On the outside, veteran radio host Tim Johnston has come a long way from his hippie roots of the 1960s and ’70s in the U.S. West Coast city of Seattle. His blond hair covers only his ears instead of reaching down to his elbows; there are no peace signs sewn to his jeans, nor a hint of tie-dye in his black 107.5 FM T-shirt. But when you hand him a microphone, he’s still “Turbo.”
Johnston, 55, is the host of the reborn “Born to Be Wild” morning show for 107.5 FM, an English-language station based out of the western San José suburb of Escazú. And he’s come a long way to get to this point.
He earned his nickname at 95.7 KJR FM in Seattle when he was 19. Though at that time he went by “T.J. the DJ,” one of the station’s more experienced radio hosts noticed the energy Johnston showed in his work, and sat him down to tell him his name change.
“‘You’re hyperactive!’” Johnston said, reenacting the moment with a growling voice and pointed finger. “‘You’re not T.J. the DJ! You’re Turbo!’”
He said he began his career as an international disc jockey in 1975, when he joined the U.S.Armed Forces Radio and Television Service, which provides entertainment through telecommunications to troops abroad. He spent 16 years working for the U.S. Air Force, being sent to countries in Asia and Europe to host shows. In all, Johnston said that 25 out of the last 30 years of his life have been spent working outside of the United States.
His show “Born to Be Wild,” which, naturally, focuses on music from the ’60s and ’70s, is not new; in fact, it was started at another radio station in Costa Rica in 1995. Johnston said he originally came to the country that year to work on a video project called “Traveling Costa Rica,” quickly fell in love with the culture and the landscape and got into radio here. He said the country’s biggest appeal was the pura vida attitude, describing a sense of innocence and generosity in Ticos that’s hard to find in other regions.
“Of all the places in the world I’ve been, this is my favorite place to live,” he told The Tico Times.
That feel-good attitude is something he applies to his shows. Johnston said he wants his listeners to walk away smiling or to just feel good after a show, so he’s always tried to avoid getting entrenched in debate on controversial topics on his programs.
Eventually the show moved to 107.5 FM, but in 1998 Johnston went back to the United States to promote a travel adventure video project. Over the following nine years he spent time in Hawaii and Las Vegas before going back home to Seattle, where he worked until his recent return to Costa Rica.
Now “Turbo” is back with his old show, cohosted by his wife “Two Cherry” Sherry Valentine, 55, and is having another go at classic rock immersion with listeners in Costa Rica.
The show airs Monday through Friday from 8 to 11 a.m., and Johnston said he does more than just replay classic tracks. The program incorporates funnier segments such as “Sing Along with ‘Turbo’Tim,” in which he plays his guitar while a call-in listener sings with him, as well as bringing in expert guests in different fields, from wine-making to psychology.
“My show is very fluent,” he said. “I really listen to my audience. I’m open to anything that’s interesting.”
But the nuts and bolts of his show are in the music. Johnston said he sometimes includes music from the ’80s and would like to feature local artists on his program, but otherwise it’s pure ’60s and ’70s music. He said that’s the music he knows best, and a radio host needs that familiarity to do his audience justice.
“It’s my era; it’s the era I grew up in,” he said. “I can relate better to people across the airways with it.”
For more information on 107.5 FM, visit www.radio1075.com or call 289-9222.