For as long as anyone can remember, morning talkmeisters Craig and Al have dominated FM radio in the a.m. But even as Missoula’s longstanding champs of the Independent’s “Best Radio Personality” category claim their crown again this year, Craig and Al’s morning show, for the first time in nearly 14 years, is minus Craig.
Since early January, Craig Johnson has been missing from KYSS-FM’s morning show due to lingering side effects of a surgical operation to repair deteriorated disks in his neck. The surgery, while successful in relieving Johnson’s chronic spine pain, has left the popular disc jockey without the use of his famous radio voice.
“Normally, after that type of surgery, a person’s hoarseness goes away in two to three days. Mine has not gone away yet,” Johnson told us over the phone from his home Monday morning, more than six weeks after the surgery.
According to Johnson, when surgeons opened his neck to repair the deteriorated disks in his spine, they damaged one of his vocal cords. Now, he’s suffering from recurrent laryngeal nerve palsy. In other words: one of his vocal cord nerves isn’t working. But he says his ear, nose and throat specialist is optimistic that his condition will improve over time, allowing him back on the air before long. In the meantime, KYSS-FM staffers Pete Deneault and Kirk Patrick have helped co-host Al Kessler fill the four-hour morning-show slot.
Station manager Gene Peterson says Johnson’s absence hasn’t been a burden for the station, but his on-air presence is missed.
“I think there’s a lot of concern for Craig because this is his life, his passion and his family,” Peterson said. “As [Johnson’s] voice gets stronger, we’re going to be adding in features and bits to get listeners used to hearing him as he works to get back to normal.”
Meanwhile, Johnson says he’s been practicing his shtick at his home studio to see how his voice is improving.
“It’s getting better, but it’s still not air quality,” Johnson said. “For right now it’s kind of like a waiting game.”