Maine humorist, author and radio host John McDonald died Tuesday at age 78. Credit: Islandport Press

John McDonald, a Maine humorist, writer and longtime radio host, died Tuesday at age 78 after a period of declining health, according to his publisher, Islandport Press.

McDonald was best known for his 30-year stint as the host of “The John McDonald Show” on weekends on Portland talk radio station WGAN, and for his popular books of Maine humor, including 2002’s “A Moose and a Lobster Walk Into a Bar…” and 2005’s “Down the Road a Piece: A Storyteller’s Guide to Maine.” He also recorded two albums of storytelling, “A Taste of Maine Humor”, released in 1984, and “Ain’t He Some Funny!” in 2006.

McDonald was born in Rhode Island but moved to Tenants Harbor as a child, and later lived in Cherryfield throughout the 1970s, where he worked for a time as a radio DJ in Hancock County. In the early 1980s, he moved to Portland, where he lived until his death. Despite his out-of-state origins, McDonald was a Mainer through-and-through, reveling in the salty, colorful stories collected from Mainers throughout his nearly 50-year career.

While McDonald was an acclaimed writer, penning columns for both the Bangor Daily News and the Portland Press Herald as well as books, he was equally at home on the stage or behind the microphone. In a 1984 BDN article, he related how he first began telling Maine stories, with a note-perfect Maine accent.

“Even as a kid I told stories of one type or another,” he said. “And then when I heard these stories that I used to hear from the fishermen, I started relating to them.”

Dean Lunt, publisher of Islandport Press, said McDonald had his own style, but was still a part of that Maine humor tradition.

“He developed his own style and rhythms that stayed true to the roots, but allowed him to create his own voice as he spun tales about such topics as Cherryfield, yard sales, summer complaints, and poor directions,” Lunt said in a press release.

Throughout the 1970s and 80s, McDonald performed live in theaters, clubs and town halls across the state, on his own and opening for musicians like David Mallett. His was part of a legacy of Maine storytellers that has its roots in the 19th century, through the “Bert & I” stories of Marshall Dodge and Robert Bryan, and continues even today, with comedian Bob Marley’s contemporary stand-up comedy takes on Mainerisms.

McDonald’s WGAN radio program ran for nearly 30 years, showcasing his signature dry humor. Though it often had a political bent, McDonald was even-keeled and respectful of callers with opinions that differed from his.

McDonald’s radio show ended in 2020. According to an obituary in the Portland Press Herald, he had been experiencing declining health for several years. McDonald is survived by his wife, Ann, his three grown children, Jeremiah, Josh and Rebecca, and a granddaughter, Alison Pritchard.

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Emily Burnham

Emily Burnham is a Maine native and proud Bangorian, covering business, the arts, restaurants and the culture and history of the Bangor region.