John R. DeCamp · 1974
By Janet Pewoski
John Randall DeCamp was born February 11, 1921, in Kendallville, Indiana, to Arthur J. DeCamp and Ednah Randall DeCamp. John was the elder of two sons. His brother Richard was seven years younger. Richard became an attorney and worked in Fort Wayne, Indiana.
John’s boyhood experiences exposed him to the world of journalism and broadcasting. He served as a paper boy for the Kendallville News Sun, an evening paper. He proudly announced that he had the “second largest route in the county.”
During an interview he recalled having ranked fourth in his class of seventy-eight students. He said, “Students with extra time were permitted to listen to the radio in school. It was around 1931, and at that time Gunnar Elliott was known statewide for his play-by-play accounts.” Inspired by Elliott, John DeCamp was known as a boy to render play-by-play accounts of one-on-one games in his own backyard. This talent would later earn him a claim to fame.
In June 1938, he graduated from Kendallville High School, Kendallville, Indiana. He had hoped to attend Indiana University, but that fall he enrolled in Purdue University. A $60 scholarship toward a $500-a-year program in electrical engineering at Purdue University and his father’s advice influenced his decision.
Two months later, a skin test indicated that he had tuberculosis. He was moved to Irene Byron Sanitarium in Fort Wayne, Indiana, for four months.
In the fall of 1939, he returned to Purdue University. From 1940-1943, he served as a student announcer at WBAA, Purdue University’s public radio station. A roommate had urged him to audition as an announcer, and he was accepted October 1, 1940. From 1941-1942, he and Lawrence P. Meyers broadcast sports for WBAA. During 1942, Indianapolis station WIRE needed announcers, so John DeCamp was hired for $15 a football game on Saturdays. He worked with Peter French and Walter Nehrling. In 1943, he graduated from Purdue University with a bachelor of science degree in electrical engineering. He had given three years of extra-curricular service to WBAA. At that time Purdue University did not offer courses for credit in broadcasting.
Following graduation, John’s father urged him to accept a maintenance job at the U.S. Rubber Company in Mishawaka, Indiana. Shortly thereafter, a routine checkup revealed that he had tuberculosis again. He returned to the sanitarium in Fort Wayne for 15 months of treatment.
In October 1945, James Miles, WBAA station manager, hired DeCamp as a part time staff person. He worked 30 hours a week for $105 a month.
On July 1, 1946, he became chief announcer and also sports director, a position which he maintained until he left WBAA. On October 1, 1946, he became production manager.
In 1947, he married Anne Hendricks, an Indiana University graduate. She later bore him two sons: Arthur on December 12, 1950, and John, Jr., on July 15, 1954.
Nineteen forty-seven marked the year that John DeCamp often referred to as “a memorable event.” That year he broadcast the Purdue-Wisconsin game. A section of Purdue University’s Lambert Fieldhouse east bleachers broke. Three people were killed, 166 were treated at local hospitals, and others received minor injuries. “Purdue was ahead by one (34-33); the half-time had just started….I looked across and saw the section collapse,” he said. The game was finished weeks later in Evansville, and Purdue lost.
During the 1950’s John DeCamp was known nationally for his accurate play-by-play accounts of Purdue football and basketball games. His name became associated with the code, “This is the voice of Purdue,” a signal used to end a broadcast at the WBAA station.
A trip in 1946, which later became an annual ritual to the Indianapolis 500 races with Charles Brockman, would lead to another phase of John DeCamp’s career. Charles Brockman worked for WXLW and knew Sidney Collins of the Indiana 500 Network.
John DeCamp continued his work at WBAA and was named program director on July, 1950. In addition to his work at the last station, he worked Friday and Saturday evenings at the Lafayette Speedway midget stock car races from 1950-1956. He served as advance man, race reporter, scorer, and public relations man. He earned $30 a night.
Those six years were to his advantage and experience. In 1957, Sidney Collins asked him to serve as scorer, timer, and statistician of the Indiana 500 races because Charles Brockman was moving to television broadcasting.
In 1960, John DeCamp was named WBAA station manager. In 1969, he was named head of broadcasting services for Purdue University. During the period of 1960-1975, the WBAA station’s existence was jeopardy. Members of the administration of Purdue University questioned the value of funding the radio station. John DeCamp said, “Dean Earl Butts did not think the station should continue.” DeCamp spent hours preparing data to defend the station while he continued to provide innovative and qualitative programs for the station. He saw the station as a source of public relations for the university and as a means to train students interested in radio broadcasting.
