You know it when you hear it.
From the classroom to council chambers and, of course, the basketball court and football field, Glenn Johnson has arguably the most recognizable voice in Pullman.
After four decades, the longtime mayor of Pullman and retired Washington State University broadcast professor continues to serve as the public address announcer for Cougar football and men’s basketball. He wrapped up 40 years as “The Voice of the Cougs” at the end of the 2020 basketball season. Fall marks the start of his forty-first year announcing WSU football.
“The game has changed significantly,” he says. “When I first started, I had maybe a few announcements, but nothing like today where it is a highly produced event that goes for four hours. It’s intense. You are basically busy the entire time. It can be stressful. I definitely prepare for the game. I definitely do my homework.”
Before the season starts, Johnson meets with WSU’s sports information officials to go over all of the Cougar players’ names. Then, as each game approaches, he preps by learning all of the opposing team’s players’ names.
“Some you practice and practice,” he says, particularly the ones that are unusual, long, or difficult to pronounce. Armed with a background in broadcast television and radio, he’s a master of projection. His voice is unmistakable, clear, booming, and full of personality.
Johnson started announcing games for WSU at the beginning of the 1980 football season. He’d only been in Pullman a year by then, moving to the Palouse from Sacramento where he had managed two radio stations. Two or three years after that he started what became one of his signature calls: “And that’s another Cougar first down!”
His timing is everything. The long pause comes after “And that’s another,” with smaller pauses after “Cougar” and “first.” The call has become so iconic that the crowd now loudly completes the phrase.
But that first one wasn’t planned. “It was just by accident,” Johnson says. For about six years, however, he wasn’t allowed to do it. Former athletic director Rick Dickson put a stop to the trademark phrase, which Johnson brought back as soon as Dickson left in 2000.
Another iconic call during his legendary tenure: “No gain,” going deep and low and slow, when defense blocks opponents from moving the football.
And there are some names he’s enjoyed announcing most, names that lend themselves to particular, drawn-out enunciations—such as Cougar basketball guard Bennie Seltzer, Cougar football running back Frank Madu, Cougar basketball guard/forward Craig Ehlo, and Cougar football defensive tackle Donnie Sasa—with the crowd often yelling back the second syllables. “I love audience participation,” Johnson says. “I think people not only want to watch the game, but be entertained.”
Johnson’s been “The Voice” longer than he taught at WSU. He taught courses in TV and radio news and communication management for 35 years—from 1979 to 2014. Part of that time, he did double duty as the public information officer for the Pullman fire and police departments, often incorporating real-life events into teachable moments for class. He still volunteers as PIO for Pullman fire and serves as an emcee at local fundraisers and other events. “One of the things I’ve done since day one is made myself available for community events,” he says. “I think that’s part of the responsibility of being ‘The Voice of the Cougs.’”
Johnson has also made history as mayor of Pullman. His re-election to a third term in 2011 was a first for the city since Pullman was founded in 1888. He’s now serving his fifth—and he says his final—term. He also chairs the Pullman-Moscow Regional Airport Board of Directors, is a member of both the local Rotary and Kiwanis clubs, serves as secretary-treasurer of the Washington State Association of Broadcasters, and sits on the board of trustees of the Community Colleges of Spokane.
In 2013, the WSU Foundation presented him with its Outstanding Service Award. And, in 2016, he received the Honorary Alumnus Award during halftime at the WSU vs. University of Washington basketball game. It’s the highest honor the WSU Alumni Association gives to nonalumni friends who have given special service to the University.
Says Johnson, “It’s just been a ball.”
Listen the voice – Videos and audio interviews with Glenn Johnson over the years