Jim Bohannon, fixture of late-night radio, dies at 78
Jim Bohannon, a fixture of talk radio who provided amiable companionship to millions of night owls, chatting up celebrity guests and callers of all stripes during his decades in national syndication, died Nov. 12 at a hospice facility in Seneca, S.C. He was 78.
The cause was esophageal cancer, said his wife, Annabelle Bohannon.
Mr. Bohannon got his start more than half a century ago as a local radio host in Washington. But he was best known for “The Jim Bohannon Show,” a late-night program that aired for the past 29 years on more than 500 radio stations across the country.
He was by all accounts an outlier in the talk-radio genre, a self-described “militant moderate” who offered audiences a respite from the frothing political commentary that increasingly seemed to dominate the airwaves.
“If there is a big story in the news, I will talk about it,” Mr. Bohannon once told a reporter for the Rolla Daily News in his home state of Missouri. “But I am not going to beat it to death and scream at you. I am not a political fireball like Rush Limbaugh or Sean Hannity. I can’t get that angry all the time.”
Mr. Bohannon’s show, which was distributed by Westwood One, aired Monday through Friday from 10 p.m. to 1 a.m. Eastern time. The show was so popular that it drew politicians, athletes, entertainers and other celebrities willing to forgo sleep for the chance to reach Mr. Bohannon’s audience.
The show was a mix of current affairs, pop culture and human-interest stories. An inveterate raconteur, Mr. Bohannon noted with pride that he once filled an hour discussing whether toilet paper should hang over the front of the roll or from the back. He devoted large portions of his program to calls from listeners, who knew “Jimbo” as a patient, unjudging companion in the loneliness of the night.
“He was a master storyteller,” said Tom Taylor, a journalist who covered the radio industry for 30 years, including as editor of the newsletter Inside Radio. “In contrast to some other people on the air . . . he didn’t want to raise your blood pressure. He wanted to make you smile and laugh.”
Mr. Bohannon did not fully embrace the conspiracy theories and mysteries that other all-night talkers explored as they committed endless hours to the intricacies of the debates surrounding the 1963 assassination of President John F. Kennedy or eyewitness accounts of UFO travel. Mr. Bohannon was more of a skeptic on such matters.
But neither was he a straight-ahead celebrity interviewer like Larry King, whose late-night time slot he inherited in 1993 when King shifted his attention from radio to his television talk show on CNN. Rather, Mr. Bohannon’s program was about giving voice to the great wash of Americans, all taken on air, unscreened and uncensored.
Their comments – whether fringe views about the military-industrial complex or rants about why women’s restrooms don’t have urinals – reached national audiences, with only Mr. Bohannon’s finger on the kill button standing between a caller and the ears of many thousands of listeners.
“A lot of uninhibited expression occurred in the wee hours of the night, and he responded extremely well to all perspectives, which I think was his great talent,” said Michael C. Keith, the author of the book “Sounds in the Dark: All-Night Radio in American Life.”
“He didn’t ride any political track as the majority of radio talkmeisters did and do,” Keith continued. “People knew they were not going to hear political proselytizing.”
In his interactions with guests and callers, Mr. Bohannon cultivated a tone that he described as “somewhere between NPR and verbal mud