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John Bohannon dies; journalist, 'Jazz Cafe' radio show host was 82

John Bohannon of Wantagh hosted "The Jazz Cafe,"

John Bohannon of Wantagh hosted "The Jazz Cafe," a weekly radio show on WRHU at Hofstra University in Uniondale. Credit: Heather Walsh

Veteran broadcast journalist John Bohannon, who covered the assassination of John Lennon while working at CBS, and for the past 15 years hosted "The Jazz Cafe" for Hofstra radio station WRHU/88.7 FM, is dead. Bohannon, who had suffered from ALS, was 82 when he died at his home in Wantagh on Jan. 8, said his son, Adam Bohannon.

Though he took pride in his nearly 40-year career as a newsman, "The Jazz Cafe" was Bohannon's true labor of love, said his son. "He got tired of delivering the bad news," he said. "In the end, the jazz show was a fountain of youth for him. It was a passion and a thing he wanted to keep alive."

“John Bohannon will be missed at WRHU," said WRHU’s operations manager John Mullen. "His decades of major market and network radio experience and knowledge were inspirational and valuable to our student broadcasters.”

Bohannon, who hailed from Tampa, Florida, began his radio career in 1955 at a local station where he did a five-minute Sunday newscast sandwiched between religious programs. He also hosted the station's "Hillbilly Hit Parade" even though Bohannon disliked country music.

His break came the following year when he moved to CBS radio's Tampa affiliate WDAE, where he was mentored by Pat Chamburs, the area's top-rated morning-drive personality. "He was my idol," Bohannon told Newsday in 2014. "He put me on the air doing news and weather, even though that wasn't the job I was hired for."

Arriving in New York in 1959, Bohannon started as a DJ on fledgling Babylon station WBAB, followed by stints at WGBB/1240 AM in Freeport and WGSM/740 AM in Huntington. Anxious to return to hard news, he was hired as anchor for ABC Radio in 1967, where his biggest story was covering the plight of Apollo 13 in 1970. After moving to NBC from 1972 to 1977, he spent the next five years with CBS Radio. His most memorable night was Dec. 8, 1980, when a desk assistant handed him a bulletin about Lennon's murder. A producer then asked Bohannon to CBS' television studio to report the story.

His last anchoring gig was a one-year stint as a TV news anchor on WLIW/21 in Plainview. In 2004, Bohannon began hosting "Jazz Cafe," in which he'd play songs from his collection of more than 2,000 CDs. Between numbers, he'd chat with guests including Regis Philbin, "Hollywood Squares" host Peter Marshall, comic Pat Cooper and Fort Salonga jazz pianist Stan Wiest.

 "John would chat with you before the show and get to know you," Wiest said. "You got the feeling he really cared, he was really interested and wanted you to be relaxed. And because of that, he got the best out of his guests."

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Bohannon belonged to the Society of American Magicians and his signature trick was cutting a woman in half with an electric handsaw. When asked how he did the trick, Bohannon, who was known for his wry sense of humor, would respond "very carefully."

Bohannon is survived by his wife of 55 years, Barbara, and his son, Adam Bohannon. A memorial service is planned at Hofstra in the spring.


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