Reflecting on 2023 with Host Dale Johnson

Dec. 26, 2023, 6 a.m. ·

Dale Johnson

This holiday season, Nebraska Public Media is reflecting on stories and topics our newsroom has covered over the past year. Our team is made up of ten reporters. Dale Johnson is currently Nebraska Public Media's "Morning Edition" host and a reporter. Dale Johnson comes to Nebraska Public Media with nearly 50 years of broadcasting experience. Johnson sat down with fellow reporter Fred Knapp to reflect.

Fred Knapp: Dale, you joined Nebraska Public Media this March, but you were a longtime Lincoln radio presence before that. Can you give listeners an idea of your background and some of what you've covered over the years?

Dale Johnson: Sure, Fred. I walked in to a radio station here in Lincoln on January 1, 1985, having come from radio stations in my hometown of Holdridge, Kearney, Grand Island, and even a two and a half year stint at KFAB and KFOR in Omaha. In coming to Nebraska Public Media, I still get to get up in the morning. Lucky me - early - at about 3:30 in the morning!

Knapp: One of the highlights of your career was covering a visit to Cuba by former Nebraska Governor Dave Heineman.

Johnson: Back in August of 2005, the Governor and the Nebraska Ag Department set up a trip to Cuba, with the arrangement to sell Cuba Nebraska products, Nebraska beans, grown primarily in the Panhandle. And I was surprised to find that ultimately, I was the only member of the media that took the tests, got the shots, filled out the paperwork, did everything that was necessary to go along as a member of the media. So I was the only media member that made the trip in August of '05. And on the flight there, I'll never forget it, Fred. The governor said, "You will go wherever I go." And he held to his word. All the negotiation sessions, all the lunches, everything that dealt with the with Castro's or with Cuba's delegation I was part of.

Knapp: And encountering the longtime Cuban dictator Fidel Castro, talk a little bit about that.

Johnson: We had heard all along, there was a possibility that Castro might want to meet the Nebraska delegation. So on the very last day, we heard that Castro was at his palace and we walk in and Castro walks in and he starts shaking hands of everyone. He starts with the Governor. And then he starts with members of the Nebraska Ag Department and other representatives of the soybean and corn and wheat boards that were there and then he comes up to me and he shakes my hand and I have my nametag. And he goes "CNN." I go, "No, no, not CNN, radio station in Lincoln, Nebraska." And that's the only English that I heard him speak the entire time because we then went into a conference room, a huge conference room and we all stood took our place and we were waiting for him to sit down so that he and the governor could address. He didn't sit down. So for four hours, we stood listening to Fidel Castro, very dramatic spoken Spanish the entire four hours as we stood.

Knapp: You also told me a story about involving a longtime Nebraska Public Media, cofounder Ron Hull, and his friend and former Nebraskan Dick Cavett, can you take us down that memory lane?

Johnson: I was speaking to Ron about one of his books. And in preparation for having him come into the studio. I knew he was a good friend of Dick Cavett. So I called Dick Cavett, who I met, I had a chance to speak to several times and I had Dick waiting on hold on the phone. And so I started talking to Ron asking about his book. And I said, if Dick Cavett was here, what would you say to him? And so he talked about Cavett and his lovely wife. And so I bring up the telephone, and I said, Dick, is all of that true? And then Dick addresses Ron, and I can see on Ron's face that he doesn't believe it's Cavett. He thinks it's a Cavett imitator of some sort. Ron told me this a little bit later on. But before long, they were swapping stories. And so they went on a conversation for about an hour. And I played very little part in that but it was a delight to match run up to hear Cavett on the phone.

Knapp: That's that's good journalism to ask the question and step out of the way. You've also talked about another memorable historical incident involving Martin Luther King, Jr. and when he visited Lincoln in 1964.

Johnson: December 30, 1964. Dr. King comes to Lincoln and speaks at the Methodist Student Movement Conference at Pershing Auditorium. About 5,000 people showed up. And King's speech was titled "Christian Responsibility in the Racial Revolution." And he spoke for about an hour. And the reason I connected to that was Al Maxey, who's retired from the Lincoln Police Department was assigned security for Dr. King and Al Maxey, one of the very few at the time, black officers for the Lincoln Police Department. And so I had him in detail his day of providing security for Dr. King, and the audio was available through History Nebraska and I find it just extremely fascinating.

Knapp: Well, I hope that you will turn that into something that people can share in the future. Anything else you you want to mention looking forward to what you will be doing this coming year.

Johnson: Honestly, Fred, I still am in awe of the professional people, including yourself, that that are working daily here in the Nebraska Public Media Newsroom and your commitment to the legislature is just unparalleled. And one of these times I'm going to turn around and interview you. We will turn the microphones around and we'll do that.

Knapp: All right. Dale Johnson from Nebraska Public Media. Thanks for spending this time with me.

Johnson: Thank you, Fred.