August 18, 2006

10 questions with Bill Campbell

Staff Writer

Bill Campbell is one of the great voices of sports in Philadelphia history. He began his broadcasting career at Atlantic City's WFPG-AM (now ESPN 1450) in 1940. He has broadcast Eagles, Phillies, 76ers and Warriors games, along with college football and basketball. Formerly the sports director at WCAU and a talk-show host at WIP, he currently does sports commentaries for KYW NewsRadio in Philadelphia.

Campbell, who will be 83 next month, received the 2005 Curt Gowdy Media Award from the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame during 2005 enshrinement ceremonies in Springfield, MA. He broadcast Philadelphia Warriors and 76ers games on and off from the late fifties through 1981. Campbell also broadcast Big Five basketball for many years. He was inducted into the Broadcast Pioneers of Philadelphia Hall of Fame in 1999.

From WFPG, Campbell landed in Lancaster, Pennsylvania doing general radio announcing and covering minor league baseball over WGAL. In 1946, he was named Sports Director at WCAU Radio and WCAU-TV, where he was responsible for producing and broadcasting a daily sports program and for scheduling and negotiating a full calendar of college and professional games.

He was named Director of Broadcasting for the Philadelphia 76ers in 1972, a post he held until 1981. In addition to play-by-play radio and TV coverage of all 76ers games, Bill was responsible for the administration of the team's broadcasting department. Campbell was named Pennsylvania Sportscaster of the Year by the National Sportscasters and Sportswriters Association in 1961, 1962 and 1963. He also received the Philadelphia Sportswriters Award for outstanding service in 1989 and is also a member of the Philadelphia and Pennsylvania Sports Halls of Fame.

He is the subject of a new book by Sam Carchidi, "Bill Campbell - The Voice of Philadelphia Sports". Campbell and Carchidi will be signing copies of the book on Aug. 23 at Atlantic Books, on the Ocean City boardwalk between 8th Street and Moorlyn Terrace, from 7 until 9 p.m.

1-How was the experience of re-living your life for this book?
Campbell: I really didn't want to do it. Sam convinced me. I just talked into a tape recorder. The most difficult thing was reconstructing what happened accurately.

2-How did you get together with Sam?
Campbell: I really don't know. There have been four or five other guys who asked if they could write a book with me. I knew some of them a lot better than Sam. But he got me at the right time. My family wanted me to do it. And he did a fabulous job.

3-Has there been one special book signing?
Campbell: They're all pretty special, because you get to meet the fans. But the one at the Phillies' Old-Timers Game was great. In addition to seeing the fans, I got to talk with Jim Bunning, Robin Roberts, Richie Allen - a lot of the guys I covered. It was good to see them again.

4-What do you remember about your first job at WFPG?
Campbell: I was still in high school and down in Atlantic City for the summer. I was listening to George Thomas, a very good announcer, describe a lifeguard boat race. He was struggling. I headed down to the beach to see if I could help him. After the broadcast, he offered me a job. I remember meeting with Harry Zoog - he owned the station - and he asked me to describe everything in his office. I must have done a good job. He hired me for $15 a week.

5-Was there anything special about your first time in the play-by-play booth?
Campbell: Actually, I did some high school football games but I did them from the sidelines, walking up and down and describing the action. The first time I was in the booth was for Lancaster, a Class B minor league team.

6-What was your greatest moment behind the microphone?
Campbell: I covered so many losing teams in my career that it was great to have a champion. My greatest moment clearly was the Eagles' 1960 NFL championship game. I'll never forget that experience. Wilt Chamberlain's 100-point game was pretty special, too.

7-Do different sports make different demands on play-by-play announcers?
Campbell: Absolutely. Football is the toughest. You need total concentration because there are 22 players on the field. You can't do football properly without a good spotter and a good stat man. Baseball is slower moving and the action stops after every pitch. Basketball moves quickly, but there are only 10 players.

8-Will there ever be anybody like Connie Mack again?
Campbell: I doubt it. He was like the potentate of baseball and he always called everybody Mr. - it was Mr. Joost, Mr. Fain, Mr. Schantz. So, for me, a 23-year old kid, being called Mr. Campbell by this great baseball legend was unnerving. He was very good to me and I am glad we became friends.

9-Did Gene Mauch get a raw deal from the Phillies' fans?
Campbell: The fans blamed him for blowing the pennant in 1964, and that was a shame. That 1964 team played the best baseball I've ever seen. You've got to remember the quality in the league that year - Willie Mays, Hank Aaron, Roberto Clemente, Bob Gibson, Sandy Koufax, Eddie Matthews - it was a great era. I had been in sports broadcasting for 16 years at that time and thought I really knew baseball. But Gene taught me more about the game than I ever knew existed. We used to drive together to the airport and his knowledge of the sport just amazed me. He knew the game unlike anyone I've ever met.

10-What do you think about today's sports radio?
Campbell: There is a place for it. The host is in a great position to know the fans. He has his finger on their pulse, he knows how they feel. I've always believed you learn more from people who disagree with you. But some talk show hosts are too negative, some doing it just because they think it will get better ratings. If you are fair with the fans, they'll be fair with you.