WORDS: Amy Bell
PICTURES: Whitney Patton
As the radio host of 92.1 CTQ’s “Maverick & Lulu in the Morning,” Maverick Johnson is a household name for local country music fans. But there’s more to this popular media personality than meets the ear. In addition to his love of music, entertainment, and sports, Maverick is also passionate about giving back to the community.
“Being able to help and make a difference in our wonderful community is by far the best thing we get to do in this job,” he enthuses. “From collecting thousands of toys with our local Marines each holiday season to giving away free mammograms to those who don’t have access to these lifesaving tests to helping kids through different organizations. I began volunteering early in my career, and I love everything about it.”
On the Air
Maverick, a two-time CMA Award nominee, broadcasts weekday mornings to Southwest Florida on 92.1 CTQ, Sarasota’s Suncoast Country station since 1986. It all started back in 1990 when launched his career as an intern at the station.
“I was hired part-time shortly thereafter, working in several departments and learning different aspects of the industry,” he recalls. “From producing shows, producing commercials, helping with sales and then learning several positions on the air, including news, sports, talk shows, and music shows.”
Throughout his broadcasting career at CTQ, Maverick has hosted the morning show as well as the afternoon show. He says he loves country music and cherishes the time he’s been able to spend with some of today’s biggest country stars. When asked which artists were the most interesting and memorable to meet, Maverick mentioned some impressive names.
“I got to spend a lot of time with Keith Urban at Joyland before he was ‘Keith Urban,’ when he was just an unknown and up-and-coming artist,” he says. “That was awesome.”
Early in his career, Maverick also had the opportunity to hang out with Blake Shelton for an evening. “He was another up-and-coming artist,” Maverick remembers. “He was hungry, so we grabbed some dinner. The thing that still stands out to this day about that night was how much fun he was. Just a happy and funny person.”
Shelton was particularly riveted by something we Southwest Floridians find fairly commonplace. “He kept asking me all about alligators,” Maverick laughs. “He was fascinated by them. He is from Oklahoma and had apparently never seen one in real life when we met.”
Maverick admits he was the most star-struck by one country artist in particular. “Garth Brooks is the name that instantly comes to mind,” he says. “I’ve had the chance to interview him on the phone a few times. However, in the last few years, I’ve been blessed to meet and interview him in person twice. He is just a genuinely nice person.”
Rise of a Radio Personality
It’s no wonder why Maverick has such a strong connection with the Suncoast community. He’s lived here most of his life.
His parents moved to Venice, Florida when Maverick was in the 1st grade. He attended Venice Elementary School, Venice Middle School, and Venice High School. After high school graduation, he attended broadcasting school in Tampa.
But he did not always have plans to become a country radio host. At first, Maverick had an eye on a career in sports broadcasting. “I got into to the business because of my love of sports,” he explains. “When I was very young, my goal was to be a sportscaster.”
After he graduated from broadcasting school, Maverick received his first internship with WCTQ/WAMR Radio. “Soon into my internship, my first on air role was as the pregame and halftime host and sideline reporter for Venice High School football games,” he says. “As my experience grew, I was assigned other roles and jobs.”
During this time, Maverick discovered he enjoyed other broadcasting positions outside of sports. “I initially wanted to go into TV, but I fell in love with radio,” he explains. “The ability to connect and talk with listeners every day is so much fun and rewarding. From having a laugh to tackling tough and important issues together is what radio is about: A true connection.”
Evolution of Local Radio
In today’s world of 24-hour news, social media, and information at your fingertips, Maverick says people often ask him if working in local radio is the same as it was 20 years ago. “The answer is yes and no,” he remarks. “It has changed, but for the better. In fact, just as many if not more people listen to local radio today as they did 20 years ago. We live in a world that is so ‘on-demand,’ yet there is less and less local content available. One place where you still get that info is local radio,” he says. “We are still here getting the word out about what is important to you. Local radio is your community partner, and that is what I love about it.”
