…Dr. Perri Johnson’s “Healing Feeling” returns to Philly

Dr. Perri Johnson

By Bobbi Booker

The Book Report

It’s been more than two decades since Philadelphia radio emitted the
introduction, “You’re listening to the good Dr. Perri Johnson, Music
Therapist.” While his absence from the local airwaves have been
lamented, Johnson has maintained the “healing feeling” he so often
talked about on WDAS-FM during the last 15 years as a licensed
clinical psychologist in Los Angeles. Johnson (who truly is a Dr. with
two Masters Degrees in psychology and Doctorate)has always maintained
that his work on the radio was intended to produce a pleasurable and
therapeutic effect and explores his theory in his debut book,
“Prescriptions: Therapeutic Poems for the Healing of
Depression”($13.99, Xulon Press).

“Prescriptions” is a self-help book which combines poems to help heal
depression with a discussion of the causes of depression and how to
overcome it. Each poem relates to a common experience of depression
and suggests strategies and behaviors to quarantine and reverse
various types of depression. Johnson renders psychological services to many in the film and
entertainment industry at his private practice in Hollywood Hills, CA.

Johnson grew up in North Philly, graduated from Benjamin Franklin High
School and received a BA Degree in Psychology from Temple University
while working at the school’s radio station WRTI-FM. Johnson’s
distinctive style drew the attention of WDAS who recruited him in 1970
for their experimental FM format to help shape the new sound. “It was
a compromise for me because somehow or another it had to all fit
together,” said Johnson.”We were basically doing underground rock.
They said I could bring in some of the stuff I was doing at WRTI, as
long as it blended. So they really got in my head early on that I had
to to flow.”

Radio programmers were allowing their FM air talent explore the long
play (or LP) albums in ways unknown on the AM side where the three
minute Top 40 radio format ruled. By the 1970s, FM audience size
surpassed that of AM, and Johnson was a pivotal player in that change
that started locally and resonated nationally.

“When Marvin Gaye’s ‘What’s Going On’ came out, I just put it on from
the beginning and let it play all the way through. That was unheard
of, radio just wasn’t do that, except underground radio and they
weren’t playing Marvin Gaye. A.M was playing ‘What’s Going On’ for
three minutes because that was the format. When we put that thing on
it blew up. It put us on the map. Then it became more about theme. And
we became a soundtrack for a lot of the (70s) movements that were go

One of those movements was disco, the indomitable precursor to hip hop
and both genres Johnson comfortable mixed during his broadcasts. In a
speaking style Johnson had perfected over the years, the popular jock
would effortlessly rhyme over the musical interludes that interspersed
his show. One of Johnson more popular rhymes over the beats of funk
music maker Hamilton Bohannon would lead to worldwide success for both men.
Teamed with Johnson’s syncopated lyrics, Bohannon’s style of music
would eventually influence the burgeoning hip hop scene with a double
hit in 1978 and1981.

“Perri fell in love with ‘Let’s Start the Dance’ and started
ad-libbing to that so I decided to put him on wax,” recalled Bohannon.
“(Philadelphia) is where it started at and then New York and all over
the East Coast and it became real, real big for me.” Bohannon’s
version of “Let’s Start II Dance Again (Rap Version)” featuring
Johnson climbed to #1 on the Billboard Dance Chart and remains among
the most frequently played radio tracks to this day.

After Johnson left the Philadelphia market, he settled in Southern
California, married had three children and eventually divorced after
17 years. “I think I’m living out the dream of my father,” explained
Johnson of his move to Los Angeles shortly after his beloved
father,Andrew, died in 1980.

“I was so close (to my father),” recalled Johnson. “He was the go-to
guy for decisions. I was successful early on and didn’t know how to
handle things, so I would go to him to get advice and just rely upon
him to be my confidante and my manager and to keep me grounded. He
steered me in the right direction and he provided the same support and
advice for others. Teddy Pendergrass use to go to him a lot and sit
and talk after Teddy and I got tight. He had a little office down on
Lombard Street and many guys would go by like Sony Hopkins and Kenny
Gamble. He was a wise guy.”

