Dean Johnson

It’s with great sadness that I report Dean C. Johnson, husband of 39 years to Denyse; writer, radio host, friend, and comfort to many, died December 1, 2021. Too soon and way too young at the age of 67.  

I met Dean shortly after joining WCOZ-FM in late August of 1975.  After our new format went live, he called to request an interview. By the time we finished our first of what would be many chats over the years, I felt I’d just found my new best friend. I wager everyone, once having met Dean, felt the same.  

The reason Dean reached out to me was that he was both interested in and enthusiastic about the launch of WCOZ, in what had been for years a “one rock radio town,” owned by WBCN. On the premise that there were  two flourishing newspapers in Boston, he agreed both stations could not only compete in the “Album Oriented Rock” format but also co-exist and be successful.  

Dean began writing for Sweet Potato magazine, based in Portland, Maine. On moving to Boston, he started freelancing for The Boston Globe, making his mark covering both music and radio. Not long afterwards Dean was hired full-time at the Boston Herald, where, to the mind of many, he was the paper’s featured writer. Eventually Dean enjoyed a long stint for The Lowell Sun and contributed to Merrimack Valley Magazine.  

But Dean loved Maine. While he grew up in Chelmsford, then lived in Lowell for years, his family had roots and a summer business in Maine. He and Denyse returned so often they bought a second home in Kennebunkport. Known affectionately as “The Flamingo House,” more than thirty pink plastic flamingos and hundreds of sand dollars colorfully dotted their yard near the water. Had Dean enjoyed a longer life, I have no doubt the curation would have overwhelmed the state.  

Dean was always generous in reviewing the various programs, events and records I produced featuring local music while at WCOZ. And after I migrated to other stations, he continued to cover my activities.  

During the height of the Boston comedy scene in the ’80s and early ’90s, Dean expanded his repertoire to writing about the city’s wealth of solo talent. At any given night Dean could be spotted catching such standups  as: Jay Leno, Denis Leary, Lenny Clarke, Steven Wright, DJ Hazard, Dick Doherty, Paula Poundstone, Conan O’Brien, Bobcat Goldthwait, Jimmy Tingle, Don Gavin, Barry Crimmins, and many others. Perhaps because Dean and Barry Crimmins shared the same concerns for helping the  helpless and preyed upon, they successfully worked together for a time.  

Eventually Dean’s creative journey led him to radio, where he enriched the overnight airwaves of WCAP, then WBZ. At each station his hospitality, warmth, and subtle wit garnered him countless loyal fans.  

Dean was a devout Jehovah’s Witness but didn’t talk about it much.  He did have an enormous ability to make everyone feel special and was known in his Lowell and Chelmsford communities to help those in grief. His love and devotion to Denyse was a model to us all.  

Dean will forever be listed in the pantheon of highly accomplished Boston music writers. Yet, I believe his ability to make others feel good and laugh was his greatest gift.  

Count me among the legions of friends who were lucky enough to  know Dean and call him a friend. “Till we meet again.”  

(by Lesley Palmiter)

Published on January 12, 2022

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