Johnny Erp (1905-2000)

Curator's note: Click here to view a video file (48 seconds) of Johnny Erp in his role as Channel 5's news assignment editor early in 1963. Note the guy in the cardigan sitting next to him. That's young Les Crystal, who went on to become president of NBC News and who, since 1983, has served as executive producer of the various incarnations of PBS's "News Hour".

Right: Johnny Erp as pictured in a WMAQ radio promotional brochure dated March, 1957. At the time, Johnny was featured on a 4:30-4:35 p.m. weekday sportcast.

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 News Service.

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.

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