Recently, the Philadelphia radio market has witnessed a ‘return’ of
popular on-air personalities, including Miriam “MiMi” Brown who
received an on-air call from Johnson during her recent Mother’s Day
debut on WDAS. Brown, who was already besieged with well wishers
welcoming her back, received even more positive feedback after Johnson
called in.

“I believe that a part of what he lives for is to heal others and let
them know that they can be healed,” said Brown of her mentor and
colleague. “That’s what his book is all about. A lot of times we walk
through life and don’t even know what’s wrong with us. Perri’s whole
existence is to give people a better way of living and a better way of
existing on this earth and to be happy within their own skin and be
appreciative for the things that they do have. He addresses those
medical problems and helps bring about healing and solution. He is on
his quest.”

Longtime radio personality Gary Shepard also recalled Johnson’s early
plans to start a clinical practice to treat others like himself in the
entertainment business. “When he was on the radio he was putting out
words of wisdom that help people feel good about themselves and who
they are. It’s just brilliant the way he has used his poetry as a
therapeutic tool for people in a depressed state.”



4 Replies to “…Dr. Perri Johnson’s “Healing Feeling” returns to Philly”

  1. Hi Bobbi
    I, too, am a Temple alum, now freelancing as voice / on-camera talent here in Philly and New York. I started at Temple as a journalism major, later switching to what was then called “Radio, Television and Film” and incidentally, my daughter, Melody is now a journalist based in New York, reporting and writing for People magazine.
    I worked with Dr. Perri Johnson at WRTI and WDAS FM. He is truly a visionary and was at that time as well, organizing the “Philadelphia Jazz Society” as an undergrad and actually producing live concerts at Annenberg Hall, one of which introduced Grover Washington Jr., who appeared as a sideman with Trudy Pitts and Mr.C. Perri, of course, also helped usher in the “Disco Era” during the ’70’s with his popular AstroDisc located on the Ben Franklin parkway.
    I have fond memories of Perri, who was like a big brother to me then, wise beyond his years.
    I applaud his new book and look forward to hearing him on the airwaves again.
    Best wishes,
    Jerry Wells

  2. I too am a friend of Dr.Perri Johnson. From way way,way, back in the day.LOL. I had one of the biggest crushs on him during the late seventies. I discovered his voice on my radio one boring night. From that night on, I listened to him religiously.There was something about him that just made me feel safe. I had the pleasure of meeting him in person. With that being said. I too am an alumni of Temple University. Earning my BA. in English. I remember back in the day I couldn’t wait to get home from the Temple just to hear his show. He got me through some really rough times. Dr. Johnson’s message was always in the music. I don’t think I ever thanked him for being there for me. But I am glad to learn he has done so well for himself. I wish as usual him the very best. We shared some really good times together though, that I must say!

  3. Hi Bobbi,
    I worked with Perri Johnson at WCAU-FM, and he introduced me on the air, as a “New Jersey” girl. I came on after him each nite and we became good friends. He also knew my brother and appeared at his nite club from time to time. The last time I saw Perri, he was producing a cut for Dee Gamble on an upcoming album. I am thrilled to hear he is doing well and he will always hold a special place in my heart.

  4. What,s up Bobbi I all so had the power of the good DR..he introduced me to radio life in a wy..no one aver did before he told me never be to good to help people..that,s wy he helped me in phila to be me so, he is..special in my heart so if not for DR.Perri johnson I would have not made it in radio but I did,on WTAN 1340 RADIO STATION TAMPA FL FROM 12AM 6AM MONDAY-FRI.PS Perri can see his photo on my web page Facebook MOEBROWN the top photo is my page..MIMI BROWN has been a good friend I all so did WRTI in the 70.ONE TIME with AQUILLA GOD BLESS YOU ALL.

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