A college radio DJ perseveres beyond world record
Some might have doubted Johnny Walker when they saw his image plastered on a billboard at the intersection of South Elm and Lee streets in Greensboro, confidently gazing into the industrial barrens and promising to take his place in the Guinness Book of World Records for longest-running radio broadcast. Some reporters, when the audacious DJ called, may have written off his pledge as bluster and folly.
By the end of the week, a scorching stretch in which the temperature broke 100 degrees more than once, the skeptics began to see that Johnny Walker could not be denied. The calls of support had come from cities across the nation… Baltimore, Pensacola… even from as far away as Malaysia. Fellow college radio DJs came in to pay their respects. A construction worker from the Aycock Auditorium job on Tate Street made his way into the studio of 103.1 WUAG FM to offer words of encouragement.
It was about 10 a.m. on the morning of Aug. 11, a Saturday, and Walker had been on the air for 124 hours since he started broadcasting on Aug. 6 at 6 a.m. The previous record of 125 hours, set by Stefano Venneri, was within sight. Noting his goal of setting a new record at 175 hours, Walker joked to his brother, Edwin, that he might as well go all the way to 200.
“There’s no way physically possible you can go two hundred hours,” Edwin Walker said. “You’ll go freakin’ insane.” Later he would add, “On the sixth day the record’s broke, but you gonna see dinosaurs walking down the hall. ‘Hey Jordan, Godzilla’s reaching in through the window.'”
Just then, station manager Jack Bonney entered the studio.
“It seems like so long ago when we started,” Johnny Walker said. “We’ve been through a lot together.”
He looked good. A creased dress shirt was unbuttoned to his chest. His short sandy blond hair was styled and although he sometimes slouched he was never less than coherent. He had a soft laugh and proved himself an able conversationalist between songs. Yes, sometimes he chose his words deliberately like a punch-drunk prizefighter determined to present himself with class, but when he turned on the microphone to introduce the next song his baritone rolled over the words with an invigorating charge.
He’d been taking cold showers that lasted no more than five minutes. The rules had mandated that no song could run for more than six minutes and he must talk between them. He had run to the bathroom. As for sleep, the rules stipulated that he could take a five-minute break for every hour on the air. He’d been allowed to bank some of the break minutes and catch an hour-long nap every 24 hours, generally around 4 a.m.
“I’ve been so keyed up,” Walker said. “So many people have been calling and saying, ‘How’re you feeling?’ I’m feeling great. Even though Burn” – a local energy drink company – “is one of our sponsors, I’ve only drank half of one. I’ve got bananas, pumpkin seeds, almonds, cherries, lots of vitamins, garlic. Of course, I’m a big garlic fan. Just garlic. I’ve basically taken my normal routine and moved it in here.”
Now, as the 11 o’clock hour neared, the room filled with more people: a reporter from Go Triad, another brother wielding a video camera, a photographer from the News & Record, a TV cameraman….
“We are live and we are live worldwide,” Walker said in his broadcast voice. “This has been a great thing. We started Monday at six a.m., and we’ve gone night after night. What’s kept me going is you folks…. We’re just minutes away from tapping Mr. Stefano, and after that we’re going to give him a good kick.”
Bonney pulled a championship belt – an old 78 record covered in gold spray paint affixed to a big gut belt – from a plastic Dollar Store bag and presented it to Walker. Then the station manager joined the triumphant DJ on the air.
“What is this Jack?”
“… A pit stop,” Bonney said. “We’re gonna get out and smell the flowers, and then get back behind the wheel.”
Walker’s fiance walked in with a cake inscribed with the words “Guinness World Record Broken.” His parents brought in helium balloons and noisemakers. Walker put on LL Cool J’s “Mama Said Knock You Out.”
Fifty hours later, he met his 175-hour goal. After the appointed hour came around he kept talking; the crowd assembled in the studio would sporadically cheer.
“It’s rockin’ and I guess I’m done talkin’,” Walker said, as he played the final track: Power Station’s “Some Like It Hot.”
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