Broadcasting icon Bill Campbell looks back on a lifetime of memories

APRIL SAUL / STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER Bill Campbell has broadcast Sixers, Eagles and Phillies games in his career, as well as college football and basketball.
APRIL SAUL / STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER Bill Campbell has broadcast Sixers, Eagles and Phillies games in his career, as well as college football and basketball.
Posted: September 06, 2013

THE EAGLES' NFL championship victory over Vince Lombardi's Green Bay Packers in 1960 . . . Wilt Chamberlain's 100-point NBA game in '62 . . . Phillies, plus college football and basketball . . . Bill Campbell called all these events on radio or television.

"Bill Campbell is the greatest all-around broadcaster in Philadelphia history," longtime Eagles radio voice Merrill Reese said.

Campbell and the late Andy Musser are the only sportscasters who've done play-by-play for the Eagles, Phillies and Sixers. No Flyers games? Campbell says the late Gene Hart urged him to sit in on a Flyers broadcast, but it never happened.

Campbell will celebrate his 90th birthday tomorrow. The "dean" of Philly sportscasters and his wife Jo are living in a retirement facility in Marlton, N.J.

"Bill is accurate, articulate and, at the same time, has amazing communication skills," Reese said. "He not only presents the game, he grabs you by the veins and paints an unbelievably vivid picture."

Campbell is a Philly guy (Roman Catholic High, Saint Joseph's University) who enjoyed a long, distinguished career in his hometown. He also did nightly sports on WCAU-TV when the great John Facenda was the news anchor.

Campbell began focusing on a broadcasting career after hearing Ted Husing call a 1937 Davis Cup tennis match on the radio (tennis on the radio!)

"I was in the car with my father," Campbell recalled Wednesday during lunch at Ponzio's in Cherry Hill. "Don Budge was playing Baron Gottfried von Cramm. During the match, von Cramm complained that Husing was too loud, so he started whispering. It was the most compelling thing I'd ever heard."

Campbell made radio stops in Atlantic City (WFPG-AM) and Lancaster (WGAL-AM) before returning to Philadelphia.

"I was 17 and living with an aunt in Atlantic City," he said. "She was a bit of a disciplinarian."

When Campbell was hosting a music show called "Midnight Jamboree," he would return home at all hours of the early morning.

"She didn't like that," he said, "so she called my father. One night I had kids in the studio during the show and in walks my father. He wanted to know why I was returning to my aunt's home so late."

During his stay in Atlantic City, he did remotes from Steel Pier as the announcer for performances by such stars as Frank Sinatra and the Glenn Miller Orchestra. Campbell was earning the grand total of $15 per week.

"I had enough left over to get my laundry done," he said, smiling.

Campbell worked with Rich Ashburn and By Saam on Phillies broadcasts for 4 years. When the Phillies were preparing to move to the new Veterans Stadium in 1971, Campbell was dismissed, because Phillies president Bill Giles wanted to bring in Harry Kalas as a new voice for broadcasts.

"It took me a generation to get over it," Campbell said. "It broke my heart. Baseball is my favorite sport, and I put everything I had into it."

He and Giles have since made peace.

Probably the toughest season Campbell ever had was the 1972-73 pro basketball season when the Sixers stumbled to a then-NBA worst 9-73 record. Since play-by-play announcers are supposed to stay as positive as they can, Campbell had a difficult chore that season.

"I still liked doing those games," he said. "They became an interesting team."

Regarding Chamberlain's 100-point outburst for the Philadelphia Warriors against the New York Knicks in Hershey, Campbell said he had a hint Wilt had "something special" in mind.

"But I never thought he'd score 100 points," Campbell said. "There were only about 4,000 fans there. Later, Wilt said he met about 45,000 who said they were there. People would say, 'I saw you score 100 points in Boston Garden.' Wilt wouldn't correct them."

Among Campbell's favorite athletes he covered were Norm Van Brocklin and Robin Roberts. Van Brocklin was the quarterback on the 1960 Eagles title game. He and Campbell did a pregame television show that began with them tossing a football back and forth on a field.

Roberts, the Phillies Hall of Fame pitcher, was "a first-class good guy," Campbell said. "He was the same guy [in later years] that he was when he came here from Springfield, Ill."

Former Phillies manager Gene Mauch is another favorite. They lived in nearby towns, Broomall and Newtown Square, and often shared car rides.

"I thought I knew baseball," Campbell said, "but I learned more baseball from Gene Mauch than anyone else."

Another highlight for Campbell was the first time he met Joe DiMaggio. Campbell and Ashburn were at a Phillies-Yankees spring training game in St. Petersburg, Fla., when Ashburn introduced him to DiMaggio, then a Yankees batting instructor following a Hall of Fame playing career.

The next day, at the Phillies complex in Clearwater, Campbell was walking toward a clubhouse door when it opened, DiMaggio walked out and said, "Hi, Bill." Campbell was impressed that DiMaggio remembered his name.

Campbell is still active, doing Friday morning commentaries for KYW-AM radio and writing a blog for the KYW website. He writes his blog in longhand, then his daughter Christine, a lawyer, types it and posts it.

Chris Wheeler, in his 36th year as a Phillies broadcaster, has known Campbell since he was a lad playing in the backyard of Ed Pappas, who lived across the street from the Campbells.

"We used to imitate 'Soupy' when we were playing our games," Wheeler said. "Years later, when I told him about it, he laughed and said, 'If I'd known that, I would've come over and done it live.' "

Wheeler was thrilled to work with Campbell for a year broadcasting Phillies games on PRISM.

"He and Gene Hart used to tell me I was good [at broadcasting] and I should stay with it," Wheeler said. "Having a guy like Bill Campbell care about you is really special."

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