Voice of Philadelphia sports, broadcaster Bill Campbell dies at 91

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Legendary broadcaster Bill Campbell. (Michael Bryant/Staff file photo)

Bill Campbell, a broadcaster who covered some of the greatest moments in Philadelphia sports history, died Monday at Cooper University Hospital in Camden. He was 91, and his career touched parts of nine decades.

Mr. Campbell was a broadcaster for the Philadelphia Warriors/76ers, Phillies, and Eagles. Among his most famous broadcasts: the Eagles' NFL championship win over Green Bay in 1960 at Franklin Field and Wilt Chamberlain's 100-point game for the Warriors - still an NBA record - in 1962.

The latter broadcast helped put Mr. Campbell into the Basketball Hall of Fame in 2005 as the winner of the Curt Gowdy award.

"In to Chamberlain. He made it! He made it! He made it!" Mr. Campbell excitedly told listeners on that memorable night at the Hershey Arena. "A dipper dunk! He made it! The fans are all over the floor! They've stopped the game! People are running out on the court! One-hundred points for Wilt Chamberlain!"

That recording is now in the Basketball Hall of Fame in Springfield, Mass.

"He was the dean of Philadelphia sports, and I don't know if anyone can ever replace him," said Larry Shenk, the Phillies' vice president of alumni relations. "If you close your eyes, you can hear him doing the Phillies, the Eagles, the Sixers. . . . He was the voice of Philadelphia sports."

Shenk became the Phillies public-relations director in 1964, when Mr. Campbell, By Saam and Richie Ashburn broadcast the team's games. "Oh, baby!" became Campbell's trademark line.

"As a kid, I wrote a letter to him and told him I wanted to be a broadcaster," Shenk recalled, "and he wrote back and said, 'Read a lot and get a good education.' "

Mr. Campbell's wife, Jo, died on Jan. 20. After her death, Mr. Campbell's health quickly declined. He fell and broke three ribs a few days ago, his daughter, Christine Campbell, said.

The Campbells were married for 67 years and lived in Haddonfield for most of that time.

"He missed her so much," Christine Campbell said. "The joy is that he's going back to her. She's waiting for him."

During his remarkable career, Mr. Campbell bridged the gap between Robin Roberts and Cole Hamels, between Norm Van Brocklin and Nick Foles, between Chamberlain and Michael Carter-Williams. He either broadcast those players' games (and all those in between) or talked about them in his radio reports.

Longtime broadcaster Tom Lamaine said Mr. Campbell was a perfectionist, and he remembered him fondly. They broadcast 76ers TV games from 1970 to 1976, a time when Mr. Campbell was battling Crohn's disease.

"When I got hired, it was my first TV job in Philadelphia, and I said to myself, 'How do you complement Bill Campbell?' because it seemed like I had been listening to him since I was in grade school," Lamaine said. "But he made it really easy for me."

Lamaine recalled a late-season game in 1973 against Cleveland - a season in which the 76ers went 9-73. "Bill was broadcasting that game like it was Game 7 of the Finals," Lamaine said. "During a commercial break, I said, 'Bill, I can't believe the energy and pace you are giving this game.' And he says to me, 'If you lose the passion, get out of the game' - and that line stuck with me forever."

Mr. Campbell, who began his broadcast career while attending Roman Catholic High in 1939, was sports director at Channel 10 and WCAU-AM, and he was featured on numerous radio stations, including WIP-AM and KYW-AM. He was in the industry so long that he once did a radio show with Connie Mack, then the Philadelphia Athletics manager.

"He was the greatest in the history of Philadelphia broadcasting," said Merrill Reese, who has been the radio play-by-play voice of the Eagles since 1977. "He did every sport in Philadelphia - the Warriors and the Sixers in basketball, the Phillies, the Eagles, of course, college basketball, the Penn Relays, hosted talk shows - and he was great. The Dean. He was also the single greatest interviewer I ever heard."

A lector at several Catholic churches, Mr. Campbell was fondly known as "The Dean" and "Soupy," and the National Sports Broadcasters named him a three-time winner of the Broadcaster of the Year award. He also was inducted into several local Halls of Fame.

Mr. Campbell also was a broadcaster for the Pittsburgh Pirates, Penn State football, and Big Five basketball games.

During his early days, Mr. Campbell worked at an Atlantic City radio station and also introduced performers, such as Frank Sinatra, at the Steel Pier.

A self-deprecating, modest man, Mr. Campbell once said that Chamberlain's 100-point performance was not his favorite broadcasting event, that it seemed more like an exhibition game. "The highlight of a mediocre career was doing the 1960 championship game for the Eagles because we won," he said in a 2011 interview.

Mr. Campbell is survived by his only child, Christine, two grandchildren and four great grandchildren.

Because of church availability, there has been a change in the services that will be held for Bill Campbell, the legendary broadcaster who died Sunday at 91.

The viewing, originally scheduled for Friday, will now be held Sunday between 2 p.m. and 6 p.m. at the Blake-Doyle Funeral Home in Collingswood.

"Make sure you tell people they'll be home in time for the Eagles game" that night, said Christine Campbell, Bill's daughter. "Dad wouldn't want it any other way."

A Mass of Christian Burial will be held Monday (rescheduled from Saturday) at 11 a.m. at Christ the King in Haddonfield, where Campbell was a lector for many years,


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