A former South Florida radio voice to replace ‘Diane Rehm’ on NPR

Johnson will host the new program as WAMU retires the “Diane Rehm Show” Jan. 2.
Johnson will host the new program as WAMU retires the “Diane Rehm Show” Jan. 2. Stephen Voss

Nearly a year after veteran radio talk show host Diane Rehm, 80, announced she would be retiring at the end of 2016, her replacement has been named — and his voice will sound familiar to South Florida listeners.

Joshua Johnson, 36, most recently the host of the San Francisco-based KQED’s radio show/podcast “Truth Be Told,” will debut a new current affairs program, “1A,” on Jan. 2 weekdays from 10 a.m.-noon. Produced by American University’s WAMU in Washington and distributed by NPR, the program takes its name from the First Amendment and newspaper lingo and will focus on solutions to the issues that divide the country. Politics, technology, popular culture and sports will all be explored.

“1A” will succeed the long-running “The Diane Rehm Show,” which has aired since 1979 and reaches an audience of 2.4 million via 198 stations nationwide. Rehm will host her final broadcast on Dec. 23; the show will air repeats through Dec. 30.

“There has never been a time in our history where non-ideological and civil conversation is as important as it is right now,” NPR president and CEO Jarl Mohn said about the new hire. “I am so very hopeful that Joshua Johnson and his new show ‘1A’ will continue this tradition and help create the next generation of public radio for America.”

Johnson, a West Palm Beach native, graduated from the University of Miami and began his career in television. He worked as a weekend assignment editor at WTVJ and WPEC and a grant writer at WPBT before making the leap to radio in 2004.

“Josh was hired for what was then a new news initiative between WLRN and the Miami Herald,” said John Labonia, general manager for WLRN Public Media. “He was one of those individuals that after meeting [them] you know there's something very special here.”

Johnson’s reporting ranged from asking high school and college students to share their thoughts on AIDS to a story on how Miami companies protected their digital data from Category 5 hurricanes in the post-Andrew era.

In a story that explored how young people managed their money, Johnson wrote: “Check the Bible, 1 Timothy 6:10 — the love of money is the root of all evil. If that's true, then I am running through hell with my hair on fire. I'm a financial heathen with enough plastic purchasing power to sell my soul to Citibank and never feel a thing.”

Miami Herald managing editor Rick Hirsch, who hired Johnson, remembers him as “a bundle of energy and talent and passion. Of course, he also had this fantastic voice that people always remembered.”

Johnson joined KQED in 2010, where he served as the morning news host before launching “Truth Be Told.” He teaches a podcasting course at the University of California Berkeley School of Journalism.

Johnson’s new show will debut at a time when public radio is trying to expand its reach beyond its traditionally white, older demographic.

WAMU General Manager J.J. Yore told The Washington Post, “Diversity was an important factor in creating this new show. It’s not lost on any of us that having a young, African American male leading the conversation on public radio on a national stage is very important.”