Media Scene

Glenn Counts takes buyout at Ch. 36 after 28 years, recalls wild night at the Alamo

He arrived at WCNC (Channel 36) in June 1988 with all his earthly goods stuffed in the back of his Toyota Corolla. His favorite news story came shortly afterward.

Glenn Counts, who covered police and courts in Charlotte 28 years before taking a buyout Friday offered to senior staffers at the NBC affiliate, says it sounded like a good idea at the time.

He was assigned to spend the night at the old Alamo Plaza Motel at 2309 N. Tryon St., which opened in 1945 as Charlotte’s first park-by-your-room motel and was considered a public nuisance by the late 1980s.

“It was the most infamous dive in town,” says Counts. “Murders, robberies, assaults, shootings, prostitution, drug-dealing – if it was bad, it happened at the Alamo.”

Take a photographer and tell what it’s like to spend the night at the Alamo, Counts was told.

“I didn’t know any better – yeah, let’s go to the Alamo!”

Photographer Kevin Wardlaw, who is still at WCNC, hid a camera in a trash bag. Not very sophisticated undercover work, they would find.

A few minutes after checking in, they started to get calls from prostitutes. When they stepped outside, they were approached by drug dealers.

Then the denizens of the Alamo began to get suspicious of the new guests.

“A bunch of guys came out and basically surrounded me and Kevin,” Counts says.

“Things got tense. … one of the guys saw the camera hidden in the trash bag. He asked, ‘Are you with Channel 9?’ We said no, and he said, ‘Channel 3?’ Finally, he got to our station. Then they backed off and let us alone.”

By then, Counts and Wardlaw had enough video, enough audio and enough of the Alamo. They went home.

Tegna, which operates WCNC and 45 other television stations, made buyout offers recently to staffers over 55 with at least 15 years of service. Counts was one of a handful of workers at Channel 36 and the only on-air personality who took the offer.

Counts says it will give him some quality time with his 94-year-old mother, whom he takes care of.

“How often do you get a chance to sit back and figure out what you want to do with the rest of your life?” he says.

At age 59, Counts says he’s too young to retire and eventually will look for something else to do.

In terms of longevity, Counts is the fourth longest-serving TV reporter in Charlotte behind Jim Bradley who is in his 33rd year at WSOC (Channel 9), Mark Becker in his 32nd year at WSOC and Steve Crump in his 30th year at WBTV (Channel 3).

Counts is known for two things in Charlotte’s media world – his trademark hat and his deep sources in the city’s criminal justice system.

“You have to prove to people that they can trust you,” says Counts.

“I never burn a contact or a source. That doesn’t mean you won’t do stories they don’t agree with, but you try to do it right and with both sides. At the end of the day I try to see people as people and most of the time what they do is more important that I do.”