Longtime TV personality Charley Johnson to head F-M Convention and Visitors BureauWDAZ anchor Charley Johnson is quitting the TV news business to join the tourism business. The Fargo-Moorhead Convention and Visitors Bureau announced that its board had picked him as its new president Friday. His last day at WDAZ in Grand Forks will be May 31. He’ll start his new job in late June.
By: Marino Eccher, Forum Communications
FARGO — WDAZ anchor Charley Johnson is quitting the TV news business to join the tourism business.
The Fargo-Moorhead Convention and Visitors Bureau announced that its board had picked him as its new president Friday. His last day at WDAZ in Grand Forks will be May 31. He’ll start his new job in late June.
The 61-year-old is the third person to lead the organization, which was founded in 1981.
Johnson said he was honored and surprised to come out on top a process that included about 100 candidates.
“The first person who contacted me as a recruiter said, ‘You know, you don’t really quite fit the mold,’ “ he said.
He thought that meant he was out. Instead, Johnson kept moving forward, articulating a vision for a charming, welcoming region on the upswing.
“Very few people leave here with a bad impression, and that’s why they keep coming back,” he said.
A funny anchor
WDAZ News Director Chris “Reggie” Regimbal said Johnson brought a lot to the newsroom, including a sense of humor that helped cut the tension of tight deadlines.
“He is a prankster, master story teller,” Regimbal said. “And He’s hip enough with our young staff that he’s always in on the joke. That’s a pretty good measure of a guy who gets it.”
And Johnson brought a lot of experience that the young staff benefitted from, Regimbal said.
A Concordia College graduate, Johnson has been in broadcasting since 1972, when he got his start at KNOX radio in Grand Forks. He spent a dozen years as general manger of KVLY and KXJB television covering Fargo and Valley City, and started anchoring at WDAZ 18 months ago.
WDAZ will cast a wide net for a replacement anchor, and Regimbal said he’s received several phone calls as of Friday afternoon, including one from former News Director Cassie Walder, who gave him a half dozen recommendations for who to hire.
“Charley Johnsons don’t grow on trees,” Regimbal said. “That might be a once in a lifetime deal to get somebody of his caliber here.”
The last time the Fargo-Moorhead CVB picked a president, it picked Cole Carley, a part-time weatherman who stuck around for more than 20 years.
Carley — who spent 18 years at WDAY-TV himself in sales and advertising — said Johnson’s management skills and ability to communicate will serve him well.
“He’s smart, he’s articulate, and enthusiastic,” Carley said. “I’ve got a lot of confidence in him.”
Johnson acknowledged he has a lot to learn from the existing CVB staff about the ins and outs of destination marketing, and the art of promoting a region.
“Cole sent me some emails yesterday,” he said. “One of them was 170 pages.”
Johnson, who now splits his time between Grand Forks and his home in Moorhead, joked his wife will have to get used to having him around the house more often. But his new job may put him on the road just as often: The CVB travels to about two dozen trade shows and a handful of other events across the nation each year.
The organization, which has a staff of 11 full-time employees and, also buys advertising, creates promotional materials for the region, and helps convince events and groups to come here. Its $1.4 million operating budget is funded by a tax on hotel rooms in Fargo and Moorhead.
Grand Forks Herald staff writer Tu-Uyen Tran contributed to this story.
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