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Radio legend Johnny Dark resigns from WTTR amid dispute

Veteran Baltimore radio personality Johnny Dark (standing) with Jack Edwards at WTTR in 2011.
Veteran Baltimore radio personality Johnny Dark (standing) with Jack Edwards at WTTR in 2011. (Phil Grout / Patuxent Publishing)

John Sery called The Baltimore Sun on a Monday afternoon to report a radio disc jockey missing in action.

Radio legend Johnny Dark, who had been on the air for more than 50 years in the Maryland region, had disappeared from Westminster's AM radio station, WTTR. Sery hadn't heard Dark on the radio in days, and he saw other hosts were filling Dark's 3 to 7 p.m. time slot.

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"It was a feeling like, you get up in the morning and go out to your driveway and see your car is stolen. It's like, 'Oh my God!" Sery said.

The 81-year-old DJ who hosted the station's Afternoon Drive segment had been at WTTR since around 2010, but Sery, a Silver Spring native, had been tuning in to Dark since his days on Baltimore radio in the 1960s, including AM station WCAO.

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"I remember listening to him when I was a teenager. He was a great personality," said the faithful fan. "He has a super smooth voice and is extremely knowledgeable about music artists and the music industry. You can tell by listening to him that he has an appreciation for his audience and a passion for his work."

He and Dark had a history, after all. Dark was the first person to introduce Maryland radio heads to The Beatles, Sery reminded us. He followed him from Baltimore radio over to the World Satellite Radio in Silver Spring in 2006. Years later, Sery would rediscover Dark on WTTR, where he would stream his segments on the Internet. Sery, a retired film booker for the American Film Institute at the Kennedy Center, would later meet the radio legend at a live-broadcast event hosted at a mall in Westminster.

So, where did he go?

With a little investigation, we found Dark.

The seasoned radio personality resigned from WTTR on Jan. 4 amid a dispute with WTTR's management, Dark said. He contends that management allowed another employee to run roughshod over the then-program director, Betsy Santos -- who also happens to be Dark's girlfriend.

"I've been in this business for 62-and-a-half years. I've never seen anything this ridiculous in all that time," Dark said.

Dark's girlfriend, Betsy Santos, also resigned Jan. 4. She did not respond this week to calls from The Sun requesting comment.

Jeff Laird, an owner of WTTR for the past two years, declined to reveal details about the situation, which he defined as "internal," but said Dark is being immature.

"They have been replaced, and we are moving forward," Laird said. "I wish him luck."

The station, which is known for playing "the greatest hits of all time," was owned for 10 years by Sajak Broadcasting Corp. -- which was partly owned by "Wheel of Fortune" host Pat Sajak. In 2013, it was sold to Hilltop Communications.

Laird said that an FM station for WTTR is in the works. The station also has plans to tweak the music, making it less "oldies-focused" in preference of classic hits.

According to Dark, an announcement was made on-air on the day of Dark and Santos' resignation.

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"It was a very tearful goodbye," said Dark, who had spent nearly five years at the station.
"I enjoyed it because it [had] a personality-driven format and there [are] not a lot of stations doing that," Dark said.

Said Sery: "It's so sad to hear that [WTTR is] going to lose one of their most valued commodities. He's worth every dollar they paid him."

Since his WTTR departure, the DJ said he has received offers from other stations within the region, including an FM station in Baltimore City. But Dark said he is unsure of when he will act. With over 60 years of radio show business under his belt, Dark said he wants to write a book, possibly touching on his experiences and the many people and artists he has met throughout the years.

But his days in radio, he said, are not finished. He has been gifted with a voice that has not aged, he said.

"And retire has never been a word in my vocabulary."

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