|Johnny Erp's southern
drawl (an artifact of his formative years in Louisiana and Arkansas) distinguished
him from the other NBC-Chicago on-air staffers whose "neutral" accents
were much prized by the network well into the 1950's.
As a sports reporter he covered many of the 20th century, including Babe Ruth,
Ty Cobb, Ted Williams, Yogi Berra, Babe Didrikson Zaharias and Cassius Clay (before
he became Muhammad Ali.
Small of stature, Johnny paid his dues in the manner of a classic journalist.
Before coming to NBC-Chicago in 1938, he worked for a series of small papers in
the South, eventually becoming the Little Rock, AK bureau chief of the International
Though sports was his strongest suit, he did a wide range of general assignment
and feature reporting for both WMAQ radio and the NBC network. In 1949 he made
a seamless transition to television, doubling as Channel 5's assignment editor.
Johnny never knew his birth parents. Born in New York City in 1905, he was first
cared for by nuns in a Catholic orphanage. As a toddler he rode one of the so-called
"orphan trains" south. John Erp, a riverboat engineer, and his wife
Clara of Morgan City, Louisiana became his adoptive parents.
Johnny spent his high school years in Eldorado, Arkansas with family friends.
He edited the school newspaper, then worked his way through the University of
Arkansas at Fayetteville where he majored in journalism. He served as editor of
the school's "Arkansas Traveler" in 1929 and 1930. He never stopped
writing, editing and broadcasting until he retired in 1970.
"It was something I could do," Johnny told Chicago Tribune writer Annie
Gowen in 1996. "I could talk and I could write, and it was an honest way
to make a living. It made me feel like I was important for a while, and what I
did was important."
Johnny Erp died in September, 2000 at the age of 95.