E. Harold “Hal” Munn Jr. was a broadcasting pioneer who helped launch cable television and consulted with 800 radio stations. He fought racist opposition and successfully persuaded the Federal Communications Commission to grant the first permit to an African-American-owned radio station, which was crucial to the rise of Motown music. He worked with evangelist Billy Graham to spread the gospel via the airwaves.
Some Free Methodists know Munn for his volunteer service within the Southern Michigan Conference and his decades on the boards of Spring Arbor University and Asbury Theological Seminary, but much of his work was behind the scenes.
Countless people have been positively affected by Munn’s efforts, but his name may not be familiar to thousands of people whose lives he improved. A Spring Arbor University colleague encouraged Daniel V. Runyon, a professor of English and communication who has authored or co-authored approximately 40 books, to write Munn’s biography. Then Runyon met Duke University professor and Graham biographer Grant Wacker on Jan. 31 of this year, and Wacker said he had never heard of Munn.
“The world never would have heard of Billy Graham if it weren’t for Harold Munn,” said Runyon, who asked Munn the next day to recall his Graham encounters as they traveled to a radiation treatment for Munn who was dying of pancreatic cancer. Runyon began interviewing Munn to learn his experiences and decided to turn Munn’s stories into a book. “Hal, working in the background, is an example of a lay leader with a passion for ministry.”
The memoir, “E. Harold Munn Jr. 1928-2016: Parting Thoughts,” covers approximately 10 percent of the stories Munn shared with Runyon in twice weekly interviews for a couple of months.
“The deadline was to have it ready to distribute at his funeral, and we didn’t know how long he would live,” Runyon said. “He died on April 26, and the book was out about a month before he died. He actually read it himself.”
The book includes Munn’s reflections on his childhood in the college towns of Greenville, Illinois, and Hillsdale, Michigan. Individual chapters discuss different experiences in his life, and one even tells a humorous story about Munn’s unexpected time as a passenger on an airplane with famous pianist and singer Liberace.
Another chapter details how Munn’s frequent travel led him to buy a plane and become a pilot. While flying Bishop W. Dale Cryderman and their wives to Oakdale Christian Academy’s commencement ceremony in Kentucky, Munn hinted that he may have forgotten to lower the landing gear.
“The next thing I heard was scraping on the runway of the bottom of the aircraft,” recalled Munn who added that Cryderman shouted for everyone to get out of the plane. “The urgency was because we didn’t know if there would be an explosion or something, but our wives were unaware that there was any problem.”
Munn’s wife, Ella, also contributed two chapters that provide more of a look at him as a father and husband.
How did Runyon find time to produce this book (and many other books) while teaching his Spring Arbor students (some of who helped copyedit the Munn book)?
“Writing is my default mode,” said Runyon, who edited Free Methodist World Mission People (now Pulse) magazine for 10 years. “It’s just what I do instead of watching television or playing golf.”
The book is available at fmchr.ch/hmunn in paperback and Kindle versions.1