|WRAL-TV Turns 50
Two Long-Term Employees Remember Humble Beginnings & Great Opportunities
A.J. Fletcher celebrates putting WRAL-TV on the air in 1956.
It all began 50 years ago today – December 15, 1956 – in what was basically a garage. CBC founder A.J. Fletcher flipped the switch to put WRAL-TV on the air for the first time. “Miracle on 34th Street” led off the line-up from the transmitter site and first studio in Auburn, NC, a fitting beginning for the little station that could.
CBC and WRAL-TV are known for news excellence and being pioneers in almost every area of television technology, but perhaps we are best known for our commitment to the community. It is that commitment and how it has changed the course of lives that is probably the most fitting way to commemorate the birthday of the Triangle’s news leader.
From Light Bulbs to Long Term
Today Paul Pope is CBC’s Vice President of Community Relations and the General Manager of the American Tobacco Campus, CBC’s latest project to transform downtown Durham. But in 1956, he lived on Nazareth Street in Raleigh, which abutted the property A.J. Fletcher bought on which to build WRAL-TV.
WRAL-TV built its station on Western Blvd in Raleigh.
Pope remembers watching the construction begin on WRAL-TV as a first grader. He was mad about the arrival of WRAL. Pope’s house backed up to the station property, and he had a treehouse in what is now the WRAL Gardens. They had to tear his treehouse down when construction began.
Pope’s fondest memory of WRAL-TV was when A.J. Fletcher hired him 39 years ago when Pope was still in high school. His first job at the station? Screwing light bulbs in the TV tower.
A. J. Fletcher
When Pope was a little boy, he and his friends always saw “Mr. A.J.” – as he was fondly known – driving down the street to WRAL in his big, black Cadillac. “He was a Southern gentleman,” said Pope. “He always tipped his hat. That was the prettiest car I’d ever seen.”
Fletcher would stop and talk to the boys saying, “When you grow up, come see me and I’ll give you job.” Pope took him at his word, making an appointment with Fletcher during his senior year of high school.
“My name is Paul Pope,” he told Fletcher, “and you told me when I grew up to come see you about a job.” That was 39 years ago, and Pope has worked at CBC ever since.
Paul Pope began his 39 year career at CBC by installing new Christmas light bulbs on the WRAL-TV tower.
During that initial meeting with Pope, Fletcher called Ray Reeve, the sports anchor and operations manager, to his office. He told Reeve, “See that boy sitting over there? I want you to give him a job.”
“I’m sorry we don’t have any jobs,” responded Reeve.
“See that boy sitting over there?” Fletcher said again. “I want you to give him a job.”
So Reeve put Pope to work replacing all the Christmas lights in the WRAL tower. He gave him a schematic, and Pope had to sort and order the colored lights and then install them.
Pope says he got the job he has today by screwing those light bulbs in right.
Tommie Bland celebrated 34 years at WRAL-TV at the Long Term Luncheon this year.
From Boy Scout to Master Control
WRAL-TV Broadcast Operator Tommie Bland got his first exposure to WRAL-TV in 1959.
Tommie Bland’s original Boy Scout Explorer Post card which started it all
“At that time, ‘Captain 5’ was a children’s program that aired daily, live at 5pm, on WRAL-TV,” Bland explained. “I begged my mother to bring me to see ‘Captain 5.’ I was 7 years old in the 2nd grade. At that time, I fell in love with broadcasting. I can remember watching the black & white studio cameras moving around in Studio A. When the red tally light came on, that camera was on the air. I watched myself on TV. My mother was watching from an observation booth that was on the second floor.”
Scottie Stephenson originated most of the jobs at WRAL-TV, from Human Resources to Secretary to Payroll.
The Longtime Legacy of a Lady
A.J. Fletcher formed Capitol Broadcasting in 1937 and then began the fight to win the first UHF television station in Raleigh in the early 1950s. He was the driving force behind the Triangle’s broadcasting powerhouse, but he had a team that was integral to his success. The cornerstone of the team was Scottie Stephenson. She joined WRAL-AM Radio in 1944 and was later part of the 4 person team that went to Washington, DC to petition FCC for WRAL-TV’s license. Stephenson worked for CBC for 58 years ended only by her death in 2002. She is still remembered by her marked parking space at the station, so that employees are constantly reminded of her legacy.
Scottie Stephenson inspired all of the employees she worked with at CBC.
When asked about his most meaningful WRAL memory over the years, WRAL-TV David Crabtree remembered Scottie:
“My best memory of the past 12 ½ years… Scottie Stephenson’s friendship… she took me under her wing shortly after I arrived…always seemed to know the pulse of the market and the company. There were days my phone would ring…and when I heard three specific words…”this is Scottie…” I knew to pay attention. Fortunately, her presence is till felt.”
Over the years, Bland found his way to WRAL-TV as often as he could. He attended the open houses WRAL had from time to time, getting a chance to see behind the scenes.
“I can remember going to the Video Tape Room to see the 2-Inch Video Tape Machines. They were huge!” he said. “One tape machine was the size of 2 refrigerators.”
He and his father also came to see “Mid Atlantic Championship Wrestling” which was taped in Studio A at the time.
“When my school class went to the library, I was checking out books on broadcasting. The toys that I had growing up were related to broadcasting. I had a tape recorder, shortwave radio, walkie-talkie, and a Citizen Band Radio Base Station,” Bland said.
Then Bland found a way to get involved at the station on a more regular basis. He had always been a Boy Scout, and met Powell Kidd, a local Scout Leader who was an Engineer at WRAL-TV. Bland was a senior at Enloe High School in 1969 when Kidd came to the school looking for students to join a new Boy Scout Explorer Post sponsored by WRAL-TV, Post 5. Bland became one of the first to sign up for the program, which still continues at WRAL-TV today.
Eventually Bland got a job at WRAL-TV, with Kidd’s recommendation, as a Projectionist.
One of the first WRAL-TV cameras captures the action in the studio.
“My job as a Projectionist was to show Programs & News Stories on 16mm Film,” he explained. “Projection at that time is where Video Tape is today. The Projectionist worked closely with the Master Control Operator. That’s when I knew that I wanted to be a MCO for WRAL-TV.”
To reach that goal, Bland also worked as an Audio Operator for WRAL-TV. He then left joined the Navy for four years, becoming a Radioman onboard a ship. He traveled the world, and when his tour was nearing its end, got a letter from Corporate Secretary Scottie Stephenson informing him that he was considered on military leave-of-absence from the station.
“When I came back home to Raleigh, I called Scottie,” he said. “She invited me back to WRAL. Scottie told me that my time in the Navy will be added to the 3 years that I already had. Therefore, this makes 34 years for me at WRAL. I returned to work as a Projectionist. There were many changes that had taken place and I tried to adapt to them.”
“Clarence Williams [now a Director/Producer at WRAL-TV] was in Master Control at that time,” Bland continued. “When he was promoted to Director, I was asked by the Chief Engineer at the time if I wanted to be in Master Control. … I said yes. I have been a Master Control Operator for 26 and ½ years. I hope that I have made a good one.”
Bland attributes his being able to fulfill his dreams because of Post 5 at WRAL-TV.
WRAL-TV is proud and privileged to have served the Triangle and the central N.C. viewing area for the past 50 years. And we look forward to many more years of carrying on the legacy of A.J. Fletcher, Scottie Stephenson, and the many others who have made the station what it is.