Sunday May 26, 2013

Ernie Johnson Jr. just smiled when he heard the first question: How does it feel to have the best job in show business?

At least in the sports world, it doesn't get much better than Johnson's gig with Turner Sports. He spends the winter and spring in a studio with Charles Barkley, Kenny Smith and Shaquille O'Neal on TNT. Then he turns around and does baseball play-by-play on TBS.

"I'm blessed," Johnson said. "I've been at Turner since 1989 and I have the greatest job in the world. I've never referred to it as a job. It's not work, when you're doing what you love to do."

Johnson is a second-generation broadcaster. His father Ernie Sr. was a long-time radio voice of the Atlanta Braves. Johnson Sr. was also a former major league pitcher with the Braves in Milwaukee.

Johnson Sr. and Milo Hamilton made up one of the best radio broadcasting tandems ever. Hamilton's call of Hank Aaron's record-setting home run still provides chills.

They were far too good for the Atlanta market. Had they been the voices of the Red Sox or Yankees, they'd be broadcasting legends.

This generation's Ernie Johnson is known for rocking a bowtie during the NCAA Tournament studio shows he co-hosts on CBS and Turner as well as for being the ringmaster of what critics say is the best sports studio show on any network.

Currently, we're watching TNT for the NBA Western Conference finals between San Antonio and Memphis.


Advertisement

People a lot smarter than I am say that TNT's studio show is the best of any that is produced by any network.

"It's gratifying to read things like that and to hear it from people," said Johnson. "We've been able, on that show, to reach fans who may not be diehard sports fans but they're kind of fringe. You don't know what's going to happen, and it becomes kind of an entertainment show.

"We don't miss the information part on the NBA. We kind of walk that line. Charles and Kenny and Shaq have been in those situations so they can give you the info. We're not afraid, if it's a bad game, to talk about something else. I think that's what keeps fans around because they want to see if Charles will create an international incident."

While basketball is what Ernie Johnson is best known for, doing baseball on TBS is a labor of love for him.

"I always wanted to be a player. That's what I wanted to do, and actually walked on at the University of Georgia back in 1974, played my freshman year and was told to walk off as a sophomore," Johnson said with a laugh. "Then you have to decide ‘What am I going to do?' What I wanted to do was be an English teacher and a baseball coach."

Ernie Johnson Jr. said he places his father's baseball card on the desk in the press box before every game.

"I remember when we were here in [2008] for the ALCS. I called my dad from the field and said I'm watching BP down here at Fenway," he said. "[His father] said ‘Look out at the bullpen in right. Look about 15 rows up in the seats above the bullpen and I said OK. Ted Williams hit one off me there in the city series between the Red Sox and the Boston Braves back in the day.' "

To reach Howard Herman:hherman@berkshireeagle.com,
or (413) 496-6253.
On Twitter: @howardherman