Big John embodied every good thing about radio

Big John Gillis was as tall as a grizzly bear, but gentle as a teddy bear. The 40-year veteran of Indiana radio, who recently passed away, was an iconic figure. His loyal listeners looked up to him.

“I guess being 6-foot-4 was a big help,” he once told me.

So ingrained in Indianapolis was the persona of Big John that until his passing, people still thought he spent his mornings in a helicopter reporting for harried commuters making their way to work. Truth is, John hadn’t been in a WIBC chopper for almost 20 years.

In a bow to the economy, he had transitioned to a fixed-wing plane and then a mobile unit for his reports. He ended his traffic career broadcasting from a studio, where even the sound of barking dogs on the street outside did not convince his fans he was really earthbound.

John loved the sound of his own voice. I offer this as high praise, because you always felt that each word that tumbled effortlessly off his tongue was not only meticulously chosen but was savored for still another nanosecond before he went on to the next.

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