As a personality of both TV and radio, John Ramsey brings his dynamic personality to work every weekday on WAVE 3 Listens Live! and Cards Radio 790 WKRD. He made time for our own Rocko Jerome to talk about his love of Louisville and to what he attributes his success.
I think the biggest thing that drives me is happiness," says John Ramsey. "It's not so much money or any sort of notoriety, it's being able to engage with people in a meaningful way and to help give them a forum to tell their stories."
As a media figure, John is a bit of an iconoclast. He's rarely seen in a tie, although he still conveys a stylish look. He has a very charmingly off the cuff and jocular nature, which makes sense considering that his first forays into show business were in stand-up comedy. "My main approach to that was just to listen to how people talk and find the inherent humor in little nuances of people's personalities, things that we usually only pick up on almost subliminally are really funny once you mimic them with just a little exaggeration." He honed an ear for impressions and creating characters that took him to LRS morning radio soon after his time at University of Kentucky in 1984.
Radio has been a part of his life ever since. To his chagrin, it took him away from his native and beloved Louisville for a while. "I went on the air in Kansas City in 1986 and stuck with that for a few years, but my wife Jill and I missed home," John says. He had met Jill, the founder and owner of the J Estelle Salon, during his college years. She's been his life's greatest partner ever since. "We were thrilled when a position opened up to DJ at WRKA in 1988. I will always remember that time away fondly, but Louisville is where I feel like I belong. I love the ease with which people interact here. It's a great place to raise adults." In fact, John and Jill have two sons who were born in the ensuing years, Austin and Jackson, both strong personalities in their own right.
In 2011, John took over as host of WAVE 3 Listens Live!, that channel's longest running show. It has the kind of format that we usually associate with bygone eras, with in studio guests coming to visit on air and viewers calling in to chime in on a revolving array of subjects. On any given day, John might be interviewing a doctor, a window and door specialist, an exercise guru, a lawyer, a restauranteur, or just about anyone else you can imagine. John's gift of gab always keeps them engaged. He gives credit for keeping his job fun to his producer, Tammy McNeal. "She keeps this train on the track. Thanks to her, I just show up and do the fun part."
John's other gig is on the radio at Cards Radio 790 WKRD, a show entitled Ramsey and Rutherford. "Mike Rutherford is the true sports fanatic who knows the history and the stats, so I suppose you could say I'm the color commentator," he says with a smile. "It's the human element behind the jerseys that interests me, that's the angle that I try to bring." John believes that the top-rated show has been so successful because the two men aren't afraid to be partisan; they're both die-hard Louisville fans. "We bleed red, unapologetically," he says.
John takes a great deal of pride in his sons, saying of them “Austin and his wife Ameara are both working actors and producers in New York. He has survived and flourished in his 7 years there. Jackson is a determined and accomplished student; he will be transferring to University of Kentucky this Fall.” When asked to identify the keys to his prosperity, John is right on it. "In the long run, loyalty and honesty will always win out. I believe that if you work hard and do right by people, things will ultimately turn out well for you. That's what I've tried to do, anyway."
When Muhammad Ali died in 2016, his eulogists included members of the Ali family, Bill Clinton, Bryant Gumble, Billy Crystal, Will Smith...and John Ramsey. “I wanted to be sure to represent Louisville on that stage, and to let people see that Muhammad truly was a person who was interested in being friends with all kinds of people.”
John was friends with Muhammad, whom he describes still today as his hero, for over 35 years. They first met at a Derby party, where John won the champ over with one of his stellar comedic impres- sions. “I put on my best Howard Cosell and said to him ‘It’s Muhammad Ali, the greatest boxer of this or any other time!’ He just looked at me and said, perfectly deadpan, ‘Howard gets paid a million a year to say that about me, what’s your excuse?’” That kicked off a fantastic night of revelry and fun, at the end of which, Ali asked for John’s address. “I expected that to be the end of it, then a few months later he showed up at my house!”
John and Muhammad would become consistent forces in each other’s lives, and they would travel the world together. John also became close to the family. Of Ali’s widow, Lonnie, he said “I admire her a great deal. She is truly her husband’s equal in terms of compassion and accomplishment.” Although Ali will go down in history as an incredible boxer, John recognizes him for something perhaps far greater. “His true greatest strength was his ability to connect with people. To say that he never met a stranger doesn’t even scratch the surface. He always said ‘service to others is the rent you pay for your room in Heaven,’ I can say for certain that his debt was paid in full. I still draw inspiration from that man every single day.”