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West Sacramento News-Ledger

Media Icon Joey Mitchell Leaves a Legacy of Laughter

Apr 24, 2024 01:28PM ● By Mary Jane Popp, photos courtesy of Joey Mitchell's family

After 50 plus years on the air, an icon in radio signs off for his final journey. But I’m sure if there is a microphone in the clouds, Joey Mitchell will be at the helm with his joyous voice that always made his fans feel that he truly cared about each and every one.

What can I say about Joey that hasn’t already been said…talented, dedicated, award-winning personality, a great sense of humor, total love of family and what meant so much to me was that he was genuinely a really nice guy and gentleman. He greeted everyone he met with a big smile and you felt he knew you forever.

Joey was the first on-air radio guy I worked with when I first came to Sacramento in 1977. It was at the hit country music station, KRAK Radio. I would pop in with the news updates, and truly, I never knew what to expect. There were times I would go into the studio and no Joey…until he popped up from under the board trying to scare me with that silly grin on his face. But it was always in fun. He would try to break me up on the air but little did he know I came from doing a television show in Indianapolis with a crew that did all they could to break me up with antics behind the guests so only I could see. But I loved the friendship Joey shared with everyone, including me, for all these many years.

KRAK radio

 Joey stands with the KRAK radio team.

I think I admired Joey most for his caring about the community, especially when we would host telethons to raise money for so many worthy charities from Easter Seals to the Children’s Miracle Network and more. Back in the ’80s, there were eight or nine telethons on the air and they were the 24-hour ones. But Joey’s energy level never waned. Always professional yes, but with a fun competitive spirit as we would compete for on-camera time, with the ultimate goal of raising as much money as we could for charity. Joey was always game for fun too, like when we were asked to host an event for, I believe, the Opera Association. So we dressed in silly opera garb, and as you can see, we laughed our way through the event, always ready for anything we could do to help the community.

Mary Jane Popp Joey Mitchell

 Joey (far right) with Mary Jane Popp (next to him) worked together on local on air fundraisers to raise money for local causes.

Stories about Joey were so many I had to limit them, or I would need several pages to tell them all. But I had to share this one from Ken Knoll who did lots of film work in Sacramento. When Joey was named Country Music D.J. of the year and hosted names such as Freddy Fender, Loretta Lynn and Merle Haggard at the Lonesome Armadillo in Roseville, he would do TV funny skits to promote his show. Ken still laughs at this one. Wait until you hear what happened. Ken and Joey came up with the idea to do a skit at the Folsom Zoo in the tiger cage, and yes, with a real tiger. The idea was for Joey to first dress up in lady garb, moustache, and all, and pretend that the tiger was going to attack her/him. Then Joey would change back into guy clothes, and with the magic of television editing, come to her rescue. Funny, right? The trainer assured Joey that the tiger was tame and not to worry. To be honest, Joey was rather nervous and began sweating some. But being the trooper he was, Joey got into the enclosure. Ken was not sure but perhaps the tiger sensed Joey’s fear and began to growl and started to get too close for comfort. It was too close for Joey and he began to shout “please get me out of here.” But it was hard to hear him above the laughter of the crew. Suffice to say, Joey was not going into a wild critter space alone for a long time.

Here’s one that will give you a laugh but I’m not sure Joey laughed. Ken told me about the time President Clinton came to town on Air Force One, and we don’t know how Joey did it but he planted a bumper sticker on the back of Air Force One promoting the Joey Mitchell Show. Sounds funny now but the Secret Service was not amused, and he actually got arrested. Don’t know if he had to spend time in the pokey but leave it to Joey to come up with this stunt and look for more to do.

Joey Mitchell retirement

 Joey ready and eager for retirement.

Another side of Joey was always wanting to help others in the business. Jennifer Steele, executive producer of the morning news at KFBK, had fond memories of him. She worked with Joey at FM 101.5 for 10 years and knew him more than 30 years. Despite his being a celebrity, she said, he was always a real human being, a mentor, teacher and nice to all.

And Big Jim Hall worked with Joey at KRAK Radio for many years. That’s where I met them both. Jim and Joey both began working at KRAK Radio together. One did the morning, and one did the afternoon, and their friendship grew over the many years. Jim said he was always fearless and always wanted to support organizations to help the community. Fondly, Jim said, Joey was an incredible co-worker and friend for 40 years, along with having a caring heart and always being super funny. Jim said he was a joy to work with and to know.

There are many stories to tell and perhaps some of the pictures can tell the Joey Mitchell life and his work, but I asked his son, Joe Jr., who sent me so many wonderful pictures to choose of his dad, if he could tell me his fondest memories of “Dad” Joey. I could not end this piece any better. Here is Joe Jr and his heartfelt thoughts about his dad in his own words.

“My dad was just my dad to me, and I never really appreciated all he had accomplished until I grew older. Many people didn’t know he had severe and painful scoliosis that would keep him up nights. Getting up at 3 a.m. was a chore for anyone, but for him, it was a daily struggle to get ready for his radio show. Even though he was in pain, he always had a smile on his face and wanted to make people laugh. It wasn’t an act; it was who he was. He truly was an amazing man, husband, father, friend and radio legend who will leave a huge void in our hearts. I strive to be like him. He was my HERO!” What more can be said about this icon and truly good human being?

And so the memory of Joey Mitchell goes on and I’m sure he is wowing them up there behind the mic with his wit and big smile. We will miss you Joey, but our memories will always be with us. Rest in peace, good friend.

Editor’s note: Joey Mitchell died March 24 after a battle with a lung condition and pneumonia.

Joey Mitchell

 He always had a smile and a joke, even if it was on him.