Radio and music legend Johnny Western is moving to Arizona

Johnny Western's voice may soon be gone from Wichita's radio airwaves, but the legendary country and cowboy music announcer isn't riding off into the sunset.

Western, 75, is only giving up his day job. Effective Saturday, he's retiring from KFTI.

But Western, who has performed with the likes of Gene Autry and Johnny Cash, will continue to work 25 to 30 concerts a year as a musician.

"I've been lucky to have both going for a long time," Western said Monday from the station's studio. "But it's become impossible to do both."

With 14 of their 17 grandchildren living in Arizona, he and his wife, Jo, will move to Mesa, Ariz., to be closer to family.

"We need to see those kids more than when we just fly in for a day or two," Western said.

He'll be closing the book on a radio career that has spanned more than 60 years.

At the age 15, he was able to convince Eddie Arnold to be his first major guest for his show on a station in Northfield, Minn.

"I sounded like I was 21," Western said. "My voice had changed."

He was 14 when he got his name. He was Johnny Westerlund as he prepared to go on the air for his first show on July 11, 1949, in Northfield.

"They thought 'Westerlund' was too much of a mouthful," Western said.

The radio announcer noticed a calendar from the Great Western Salvage Co. hanging on the wall and made a quick decision.

"And this is the Johnny Western Show," the announcer boomed in introducing the teenager.

"I've been him ever since," Western said.

Since coming to Wichita in 1986 to work for the station (formerly KFDI), he became an icon in part because he could delight his listeners with distinctive details that have brought performers to life.

"It's all up here," Western said, tapping his head. "I have no notes."

He comes by the information first hand.

After all, Waylon Jennings introduced Western and his wife 44 years ago last Friday.

He now introduces Rex Allen Jr.' s songs, but he first knew the singer as a 7-year-old when he toured around the world with Rex Allen Sr.

Western also spent 40 years touring with Cash.

"We played every big place in the world you can play," he said.

Western has performed at Carnegie Hall three times and been inducted to just about every hall of fame that has anything to do with country or western music. In 2008 he was named Disc Jockey of the Year by the Western Music Association.

Western is also the man who will forever be linked to "The Ballad of Paladin," the theme song for "Have Gun — Will Travel," a television series that ran from 1957-63.

He wrote and performed the song on the show.

"It changed my life," Western he said.

But he only wrote the song in March 1958 — after about 20 episodes had aired — as what he called a "musical thank-you card" to the show's star, Richard Boone, and one of its creators, Sam Rolfe, for letting him play a role in some of the episodes.

"I didn't even write the song as a theme song," Western said.

The song not only led to a contract with Columbia Records and CBS, but it was also used in the 1986 movie "Stand by Me."

All those re-runs — and other surprising sources — mean royalty checks.

"Two weeks ago I got a check for $4,000 because 'Family Guy' sang my song," Western said.

"I was just hoping to get three or four years out of it. Now here it is 52 years later. It's made me a ton of money."

Growing up, his big dream was to be a real cowboy. At 16, he had a chance to work for a large Wyoming ranch.

"I almost took my horse and went out there," Western said. "But I got offered the radio station job full time. I thought I could do better as a singer than as a ranch hand."