A Christmas Visit with “The Grand Old Man of Radio,” Joe Campbell
I'd heard that my old radio pal Joe Campbell was at an assisted living center in Oneonta, perhaps Hampshire House on Southside. So I drove over to see him. As I pulled up the driveway I was met by the Hampshire House van. Yup, this must be the place! That is Joe, microphone in hand, in the front window of the van!
I wandered down the halls of HH looking for Joe's room. The place was stunningly decorated for Christmas and holiday music was playing in the distance. I looked at the names on the doors of the residents. Many old friends and listeners of mine. Then, again...this must be the place. This is Joe's door.
Joe was not in his room however. "He's down in the dining room having lunch," a staff member volunteered after seeing me eyeing Joe's door.
The dining room at HH was full of residents, families and visitors. A large gaily decorated Christmas tree was front and center. I wondered if I could find Joe after not seeing him for some time. Not a problem. There he was, holding court at a back corner table with some friends. It was the old Joe I remember. He was loud, waving his hands above his head clearly in the midst of one of his famous stories. His tablemates were chuckling along at every line.
I approached the table and Joe immediately recognized me. He let out with his classic radio greeting that I remembered so well, "Ladies and Gentleman....it's Big Chuck."
Same old Joe.
We hugged, shared stories and memories and laughed like fools. I am sure his tablemates were wondering "who is this guy." Joe looked fit as a fiddle although he confesses to the nags of aging. "You know, Big Chuck, I am 88, but I feel like 98 some times," he laughed.
Joe has the mind of a person half his age. In fact he remembered the very first time we met. In minute detail. I'll share the story.
I came to Oneonta in the mid-1980s. One night my father was playing with a quartet in Oneonta at a place called Dailey's Irish Pub (I think). It was across form the Daily Star building on Chestnut Street. Nice, comfortable place. I went to hear Dad play. He was up on a little stage with three guys who, unknown to me, were music legends in Oneonta. Dad always considered it a treat to be asked to play here, coming up from his home in Sidney. It was Dad on stand-up bass, Jack Stahl on piano, Louie Colone on drums and Al Gallodoro on clarinet. Obviously, this place was swinging.
During a break, a man with a beard (I think they called it a Van Dyke) and a turtle neck sweater jumped up and took the microphone. I had no idea who he was but it was clear from the crowd reaction that he was a well known Oneonta celebrity. He proceeded to give the crowd a little bit of the history of the classic tunes they were hearing that night. He was positively encyclopedic.
After, he came and sat by me at the bar. The best random sit-down of my life. He said he was Joe Campbell and he was on the local radio station WDOS.
After two more hours Joe and I bonded mightily. As I helped Dad load up his bass into the car, Joe came over and said to me, "You have so much knowledge of music, Chuck. And you have a great personality. I want you to come and visit me at the radio station this Saturday during my show, "The Sentimental Journey."
I had never, never given radio a thought. So I visited. The rest is history.
I was hired by then owner Gordon Hastings in 1989 and I am still on the air some 26 years later.
Joe, of course, did his Sentimental Journey for 50 years. To beat that I will have to be on the air until I am 92. Not gonna happen. "Long live the King, Joe Campbell."
What a nice visit it was. It was so great to re-connect again with the man who was responsible for me having a career in radio. When it was time to leave I gave Joe a hug and told him I loved him. His hug back was sturdy and strong. "Please tell everybody in your audience I said Merry Christmas to them," he whispered.
As I wove my way through the tables on the way out of the dining hall a booming voice echoed from one end to the other.
"Ladies and Gentlemen, Big Chuck is now leaving the building!"
Same old Joe.