Munson also broadcast 'Golden Era' at Vandy
Larry Munson
Larry Munson
Staff Writer
Posted Nov 21, 2011


University of Georgia fans nationwide are mourning the loss of legendary radio broadcaster Larry Munson, who passed away Sunday at age 89-- and that’s as it should be. Few people are more beloved in the Peach State than Munson, who called UGA football games for 42 seasons. But Georgia fans should be aware that their claim to the late Munson is not exclusive.

We Vanderbilt fans claim a piece of him as well.

Of course, Munson is best known today as Voice of the Bulldogs, and for his colorful descriptions of greats like Herschel Walker, Buck Belue, Lindsay Scott and Vince Dooley. But Munson’s exceptional 63-year broadcasting career included a 19-year stint in Nashville, during which he was the voice of Commodore football and basketball on WSM radio.

Nashvillians who are old enough to remember this iconic post-World War II era-- and most of them are over 60 now-- hold Munson in every bit as much esteem as Georgia fans do today, and are every bit as saddened.

Between 1947, when Munson moved from Wyoming to take a job with WKDA radio broadcasting minor league baseball games—and 1966, when he took a job as part of the Atlanta Braves broadcasting crew-- Munson did a little bit of everything in Nashville. He called hockey games for the old Nashville Dixie Flyers. He served as sports anchor on WSIX-TV. He is widely remembered by outdoorsmen for his hunting and fishing shows.

He called high school games for West High on Friday nights. He was even a music aficionado, and some will remember his love for big band music on his occasional gigs as a disc jockey.

But there is no way to underestimate Munson’s place in Commodore sports history. At a time when radio was everything-- it was a sports fan’s only way of following his team live, other than buying a ticket-- Munson’s unique ability to paint pictures with his game descriptions helped fans across the South see the games live in their mind’s eye.

Munson’s voice put Commodore sports on the map. It boomed across the South on clear channel WSM-AM 650 and became part of growing up Southern. Traveling along with local beat writers Waxo Green and John Bibb, he criss-crossed the South and called football and basketball games from Tuscaloosa, Oxford and Baton Rouge.

The Munson era coincided with what many today still consider the “Golden Age” of Vanderbilt basketball. It was not until the late 1940’s that Vanderbilt made a serious commitment to building a basketball program, by hiring a real coach (Bob Polk), extending athletic scholarships, and constructing a unique, world-class (for that day) gymnasium. In these days before professional sports in Nashville, Vanderbilt football and basketball were the only games in town. And Munson vividly brought it to life.

"I talked the guy that owned the radio station in Nashville into (broadcasting Vanderbilt) basketball," recalled Munson in a 2005 interview with DawgPost’s Dean Legge. “It was the only college in the town. He was all for it because he was an alumnus, and that’s what we did. We got lucky because they had never even had guys on scholarship. Right at that time they decided they would start to beef things up and they went out and got five scholarship players. Overnight Vanderbilt was trying to challenge Kentucky. The town went nuts.”

Munson called the first game ever played in Memorial Gymnasium in 1952. In those days before the balconies were constructed, Munson’s seat was on the front row in front of the student section. After one memorable last-second victory over Kentucky, the students literally rushed over the top of his shoulders as they stormed the court.

Vanderbilt basketball may never have been bigger than during the mid-1960’s, the era of Clyde Lee, John Ed Miller and Snake Grace. On a cold winter night in Nashville, there was no more exciting place to be than Memorial Gym. Fans who couldn't be there hung on Munson's every word.

One of Munson’s greatest calls was the 1965 NCAA Tournament game vs. Michigan, which remains the only time the Commodores have ever reached the Elite Eight.

The game was decided in the final minute by a controversial traveling call against John Ed Miller. “They’re blowing it!” growled Munson, simulcasting the game on radio and TV.

Vanderbilt football during Munson’s era was never quite as entertaining as basketball. In my one chance to meet Munson and chat with him (in the Vanderbilt pressbox in 2004), I asked him about his favorite all-time games from that era. He told me his favorites were the wins over Tennessee in 1954 and 1959, as well as a comeback road win over Penn State in 1957.

Almost all of the legendary southern football broadcasters are revered, but it’s safe to say that no one ever injected as much drama into a live broadcast as Munson. SEC fans live and die with their teams, and Munson had a unique way of translating the intensity of the contest into words—- and that’s putting it mildly.

It was a sad day for Nashvillians when Munson landed the Georgia football job. But Munson never outgrew his love for Nashville and maintained a home base there for many years afterward.

Munson’s death marks perhaps the last link to a dying era, that of the larger-than-life radio personality. Many play-by-play announcers today try to stay neutral—but that was never possible for Munson, who unabashedly pulled for the home team. For the final 42 years of his career, that team was Georgia. But for 19 glorious, fondly-remembered years, his heart was with the Black and Gold.

******

Every Commodore fan of a certain age has his/her favorite “Munson Memory.” I was born a little too late to experience the Golden Age at Vanderbilt and was just a child during the Clyde Lee days. But I’ve listened many times in more recent years to Munson’s UGA broadcasts on WSB, and I certainly have a favorite memory to share.

It was Labor Day weekend, 1980. I had just begun a new career, one that transplanted me from Nashville to Atlanta. I was 22, all alone in my empty apartment in the big city. I was homesick, lonely, without even a TV, and became desperate for any kind of entertainment on a Saturday night.

I turned on the radio, and suddenly a familiar voice came over WSB-AM 750 and filled the room on my stereo speakers. Georgia was playing its season opener in Knoxville. I had completely forgotten that Munson was the voice of the Dawgs, but hearing his captivating voice was like hearing the voice of an old friend. And even though I had no particular affinity for Georgia, I was always up for rooting for anyone who was playing Tennessee.

For three-and-a-half hours I sat transfixed by Munson’s resonant voice, as he called a game that turned out to be an SEC classic. Georgia fell behind by the score of 15-2, and the gloom in Munson’s voice highlighted the near-impossibility of a comeback for a Georgia team that was so “young” and “thin.” But in the third quarter I heard Munson say…

”Tennessee leading 15-2... the crowd roaring against Georgia trying to make them drop it so they can't hear... we hand it off to Herschel, there's a hole, 5, 10, 12… he's running over people! Oh, you Herschel Walker!” (Crowd roars) “My God almighty, he ran right through two men, Herschel ran right over two men! They had him dead away inside the 9. Herschel Walker went 16 yards, he drove right over those orange shirts, just driving and running with those big thighs. My God, a freshman!"

Later…

"Tennessee trying to hold on to a 6 point lead. Slot with an I, Tennessee crashing off one side, we pitch it to Herschel, gonna get him out... 10, 8, 7, 5, Herschel! Herschel Walker! ... Tennessee guessed the other side, we went to the short side and pitched it to that kid out of Johnson County, he got a block in front of him out around the 6 or 7, and got inside of it and went in the corner standing. Give the guy some rest."

Georgia won 16-15, and an SEC legend (Herschel Walker) was born. It would be several years before I saw video footage of Walker running over UT’s Bill Bates, one of the epochal moments in Georgia history. But that was OK. Thanks to Munson, I saw it in my mind that night, and that was somehow even better than being there.

******

Listen HERE to some of Munson’s all-time greatest calls.



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