When remembering Chuck Johnson, Al Antczak, his classmate at Loyola University and his coworker at The Tidings for 40 years, summed it up in one simple phrase: “Chuck Johnson was the spirit of The Tidings.”
Johnson started at The Tidings right out of college in 1944. The Loyola High School and Loyola University graduate thought of it as a temporary job, a mere stepping stone to his overall goal of becoming a Hollywood writer.
Then-editor Msgr. Thomas McCarthy and Chuck Johnson came in contact when Johnson wrote Msgr. McCarthy a note, congratulating him on the major improvements he had made at The Tidings. McCarthy invited him to work at The Tidings until his “Hollywood call came through.”
Chuck Johnson asked when he should start. “‘Tomorrow at 9 o’clock,’” Johnson later wrote of the reply. “So I went to work for The Tidings in mid-July 1944 and stayed for 40 years.”
McCarthy’s first goal as the editor was to modernize the paper, and a sports section was a major part of that plan. He assigned Chuck the task of founding this section.
Chuck took the task head-on, reaching out to all of the athletic coaches in the high schools within the archdiocese. He began to cover different sporting events, especially Friday night football games.
“The Tidings generously provided the space for coverage and Chuck always made solid and entertaining use of it,” Verbum Dei athletic director Marcel Viens said. Viens had the pleasure of meeting Chuck Johnson a few times.
“His brilliant account of games and his stories of the past gave you a rich sense of history that was above and beyond anything else of that genre,” Viens recalls.
Although he covered a lot of high school athletics, Chuck Johnson’s passion lied in South Bend. His love for the Notre Dame Fighting Irish started in 1931.
“I was 12 years old, in a bicycle shop in San Mateo,” recalled Johnson. “On the radio I listened as Bucky O’Connor ran 70 yards down the line to beat USC in the last game Knute Rockne ever coached. USC was a nationally ranked team and Notre Dame beat them good. Being Catholic in Los Angeles, a Notre Dame win over USC meant a lot.”
Another fond memory of the Irish was back in 1935, when Notre Dame upset top-seeded Ohio State behind the arm of Irish quarterback Bill Shakespeare. When Shakespeare threw the game-winning touchdown, Johnson “was down on my knees praying for Notre Dame.”
Needless to say, much of his sports column, “Sports Front,” included Notre Dame coverage.
He was honored by the Notre Dame Club of Los Angeles in 1995 for his dedication and defense of the program.
“Notre Dame used to take a beating in the local press, and some of it was because it is a Catholic institution,” recalled Johnson. “I was fortunate to be able to respond to that criticism and write about this university.”
Johnson’s coverage also included professional sports. He was there when the Rams arrived from Cleveland in 1958, the Dodgers from Brooklyn that same year, and the Lakers from Minneapolis in 1960. He reported on the professional sports teams with a Catholic angle.
Johnson also had the pleasure of covering the 1960 Rome Olympics and met Pope John XXIII. His retirement coincided with the start of the 1984 Los Angeles Olympics.
His Sports Front was a fixture in The Tidings for 44 years. His sports coverage was second to none in the Los Angeles region, something unprecedented from a Catholic newspaper.
His time at The Tidings saw tremendous growth; circulation went from 17,000 to over 130,000 by the late 1950s.
“Chuck was one of the icons of the past and given the times and the way things were done back then, it is difficult to imagine anybody filling his shoes on a high school level ever again,” Viens said.
“He was deeply respected and provided Tidings’ readers with an eagerness to get your copy and check out the back page to read what Chuck had to say that week.”
He died in 2005 following a long illness at the age of 86. In his last article, he reflected on his once-temporary job.
“One of the rewards of newspaper work,” he wrote, “is the interesting people a journalist contacts every day: generous-hearted people, energetic people, dynamic people, motivated people, imaginative people, disciplined people, gracious winners and uncomplaining losers — champions all.”
Chuck was a champion. He captivated his readers and relayed the sports news in a comical yet informative way.
“Over the years, Chuck was a man of steady piety and integrity,” Antczak said. “He epitomized the Catholic journalist.”