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JOHNSON, WILLIAM PARKS

JOHNSON, WILLIAM PARKS (1891–1970). William Parks Johnson, radio pioneer, the son of Rev. Luke Garnett and Carrie Moore (Parks) Johnson, was born at Sheffield, Alabama, on March 22, 1891. He attended Emory University and the University of Georgia after traveling with his circuit-riding preacher father most of his youth. He trained in Texas for World War I, rose to captain in the infantry, and married Joyce Louise Johnson of San Marcos on November 11, 1919. They had two children.

One night in 1932, while handling advertising for radio station KTRH, Johnson decided to take a microphone to the street to question the passers-by. The response encouraged other man-on-the street programs, and Johnson's program, "Vox Pop," the first radio quiz show, was born. Trick questions, questions for fun, and the award of a dollar for correct answers gave "Vox Pop" another first as an audience-participation show. Coast-to-coast radio was then less than six years old. In the second year of his show Johnson was being heard in Louisiana, Texas, Arkansas, and Oklahoma, and in 1935 NBC lured him to New York City. Mrs. Johnson provided the idea of another first, the giving of gifts to participants, and eventually became known from coast to coast as Mrs. Santa Claus. "Vox Pop" began to travel-another radio-program first-and eventually covered forty-seven of the forty-eight states. People were the focus of the show-what they did and what they thought. Audiences ranged from a mere six to 56,000. "Vox Pop" also became one of the first radio programs to be telecast. By 1940, Johnson turned his focus to preparing Americans for the meaning of the increased activities of the training camps and armament industries. The show was dedicated to the war effort until the last shot was fired in 1945. "Vox Pop" was the first show to broadcast from an army training camp, from both Annapolis and West Point, from an American aircraft carrier "somewhere in the Pacific," and from war plants and training centers of every branch of the service. After the war the show became the first to undertake a good-neighbor radio tour of Latin America and before leaving the air for good traveled to Canada, Mexico, Puerto Rico, Cuba, France, and England. The show was also broadcast at the filming locations of well-known movies. In spite of his interviews with vice presidents Nixon and Wallace, Chief Justice Earl Warren, twenty-seven governors, dozens of senators, and "bushels of generals and admirals," and with actors and singers numbering over a hundred, Johnson still saw to it that "Vox Pop" kept the spotlight on the average person, whom he believed as interesting as any celebrity.

In 1948 the Johnsons retired to Wimberley, Texas. Until his death at Sabino Ranch on Cypress Creek, on October 4, 1970, Johnson helped to establish and support the Chapel in the Hills, the Wimberley Booster Club, and the Wimberley Volunteer Fire Department, as well as assisting with public relations and publicity for the community. He was a member of the Texas Philosophical Societyqv and was president of the Hays County School Board.

BIBLIOGRAPHY: 

Thomas A. DeLong, Quiz Craze: America's Infatuation with Game Shows (New York: Praeger, 1991).

M. F. Johnson

Citation

The following, adapted from the Chicago Manual of Style, 15th edition, is the preferred citation for this article.

M. F. Johnson, "JOHNSON, WILLIAM PARKS," Handbook of Texas Online (http://www.tshaonline.org/handbook/online/articles/fjonv), accessed November 21, 2014. Uploaded on June 15, 2010. Published by the Texas State Historical Association.