“America’s Most Award-Winning Radio News Team”

Throwback Thursday: CBC History

“As a driving force in the community, we are a catalyst for positive change.”
– Excerpt from CBC Code of Ethics

In 1983, the news team at WRAL-101 FM won just about every award possible.  The words used to express the amazing amount of kudos almost exhausts every possible synonym available in Thesaurus:  “best,” “prestigious” “outstanding,” “First Place,” “consistent.” Take a moment to peruse the list of awards listed in the advertisement.

WRAL-FM News Team, 1983

WRAL-FM News Team, 1983 (click graphic for larger view of awards list)

How did this perfect storm of news gatherers turn into such a juggernaut of winners? First, they had to work as a team. What forms a team? A hard charging leader. Who was that hard charging leader in 1983? Bill Leslie.

It might be hard for many current CBC employees to look at Bill as a “hard charger.” We see Bill as a favorite son of North Carolina who – when he’s not anchoring – reports “feel good” stories akin to those by Charles Kuralt. He also performs his own lilting musical compositions that emotionally transport the listener to tranquil settings in Ireland and Scotland with visions of leprechauns bounding across the emerald green landscape! My goodness, Bill even posts cute pictures of his dog Rufus every other day on his Facebook page. If not Rufus, we see pictures of his delightful granddaughter. C’mon – hard charger?

In 1983, radio news was very competitive in our area. Once again, WRAL-FM was locked in competition against its old foe, WPTF radio. The fight was on. WRAL-FM’s fearless news leader was none other than “Braveheart” himself, Bill Leslie. Don’t mess with a young mustached man who has Scottish blood coursing through his veins!

Bill readily admits he was bold back in the day. He was passionate. He was fierce. He was relentless. Read on and find out, in Bill’s own words, what motivated him.

“Those were some heady and hard-driving days! Since childhood I have had an intense competitive fire and it burned blue for me in the 1980s at WRAL-FM and the NC News Network where I was the news director.  We had a great news team and we turned out some compelling documentaries.

After going on a work camp with my church in western NC and witnessing intense mountain poverty, I decided we should take a comprehensive look at poverty all across the state. “Five Faces of Poverty” emerged as the title. We spent several months exploring the lives of people living below the poverty line in North Carolina. We crafted 50 special reports and a one hour documentary.

We knew we had a powerful program and submitted the documentary in national award competitions.   We were thrilled when we won the Robert F. Kennedy Award. The six of us who worked on the poverty project traveled to Ethel Kennedy’s home in McLean, Virginia where each one of us was presented an engraved bronze bust of RFK during a special ceremony. That was in May of 1983.

Two days later we traveled to the Plaza Hotel in New York City to accept the first place Media Award for Economic Understanding and a check for $5000. The next month I traveled to Los Angeles to accept the National Distinguished Public Service Award, the top honor from the Society of Professional Journalists.

Our poverty documentary beat out all of the national networks and many major market stations for this award.   We were disappointed when the poverty program did not win a Peabody Award which is known as a “Pulitzer of Broadcasting.” However, the following year we did win a Peabody for a documentary series called “Victims.” It included a hard-hitting examination of racial discrimination in North Carolina.

The following year I moved from WRAL-FM to WRAL-TV as managing editor and eventually became the first environmental television reporter in the Southeast.  In 1992 a series of investigative pieces I did on water pollution won a second Peabody Award for the WRAL family. That was one of the happiest moments of my life – accepting the Peabody award from broadcasting hero David Brinkley at the Waldorf Astoria in New York City.

Before joining WRAL Radio, I worked for a top-notch news team at WKIX in Raleigh. Paul McGonigle and Scott White taught me how to write at “KIX.” They were both brilliant wordsmiths and fiery competitors and I carried that flame with me to Norfolk and Houston where I worked as radio news director for WTAR and KULF. After missing the trees of North Carolina, family in Morganton and my beloved UNC – I left Texas and accepted a job at WRAL-FM as news director in 1979. I’ve been in the CBC family ever since and it has been a great ride!”

Bill Leslie. He rallied his team of reporters and inspired them with spunk! Even in 1983, WRAL-FM was dedicated to the relentless pursuit of excellence…and achieved it!

Thanks to Corp’s Pam Allen for this capcom story. Pam Parris Allen is a former WRAL newscast producer/director who now works as a researcher and producer on the CBC History Project.

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