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Broadcaster Bill Campbell's passing the end of an era in Philadelphia Sportscasting

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It was the summer of 1997, and my 81-year old grandfather was going into the hospital for heart bypass surgery. For those of you unaware, that procedure is something risky for a person twice that age, let alone somebody who has approached octogenarian status. Needless to say, my family was on pins and needles waiting for the results. When all was said and done, my grandfather thankfully came out of the surgery for the better and stayed in the hospital for a few days to recover.

 

While my grandfather got settled in his room after surgery, a familiar voice introduced himself in the next bed. It was none other than broadcasting legend Bill Campbell. As luck would have it, Bill was going to be my grandfather’s hospital roommate until he was discharged. Bill and my grandfather became fast friends. This would continue even after the two of them were released from the hospital. My grandfather and Bill, who both lived in South Jersey, would call each other regularly and see each other on holiday brunches at Tavistock Country Club in Haddonfield, NJ. Bill and his wife, Jo were even nice enough to attend my grandfather’s 90th birthday party. Photo: 973espn.com

 

When my fellow Philly2Philly authors were putting together a list of Philadelphia broadcasters for A Snowball’s Chance: Philly Fires Back Against the National Media, we knew we HAD to get Bill Campbell to be part of the book. It wasn’t even a question. I called Bill’s house and fortunate enough to speak with his wife, Jo, who gladly put Bill on the phone. I could tell right away that Bill might not have been having the best of days because he sounded very tired. To be fair, Bill was pushing 90 at the time, yet he was still generous enough to speak with me in great detail in regards to all the questions I asked him.

 

Unfortunately, that was the last time ever I spoke with Bill, whose death on Monday at the age of 91 has saddened many throughout the Tri-State area. Bill’s wife Jo passed away last January, and I can only imagine the tremendous sense of loss that had on him. Apparently, Bill began a sharp decline after her death. The two were married for 67 years.

 

For many, Bill Campbell was behind the microphone for some of the greatest sports moments in the history of our long-suffering city. He called games for the original Philadelphia Warriors in 1946, as well as the Eagles’ last championship in 1960. Guess who did the play-by-play for Wilt Chamberlain’s 100-point game in 1962? That’s right. In a game seen by few but apparently witnessed by many, the one constant nobody can disagree on is the validity of Bill’s courtside broadcast, which earned him a spot in the Basketball Hall of Fame in Springfield, Mass. (the final three minutes of that game can be heard below). Bill was with the Philly fans for the good as well as the bad. He was there to tell Phillies fans their team wasn’t going to the World Series in 1964. He also presided over the Sixers’ 73-loss season in 1973. But no matter what the fortunes of the teams he broadcast for, Bill never lost his passion and was known to always call every game like it was his last.

 

During lunch or dinner breaks between meetings for A Snowball’s Chance, Matt Goldberg (one of our co-writers) would randomly us ask about our personal Mount Rushmores. We would have to give him our personal top four choices (hence, the four heads of Mount Rushmore) regarding any particular topic he would ask about. It could be music groups, our favorite cop shows, or anything in between. I don’t recall Matt bringing up a Philadelphia sports broadcasting Mount Rushmore in our conversations, but if he did, it’s not even a question that Bill Campbell would be on my list. His accomplishments throughout the course of his broadcasting career should be the envy of anyone who aspires to venture into the foray of sports broadcasting. Before Harry Kalas, there was Bill Campbell. And much like Kalas, along with most of the city’s broadcasting legends, Bill was readily accessible for anything you ever needed.

Having someone like Bill Campbell in our book gave us that much more credibility coming out of the gate, and I will be forever grateful to him for that. I still have that conversation with Bill on my recorder from that day and I’ll never delete it. The Tri-State area has lost a good man and one of its greatest broadcasting icons. 

Contact Joe Vallee at jvallee@philly2philly.com

 

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Photo: 973espn.com