John Campbell: A Big Ol' Career

By Mike Hlas, Columnist

KCRG-TV9 Sports Director John Campbell is congratulated by anchor Bruce Aune after Campbell completes his last newscast at KCRG's studio in Cedar Rapids on Thursday, December 14, 2012. (Cliff Jette/The Gazette-KCRG TV9)

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By Grant Burkhardt

CEDAR RAPIDS, Iowa - This particular column could easily run way too long, and go down a dozen different roads and rivers.

It needs someone who can tighten it up without losing the heart of the matter, who can present it in a genuine way that people appreciate.

In other words, it needs John Campbell to edit this. Or better yet, tell the story himself. But since he never has been the type to brag on himself …

When someone is welcomed into tens of thousands homes night after night for 33 years and hasn’t even begun to wear out his welcome, there will be quite a void once he stops dropping by. Such it is in Eastern Iowa after tonight’s 6 p.m. KCRG-TV9 news, when John has anchored the sportscast for the final time.

People come and go in local television. But how many really leave footprints? How many set standards that are absorbed by co-workers and competitors alike? How many affect others’ thinking about what’s really important to the people they serve? John did, one broadcast at a time.

He came to KCRG-TV9 after working for nine years at a station in Green Bay where he covered the Packers. In American sportscasting, that’s a plum assignment, a chance to be a so-called Big Guy.

But he accepted the offer to come back to Iowa, the state in which he grew up in Oskaloosa. He must have known this was the right place for him.

Because this wasn’t a guy who would ever slickly package himself. This was someone who wanted to tell other peoples’ stories rather than be the story himself. This was someone who wanted to present those stories in a genuine and human way.

John wanted to see our area’s athletes and teams succeed, and brought home their achievements enthusiastically. But he hasn’t been afraid to ask tough questions in appropriate moments. However, he did so in a way that didn’t make subjects feel under personal attack. It’s called being a pro.

First and foremost, this man worked hard. Anyone who ever thought all John did was show up on a television set and read off a Teleprompter for three minutes wasn’t paying the slightest bit of attention.

He has been a strong reporter, and a photographer’s photographer. The hours and miles John put in to get that one extra snippet of footage or that one additional detail to a story would surely amaze you. The vast video hoarding he did over the years paid off time after time when he would dig up a clip from his archives to add something relevant to a story.

If you told him about something newsworthy five minutes before a broadcast, you weren’t a pest to him. It would find a way into his script, sometimes at the top of it.

We in the media sometimes forget what people care about most are other people. That means a state university’s star athlete, yes. But on KCRG’s sportscasts under John’s direction, it also has meant all kinds of adults and children in our midst with greatness of their own.

The outdoors was John’s television domain. He repeatedly took us fishing and hunting and canoeing. But more importantly, he let us spend private moments with interesting people in so many of Eastern Iowa’s most-beautiful and often-hidden locations. It made for good, fun, smart TV.

The “Big Ol’ Fish” segment John has aired for so many years is pure Iowa corn, but it resonates with viewers. Adults and tots proudly showing off their catches never gets old for some reason. How many people have had something to long remember with a smile after seeing themselves or their loved ones in that segment?

Well, let’s tighten this up and get to the heart of the matter. For 33 years, John Campbell has made local television better. He has made our area’s sports-coverage better. He has been respected, trusted and liked by a whole lot of you.

He talks of how lucky he is to have had his job. But the luckier ones were his employers, his co-workers, and his viewers.

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