The Digital Age: CBC Once Again Leads the Quest for Technology
WRAL-TV’s first tower stood 1,100 feet tall, the tallest tower east of the Mississippi at the time of its completion in 1956. That tall tower brought the station in contact with the almost two million North Carolinians, but the Capitol Broadcasting Company technological story didn’t end there. That was just the beginning.
A.J. Fletcher taught his progeny to embrace the unknown—especially when it came to new technology. These new endeavors almost always put CBC and its divisions on the leading edge in their fields. Often the technology they explored, and still explore, was so new that their equipment was not compatible with others. In fact, the technology at CBC often was so far ahead of the pack that employees helped write instruction manuals for the new products companies had to create to accommodate their latest innovations.
Through the years WRAL-TV managed many firsts, with one of the early innovations being the first local television station to hire a team of professional meteorologists. Operating from the WRAL-TV Weather Center, this team continues to utilize the latest technology highlighted by two state-of-the-art Doppler radars to serve and protect viewers throughout the station’s 22-county viewing area.
In 1979 WRAL-TV became the first TV station in North Carolina to dedicate a fulltime helicopter to its newsgathering efforts. The station purchased a microwave-equipped Hughes 500-D model dubbed Sky 5, which was later replaced by the current Sky 5—a Bell 407 outfitted with five separate cameras, control functionality and editing capabilities. It is a high-definition TV station in the sky!
There were many other firsts for CBC: in 1984, WRAL became the first TV station in the state to use a KU-band transportable uplink vehicle. Dubbed LiveStar 5, the satellite newsgathering vehicle allowed the station to beam live reports back from anywhere in North America.
In 1996, WRAL launched one of the first local TV websites in the nation. WRAL.com quickly became an industry leader and in 2009, CBC’s flagship new media platform was honored with the prestigious Edward R. Murrow award as the best television website in the nation. WRAL.com surpassed one billion page views in 2010 and maintains one of the highest market penetration rates among all media sites in the country, reaching more than half of the market’s adults at least once a month.
As time passed, CBC found yet another arena in which to break ground, the digital spectrum. WRAL-TV obtained the first experimental HDTV (high-definition television) license in June of 1996 and became the first commercial television station in the nation to broadcast a HDTV signal a little over one month later. CBC also conducted extensive testing with the digital signal, using prototype equipment and helping write the manuals for broadcasting tools and antennae.
By 1998, WRAL was experimenting with HD production. On October 28, 1998, WRAL produced the first live news event in HD—John Glenn’s historic return to space. The station followed that up a year later with the nation’s first all-HD documentary—“The Cape Light.”
By 2000, WRAL-TV was ready to present its newscast in high-definition, broadcasting the entire 5pm news in HD from the NC State Fairgrounds on Friday, October 13. Then on January 28, 2001, WRAL-TV converted to an all-digital news operation during the late night newscast. This made it the world’s first news operation to gather and present high-definition local news on a continuous basis.
In addition to high definition programming, CBC found other innovative uses for the expanded bandwidth of the digital spectrum. WRAL-TV multi-cast all 64 NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament games in 2000. Sister station WRAZ-TV/FOX 50 began broadcasting Durham Bulls home baseball games on its digital channel as well. And WRAL-TV used its digital channel capacity to launch a 24-hour local news channel, the WRAL News Channel, and a local weather channel, the WRAL Weather Center Channel.
In 1999 CBC created a division called DTV Plus to experiment with data broadcasting in the digital signal. This company began sending the internet over the air in a digital stream broadcast from the station’s tower.
During this digital transition, CBC brought leading edge technology to its other stations, including radio. WRAL-FM became the first licensed commercial radio station on the east coast to broadcast in HD Radio on December 20, 2002. Echoing the early frustrations of FM radio–when WRAL-FM began its HD transmissions, cars were not yet equipped with digital radios. That technology did not hit the market until early 2004. Once again, CBC was well ahead of the technological curve.
In 2008, CBC began experimenting with mobile applications of digital television. WRAL-TV and CBC New Media Group sponsored North Carolina’s first field test of mobile digital television technology in the Raleigh-Durham television market in July. The tests demonstrated the new MPH™ system, which allows local broadcasters to deliver digital television to mobile devices including cell phones, laptops and personal media players. The system allows users to watch broadcast programs on the go—even when traveling in fast-moving vehicles.
In April 2009 mobile digital television broadcasting joined forces with public transit as Raleigh, WRAL and the CBC New Media Group launched the first public deployment of mobile digital TV in a Capital Area Transit bus. The venture delivers real-time digital television and interactive data to CAT buses.
On June 12, 2009, WRAL and the other CBC television stations took part in the biggest change in broadcasting since the advent of color TV. CBC television stations joined others across the country in turning off their analog signals, completing the official nationwide conversion to digital television.
CBC continued to innovate. WRAL-TV became the first commercial station to demonstrate the benefits of the proposed Mobile Emergency Alert System (M-EAS) in September 2012. The new emergency technology can easily transmit video, audio, photos, maps and text information to millions of people using mobile devices.
CBC continues to forge new territory with mobile apps, including a Weather Alert app that allows viewers to receive verbal and text alerts specific to their area.
And most recently, CBC merged television, radio and mobile platforms to produce an historic documentary event in September 2013. “College $ports: #missionormoney,” locally produced by WRAL’s documentary team, got a global discussion started via social media. As the documentary aired live on WRAL-TV, viewers tweeted, posted on Facebook and joined the conversation on WRAL.com. Then the discussion continued on CBC Sports Radio after the program. Staffers from WRAL-TV, CBC Sports Radio and CBC New Media worked together on the first-of-its-kind social media event.
CBC continues to forge ahead as a worldwide leader in technology–serving our viewers in new and informative ways and striving to keep local broadcasting a cornerstone of news delivery.