And it’s pretty obvious that Maverick has a soft spot for this community. “I absolutely love the Manatee and Sarasota county area,” he enthuses. “I so enjoy the outdoors in this spectacular place where we live.” When he’s not working or volunteering, Maverick says he spends time kayaking, boating, fishing, scuba diving, mountain biking, and spending time on the beach.
“I also enjoy live events, sports, and music – and my favorite part of that is tailgating with friends before. I love spending time with family and friends. Many of my friends I consider family.”
Host with a Heart
With deep roots in the community and a passion for philanthropy, Maverick takes every opportunity to get involved with local charities. He is a volunteer and committee member for the Sarasota National Cemetery and also does a lot of charity work for local first responders.
“We recently held a ‘banner signing’ event showing community support for ALL in law enforcement,” he says. “We also help with community events they host, including fundraising, toy and food drives for the sheriff’s departments, Pack the Patrol Car with school supplies for the local police departments, and Muscular Dystrophy Association’s Fill the Boot drives for our fire departments.”
Most recently, Maverick and the CTQ crew have lent a hand to Turning Points, Goodwill Manasota, Stuff the Bus (to benefit The Food Bank of Manatee), and All Faiths Food Bank’s Campaign Against Summer Hunger, just to name a few.
When asked what inspires him to give back so generously, Maverick answers, “My parents instilled it in me. They always said, ‘If you can help someone, help.’”
Volunteering took on a more personal significance for Maverick in 1999 when his mother was diagnosed with breast cancer. Fortunately, his mother is a survivor. After surgery, chemotherapy, and radiation, she beat the disease.
“Later that year, I was approached by a volunteer with the Cancer Society to help them with fundraising,” Maverick explains. To this day, he continues to work with the society. “My relationship to help locally with the Cancer Society is still going strong,” he adds. “For the last three years, we have hosted a Pink Sunset Cruise in honor of my mother and all others battling this disease. LeBarge Cruises in Sarasota donates their boat and staff for one evening, and 100% of the dollars raised by those who attend the cruise goes to the American Cancer Society.”
Wishes for Heroes
In 2011, Maverick’s father, Denis V. Cooper, passed away unexpectedly. “He served our country as a U.S. Marine Helicopter Crew Chief in combat in Vietnam,” Maverick says. He explains that his father was misdiagnosed while under the care of the Veterans Administration (VA) and quickly grew ill.
“While he was in hospice care with the VA, they told us about a ‘grant a wish’ program that granted a last wish for veterans,” Maverick recalls. “My dad wanted to take my sister and I fishing one last time. However, he was too sick to leave his hospice room. My mother was so distraught about how my dad died, she asked me if we could create a foundation in his name to help veterans, like my dad, who had seemingly been forgotten.”
Maverick decided to create a wish-granting organization for military veterans and their families. In 2014, Denis V. Cooper Foundation – Wishes for Heroes was born. “We collaborate with all other local veteran organizations and other local non-profit organizations that assist veterans,” Maverick explains.
The all-volunteer, 501c3 non-profit organization has already granted some incredible wishes. In 2019, Wishes for Heroes covered dental work for 98-year-old Chief Bill Cheeseman, a U.S. Navy World War II Veteran from Sarasota. “This hero can’t stop smiling because after years of the VA turning him down for dental care, he now has his pearly whites back,” Maverick says.
In 2018, the Foundation granted a wish for Sgt. Clarence Addy, a 94-year-old U.S. Air Force WWII Veteran in Sarasota. As a B-17 lower ball turret gunner, he flew many combat missions against Nazi Germany. Clarence’s roof was in bad shape, so his friend nominated him for the wish. “Thanks to our wonderful supporters, we were able to grant this hero’s wish and replace his roof,” Maverick adds.
Maverick says that creating Wishes for Heroes after his father’s death was like, “finding sunshine after a storm.” There is no question that this big-hearted radio host will continue to spread plenty of sunshine across Southwest Florida.
To learn more about Wishes for Heroes, visit wishesforheroes.org.