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Al Munn’s stunt got attention on Madison Avenue

By Mark Washburn
Mark Washburn
Mark Washburn writes television and radio commentary for The Charlotte Observer.

Al Munn, who died Sunday at age 86, had a long career in Charlotte broadcasting, but what I remember most about him was a stunt he pulled in the early 1960s.

Munn was working at WBT-AM (1110) in 1957 when he took a job at a new TV station in Charlotte – WSOC (Channel 9).

In its early years, Channel 9 was a struggling David against the Goliath called WBTV (Channel 3), which had dominated the airwaves since 1949, when it signed on as the 13th TV station in the country and the first in the Carolinas. It was often said that TV dials in Charlotte were rusted on Channel 3.

Munn was in sales at WSOC, which wasn’t an easy job. He was headed to New York to meet with national advertising representatives and talked station executives into letting Bill Currie, the station’s sports director, go along to exert his considerable charms on the high priests of Madison Avenue.

Munn told me the story after Currie’s death in 2008:

“We went down to the funeral home and talked them into letting Bill lie down in a casket and took a picture of it. Then we put it on a luncheon invitation that said, ‘We're dying to meet you.’ 

That got the attention of the New York crowd, and Munn and Currie drew a good crowd. Currie later had the picture blown up and hung it on his wall.

After 17 years at Channel 9, Munn bought WIST-AM in Charlotte and ran it for five years, selling it in 1980.

Munn later launched a satellite video conferencing business and became an independent producer. He loved beach music and did a documentary called “Shaggin’ on the Strand,” which has aired repeatedly over the years.

Munn had a salesman’s bonhomie about him to the end. A memorial service will be 2 p.m. Saturday at Myers Park United Methodist Church.

Media Movers

WCNC’s (Channel 36) Rad Berky lands the scoop of the month: He was the only reporter at the federal courthouse when Patrick Cannon emerged after processing on corruption charges Wednesday. … WBTV (Channel 3) anchor Molly Grantham announced during Monday’s late newscast that she’s expecting her second child, due in October. …

Former WBT-AM (1110) morning anchor Al Gardner shakes off retirement and joins WZGV-AM (ESPN 730) as vice president of programming. He will also assume programming duties for sister station WZGM-AM (1350) in Black Mountain. Gardner says he was just happy to sleep in each day until 8:30 a.m., but liked the station’s community-oriented approach after partnering with general manager Lanny Ford on “The Bottom Line” show beginning in December. Also joining the station’s team in promotions is Rich Lange, formerly of WBT and the old “Magic FM.” …

Anniversary of note: Mark Becker marks 30 years at WSOC (Channel 9), but that doesn’t make him the most senior reporter in the newsroom. Jim Bradley started there a year earlier. … Johnson C. Smith University freshman Ashley Booth will be on “The Queen Latifah Show,” 3 p.m. Monday on Bounce TV. A biology major from Irvington, N.J., Booth was selected for a $30,000 scholarship in connection with the United Negro College Fund. …

Bobby Brantley from truTV’s “Lizard Lick Towing” will sign autographs 10 a.m.-4 p.m. Saturday at Wholesale Direct Auto Sales, 144 W. Plaza Drive, Mooresville. … Charlotte native and comedian Jim Rash returns with a new season of the behind-the-scenes series “The Writers’ Room” 9 p.m. April 18 on Sundance Channel in an episode focusing on the ABC series “Scandal.”

Washburn: 704-358-5007
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