by Clark Groome
Right after college I worked with Bill Campbell. Sort of. Let me explain.
Bill Campbell – the legendary voice of the Phillies, Eagles, Warriors and 76ers – died last week at age 91.
Many remember his biggest broadcast moments: the last few seconds of the Eagles’ 1960 NFL Championship game at Franklin Field when Chuck Bednarik sat on Jim Taylor until the clock ran out on the Birds’ 17-13 victory over the Green Bay Packers and his March 2, 1962 call of the Warriors/New York Knicks game before 4,124 fans at the Hershey Sports Arena when Wilt Chamberlain scored 100 points.
In 1971 the Phillies fired Campbell, and Harry Kalas was brought in from Houston by Bill Giles to join Campbell’s boothmates By Saam and Rich Ashburn. It broke Campbell’s heart.
In 1992 Kalas invited his predecessor back to the booth to call the middle three innings of a game. When Kalas introduced Campbell he began his time behind the mike with, “As I was saying before I was so rudely interrupted 22 years ago … .” The tension was broken and, as was Campbell’s want, the game became the focus.
Now back to my connection with the man who for more than 60 years was the voice of Philadelphia sports.
I began my professional life at WGAL Radio in Lancaster, Pa., in 1965. I was a disc jockey, newsman and sometimes sports reporter. My shift was 6 p.m. to midnight. WGAL (now WLPA) was a Phillies network station.
During the summer, most of my shift was taken up with sitting there, listening to the games, and pushing a button when Bill or By or Rich called for “station identification along the Phillies Baseball Network.”
Part of the routine for Phillies affiliates was to make sure that the line from the ballpark was open and that when it was game time the game and not silence would be broadcast on the air. It was during those pre-game checks that I could eavesdrop on the broadcasters as they got ready.
Most of what they said was very funny but clearly too blue or too candid to be broadcast. It was also evident that they all loved what they were doing.
During my two years at WGAL I met all three of the broadcasters. Ashburn, being the rookie and the former player, was the one whom I got to know best because when there was a promotion in Lancaster he usually came out there and I was generally his host.
But Campbell was always special, being the guy who called three sports. Later he was a commentator who was firm in his positions but gentlemanly in his approach. He worked at various times for KYW, WCAU (now WPHT) and WIP.
But the reason I’m writing this is the result of a meeting I had with Bill in the Citizens Bank Park press box three or four years ago, about 40 years since I had last seen him. He was standing alone and I went over to him, reintroduced myself and told him about my time at WGAL.
He did a double take when I mentioned WGAL. Turns out he had worked there at the beginning of his career in 1941, two years before I was born. We chatted about Lancaster and the Phils and radio.
In the 30 minutes or so we spent together that day he made me feel like the most important person in the world.
I realized later, and was reminded of this reading the many tributes that were published after his death, that he treated everyone he met, whether in person or across the airwaves, with respect.
I feel fortunate to have been his colleague, albeit somewhat distantly, and to have been able to spend time listening to him on the air and spending some brief moments with him in person.
Philadelphia, Philadelphia sports, broadcasting, his thousands of listeners and all the rest of us have lost more than a great broadcaster. We have lost a friend.