By Emmett Berg
ALAMEDA, Calif (Reuters) - An evangelical broadcaster whose end-of-the-world prophecy earlier this year stirred a global media frenzy has vanished from the public eye and airwaves ahead of his recalibrated doomsday date, set for Friday.
Days after the apocalypse he originally predicted for May 21 conspicuously failed to materialize, Harold Camping emerged from a brief seclusion to say he had merely miscalculated by five months, and he pronounced a new Judgment Day, October 21.
The following month, the now 90-year-old former civil engineer was said by his California-based Christian radio network to have suffered a stroke that left him hospitalized.
He has largely dropped out of sight since then, and his daily radio program, "Open Forum," broadcast on more than 60 U.S. stations, has been canceled.
Moreover, there is little evidence that swarms of believers who once fanned out in cities nationwide with placards advertising Camping's message -- some giving up life savings in anticipation of being swept into heaven -- were following a new doomsday countdown.
Gone, too, are the billboards posted around the country by Camping's Family Radio network declaring that Judgment Day was at hand.
Reached by telephone on Thursday, network spokesman Tom Evans declined to comment on Camping or his prophecies, except to say that he had "retired" as a radio host but remained chairman of the board of Family Stations Inc.
Camping himself had little else to say when he answered the door of his home in nearby Alameda, wearing a bathrobe and leaning on a walker.
"We're not having a conversation," he said, shaking his head with a chuckle. "There's nothing to report here."
Municipal records show that a Sunday prayer group led by Camping, the Alameda Bible Fellowship, has continued to meet on a weekly basis in a large ground-floor room of the Veterans Memorial Building leased by the city Recreation and Parks Department.
Marcia Tsang, a facilities coordinator for the department, said receipts show Camping's group has been renting that space since at least 1996, paying the standard fee of $45 an hour. The room remains assigned to his fellowship under an evergreen reservation that extends beyond this week, she said.
Local American Legion officer Ron Parshall, 70, part of a veterans group that meets at the same building in an adjacent room one Sunday a month, said he sees Camping leading his Bible services there regularly.
He said the number of Camping's followers at the prayer meetings seems to have dwindled since the failed May 21 prophecy -- down to about 25 congregants on a typical Sunday -- plus about 20 youngsters who attend Sunday school classes in conjunction with the prayer group.
Parshall said he saw Camping about a month ago, that he showed no outward signs of debilitation and "wasn't limping at all."
"He was a nice man," Parshall said, adding "He was just too radical for me. Anyone who claims to be that close to God, I take it with a grain of salt."
(Writing by Steve Gorman; Editing by Cynthia Johnston)