For twenty-two years, his acerbic, irreverent, often risquÃ© wit, coupled with his distinctive barrel-house laugh, have comically combined to make John “Bad Dog” McCormack one of the top “dawgs” in Memphis radio. In a typical interchange, on-air partner, Ric Chetter coyly asked about the effects of McCormack’s chemotherapy treatments, “A woman neighbor of mine asked me the other day that when you lost your hair did you lose all of it?”
McCormack blurted, “I did thin out in some of the nether regions!”
But, since being diagnosed with an aggressive form of Leukemia last fall, “Bad Dog” has used his infectious laughter as a lethal weapon to ward off the pain inflicted by the deadly disease and the sometimes depressive effects induced by the his chemotherapy treatments.
Radio colleague Tim Spencer, in praise of McCormack, marveled, “I’ve never seen anybody that sick have such a great attitude from the very beginning. From the very beginning, he just had this terrific attitude. He just knew he was going to get through it.” [source]
Bad Dog’s simple honesty in not hiding his diagnosis from his friends or his audience has impressed all around him, including Chetter, his current radio partner of three years on the Rock 103 Morning Show. McCormack told him the sobering news of his condition by phone from a hospital room.
Chetter reflected, “Honestly, I thought he was kidding. This is what we do around here. We immerse ourselves in a comic lifestyle. I asked him. I said, ‘So, what’s going on? What’s your deal? What’s your story?’ And he says, well, he came right out with it. He said, ‘I have Leukemia.’ I went, yeah, right. Tell me another. It scared the hell out of me!”
Spencer added, “I started reading about it, Googling Leukemia, in particular ALM and it was very scary when I read how serious ALM is.”
When asked why he went public, McCormack resolutely explained, “I’ve lived my life on the radio. There is no sense in trying to hide anything from anybody. This stuff gets around fast in this little town, anyway. So, I thought just come right out with it and deal with it like a man.”
Trying to cope just as strongly with the challenges presented by Bad Dog’s illness and treatment has been Spencer, his long-time friend and colleague on the Wake Up Crew for 19 years. Spencer is now is also McCormack’s boss.
Spencer admitted, “So, there was the personal level which was emotional. Then there was the professional level. What are we going to do? You know? What’s going to happen to the morning show?
What has happened is the creation of a unique and still entertaining radio format as Bad Dog and Chetter still keep up the comic banter on the show, whether McCormack’s physically in the studio or, as on the day we visited, by phone from a hospital bed in Germantown.
Chetter explained to the concerned listeners, “This is nothing more than a precautionary thing. This is all. It was expected from the second round of chemotherapy. You got a little bit of a fever and to prevent an infection which could really spell big trouble. They wanted to get you in there and get some antibiotics into you.”
McCormack expounded, “If I had not gotten Leukemia and had not gone to the hospital and gotten a C-T scan at the time, they would not have seen the small lesion on my kidney which ended up being renal cell carcinoma, and I would have been gone in a year.”
The partners, McCormack and Chetter, make radio work without skipping a beat in producing good laughs. The audience is along for the ride, through the ups and downs Bad Dog daily faces with his medical condition.
Chetter observed, “I’d be willing to guess, that we’re probably, at this point in time, probably the only radio station or radio program that’s doing that. It certainly does change the dynamic of how everything works.”
The sarcastic McCormack threw in a zinger with, “Nobody would know the difference. You know? Right! It sucked when we were there and it sucks when we’re apart! [laughs] We really don’t have to see each other because most of our hand signals include just one finger!”
Fighting to keep his condition in remission has curtailed Bad Dog from continuing his previously hectic schedule of advertising and station promotion gigs. Last month, in his first public appearance since he began treatments in October, he made a brief appearance at the annual Celebrity Waiters event, donning what’s now become his stand ard precautionary gear – a white surgical mask and a healthy supply of hand sanitizer. It was the prelude to the event which McCormack is bound and determined to be a part of as he has been the last eighteen years. It’s Rock 103’s Radiothon on behalf of the children and parents living at St. Jude’s Ronald McDonald House.
Spencer noted, “This radiothon is going to be very special for that reason. Because Bad Dog has now experienced first hand what those little kids are going through.”
McCormack wasn’t unaware of the irony either saying, “I mean I’ve talked about this stuff for so long. I’m
kind of walking it now and it’s a whole different ballgame when you’re on the other side of the fence. Seeing these little guys, how they battle with having operations and brain tumors and all these things and Leukemia and everything. Man, it’s just unbelievable how brave and how tough these kids are. It’s important and they’re going to keep that thing open. I was going to say over my dead body. But, I don’t want to!”
However, there’s plenty of evidence, judging by the outpouring of comments and best wishes from thousand s of radio listeners logging on to his Facebook page, that Bad Dog’s own personal battle with Leukemia has already taken on heroic proportions.
A grateful McCormack said, “The number of people to get on Facebook like eleven thousand people. Yeah, it blew me away. I appreciate each and every person who wrote something down, and I am overwhelmed by it.”
As Bad Dog’s proved his whole life, laughter is still the best medicine for whatever ails you.