Melvin Kampmann, 85, pioneer who created 'Action News' and changed television

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Melvin Kampmann

Melvin Kampmann, 85, creator of the "Action News" format and name, died Tuesday, July 12, after suffering from Parkinson's disease.

"Action News," with its reliance on many short stories and visual elements, has become the standard for broadcast news locally and nationally.

The implementation of "Action News" brought WPVI-TV (Channel 6) from third place to first in the ratings. WPVI's Action News program started leading the local news ratings in 1971, and has retained its spot without interruption.

"Part of the success of Action News was the stability of people on the air, but even if different people took over the weather or sports, the popularity of Action News has been continuous. That's unusual for programs not to be dependent on the cast of characters, but the format," said Lew Klein, WPVI's program director when Mr. Kampmann was hired. "The format is what turned the station around."

Mr. Kampmann came to WPVI in 1969 after starting his television career in Los Angeles and a stint in San Francisco.

"He was an extremely bright guy. They hired him to come into this, and he walked into a storm, because the station had been No. 3 in the ratings for a decade," said the retired broadcaster Larry Kane, who, at 25, was made Action News' first anchor in 1970. "Even though Channel 6 was home to American Bandstand, the news was always a problem."

Klein said that the format was a collaboration and largely based on market research by Frank Magid Inc. "Audiences were looking for more news, perhaps less depth, faster-paced delivery," Klein said. "It was evident in the movies that were being produced. It was in the culture of what people wanted in terms of news and other media and communication."

The same desire is reflected in the changing media landscape brought on by the internet age. "Now people say, 'Tell me the next story,' " Klein said.

According to Klein, it was Mr. Kampmann's job to implement "Action News" on a willing staff that were hungry to become No. 1 in the ratings. "The fact that Mel was able to take those suggestions and parameters and put them into use," Klein said, "at that time, this was a revolution in terms of news programs, both network and locally."

Mr. Kampmann was born in Santa Monica, Calif., and served in the Korean War. He left WPVI in 1974 to become a general manager in Fargo, N.D., ultimately settling in Washington to work as a consultant. After Mr. Kampmann retired, he opened a Dairy Queen in Dewey Beach, Del., with his wife of 50 years, Karin.

In addition to his wife, Mr. Kampmann is survived by sons Scot and Erik, and three granddaughters.

A funeral service will be at 11 a.m. Wednesday, July 20, at Parsell Funeral Homes & Crematorium, 16961 Kings Highway, Lewes, Del.

Donations may be made to the Parkinson Education and Support Group of Sussex County, Box 56, Lewes, Del. 19958.

meichel@phillynews.com

215-854-5909@mollyeichel