and San Francisco, where, in 1966, he emceed the Beatles’ final U.S. concert.
A Helen Hayes Award-nominated musical actor, Holliday has lent his voice to countless commercials and was the announcer for This Week with David Brinkley and This Week with Sam Donaldson and Cokie Roberts.
Away from the microphone, his charity basketball and softball teams and golf tournaments have raised close to $2 million for various causes.
In Holliday’s 2002 autobiography, Johnny Holliday: From Rock to Jock, legendary ESPN broadcaster Dick Vitale writes in the afterword, “My man Mr. Holliday, I would simply say he’s a primetime performer, baby. To put it in Vitalize, Johnny’s the three ‘S’ man: super, scintillating, and sensational. Johnny Holliday is a solid gold Rolls-Roycer.”
As a boy, my father watched Maryland basketball on TV with the sound turned down and the radio turned up. When I asked why he did this, he said, “That’s Johnny Holliday. He makes it better.”
Sitting in his home office in Kensington, I tell this story to Holliday. He laughs, “You should have brought your dad with you.”
Holliday’s heard it before.
“Every broadcaster who does one school gets the same thing. It’s not just me. There’s a comfort level,” he says. “Having been on the other side, where I’ve gone into a city to do a game and they hand you a bunch of numbers and a bunch of notes—you don’t know anything about the team.
“You don’t know that this guy’s grandmother is in the hospital or this kid has done something in a charitable nature, whereas the local guy seems to know a little bit more about the team, and that’s why I think people turn the sound down and listen to us.”
Taking a job with WWDC-AM, Holliday and Mary Clare, his wife of 54 years, moved to Kensington in 1969. Today, the Hollidays have three daughters, seven grandsons, and three granddaughters.
“When we moved in, we were the youngest family in the neighborhood,” Holliday says. “Now we’re the oldest.”
Ten years prior, Holliday’s star was on the rise when he joined Cleveland’s WHK-AM. That period proved pivotal in other ways.
“I knew when I was in Cleveland early in my career that I was not going to do this all my life,” Holliday says. “I didn’t want to be a 50- or 60-year-old disc jockey.”
He began to branch out into commercials and theater, as well as sports, realizing a multifaceted package was “going to help the whole picture.”
Locally, Holliday has handled play-by-play for Navy football and George Washington University basketball. He’s also covered the Senators, Bullets, Wizards, Redskins, and Orioles.