John DeCamp was awarded two distinctive honors. In 1971, the Indiana Sportscasters and Sportswriters Association named him “Top Broadcaster of the Year.” In 1974, the Indiana Chapter of Society of Professional Journalists, Sigma Delta Chi inducted him into the Indiana Journalism Hall of Fame.
On March 1, 1975 after 29 years of service to WBAA, John DeCamp accepted an invitation by George King to become publicity and promotional director of Purdue University’s athletic department.
John R. DeCamp’s contribution to the world of journalism became known nationally through his colorful and accurate play-by-play accounts of Purdue football and basketball games broadcast by Purdue University’s radio station WBAA. James Miles, who hired him in 1945, said “John became known as ‘the voice of Purdue football.’ People would watch the game on television and listen to him on the radio at the same time. He spent hours on meticulous preparation. He was accurate.” Mrs. Anne DeCamp said, “Johnny would stay with the ball during a game. Switching stations during a game, I found other announcers were behind. He had a real talent.” The secret of his success came from having memorized facts about every player of both teams prior to a game.
His other major contribution to journalism was the defense of Purdue University’s public radio station WBAA. His dedication, service, and professionalism saved WBAA at a time when Purdue University administrators questioned the value of funding the radio station. David Bunte, hired as a graduate assistant in 1967 by DeCamp, said, “John was the WBAA manager at a time when a number of people considered disposing of the radio station. His qualities stand out most. He was an eminently fair individual and very open with his staff regarding difficult decisions.” Bunte referred to the way DeCamp dealt with his superiors and the radio station at that time. Mrs. DeCamp stated that DeCamp kept this difficulty private, “not public.”
John DeCamp continued to believe in the validity of WBAA for three reasons:
• The station was the major source of publicity for the university.
• The station provided cultural and educational programs for children and adults, including college credit courses.
• The station provided an opportunity for students to learn about broadcasting, which was not available for credit at Purdue University.
Purdue students who gained experience at WBAA during John DeCamp’s time at the station and later became famous included: John Hultmann of WBBM News Radio in Chicago; Lewis Wood of the Today Show; Chris Schenkel of ABC Sports; Charles Brockman of WXLW; and James Wilson of WISH and Channel 8 of Indianapolis. John DeCamp said, “We trained them to be competent to help us. If they subsequently got a job elsewhere, that was fine.”
Other journalistic contributions related to the WBAA radio station were the networks John DeCamp set up to broadcast Purdue sports nationally and the local networks he set up to carry educational programs. At one time 156,000 children in six states were estimated to have listened to WBAA’s “School of the Air” program.
Interviewing was another talent John DeCamp possessed. He estimated that he had interviewed over 1,000 university people and 1,500 sports people. He said, “I think I had a faculty for generating intelligent questions.” He tried to make these people seem like real people by getting them to talk about their interests.
John DeCamp interviewed all the famous Purdue quarterbacks, including Robert DeMoss. Other persons that DeCamp said he enjoyed interviewing were: Gill Dodds, the first great miler in the country; Mr. J. C. Penney at the age of 88 or 89; and Tommy Dorsey and Frank Sinatra at a Purdue mixer. “Dorsey was disturbed to discover that his band was being broadcast by such a ‘teapot radio station,'” said DeCamp.
John DeCamp’s other contributions were related to his broadcasting interests. He supported athletic activities and educational opportunities. As a student of Purdue University, he supported athletic activities as a member of the Reamer Club, an organization which raised money to tutor athletes. He also served as a faculty adviser from 1970-1975 for this organization. In 1975, he became the faculty adviser of the Gimlet Club, a fraternity organization which supported team spirit. He was a member of the Coaches’ Club and the John Purdue Club, which involved coordinating activities to raise money to support Purdue athletics. In addition to all of these activities, he became Purdue University’s athletic publicity and promotional director in 1975. He prepared numerous programs, television spots, and summer camps for young athletes. George King, who hired John DeCamp, said, “I knew he knew the business, and I knew his high integrity. I knew he would be an asset to the athletic department.”
DeCamp’s support of educational opportunities was proven by his efforts to save Purdue University’s radio station WBAA, a unique station which broadcast educational programs for children and adults and later increased course offerings for college credit. From 1950-1960, he was a member of the Optimist Club, an international service organization which raised money for civic needs and international scholarship. He was also a member of the Board of Directors of the Rotary Club until 1969, and later he served on the club’s publicity and international student exchange committees. He announced and helped university students organize the Purdue Grand Prix Go Cart Races, an activity which raised money for scholarships.
He was a member of the Faculty Fellows: Owen Hall Organization, which involved taking the time to be present to students and parents of Purdue University by planning social events and helping students who needed a home away from home during vacations. In addition to DeCamp’s organizational support, he was known for taking students into his own home and offering them his personal support.