At 9am Central on July 2, 2019, a most unexpected and somber Tweet appeared.
With “great shock and sadness,” fans and listeners of the Walton & Johnson program were delivered the news of the “untimely and sudden” passing of one of the show’s hosts, John Walton.
Rumors of Walton being in ill health began one month ago, when fans took to the Louisiana State University “Tiger Droppings” message board to note how Walton sounded out of sorts.
Then came Monday, July 1, when Walton started talking about dying on the air and “this thing I have,” one poster noted.
Producer Ken Webster filled in for Walton today, ahead of an announcement made on the website for iHeartMedia Talker KPRC-AM in Houston, where their syndicated show is based.
Longtime partner Steve Johnson addressed those rumors.
“His medical issues were too numerous to overcome,” Johnson revealed. “He had been receiving treatment over the last month but continued to suffer. He made the decision to return home yesterday and spend his last hours with his family. He went out on his own terms.”
Walton passed away Monday at 11:55pm Central.
Johnson continued, “I will always cherish John as not only a partner but a dear friend. His wit and humor defined him as the unique individual we all knew him to be. He will never be replaced. He had a voice and he had something to say. Your loyalty and support for him and his craft was always a mutual sentiment. John cared deeply for all of you. He loved to make you all laugh. Please remember his family in your thoughts and prayers. I am forever in debt to all of you for your support of our program.”
Johnson added that the show will go on, and return “as soon as possible.”
Walton & Johnson are heard on 10 additional stations, including most of Louisiana (the New Orleans affiliate is iHeart News/Talker WRNO-FM) and Mississippi. Affiliates also include stations in southwestern Arkansas and northwestern Georgia.
The hosts have been together since February 1983, and in an archived video interview posted on the KPRC website, Walton recalled how the pair got to New Orleans by accident — after a visit to Ruth’s Chris Steak House.
They signed on at then-Top 40 WQUE-FM “Q93,” owned by the predecessor of their current employer, iHeartMedia. After six months, the show caught on — and their national exposure grew.
In 1986, Walton & Johnson took the morning slot at KTKS-FM, the “original” KISS FM in Dallas. Two years later, they would find an unlikely home: Emmis-owned Rhythmic CHR WQHT-FM “Hot 103,” where they were given a three-month tryout against the likes of Scott Shannon at crosstown “Z100,” Howard Stern at WXRK-FM “K-Rock,” and Jim Kerr at WPLJ before the station’s shift to the 97.1 MHz frequency.
By the end of 1988, Walton & Johnson traded New York for New Orleans, and returned to take the morning slot at EZ Communications’ famed Top 40 WEZB-FM “B97.”
Here, satire, skits and character bits defined their program, using the popular “Morning Zoo” format of the era. By 1993, syndication began.
But, by spring 1994, the team briefly broke up due to money problems associated with building a network. Once reunited, the show would morph into a conservative talk offering, driven by their testosterone-powered discussion of national politics.
They’ve been at WRNO-FM for 20 years. In Houston, they’ve been at KPRC since 2007.
As of 1:30pm Central, nearly 200 comments in tribute of Walton were made to the KPRC website.
In addition to his longtime role on the air, Johnson is the owner of Excel Media, licensee of 50kw Class C2 KXXF-FM “Free 105.3” in Winnie, Tex., featuring southern rock.
The station serves the Beaumont-Port Arthur market and is the former KPTY-FM, acquired by Excel from Univision Radio in November 2013 for $525,000.