Raleigh, N.C. — When WRAL-TV flips the switch on its 52nd annual tower lighting Thursday night, the 300-foot tower becomes both a shining beacon and an early present.
"It's the station’s Christmas gift to the whole community," said former WRAL anchor Charlie Gaddy, who retired in 1994, following an award-winning, 24-year career.
As the tower at WRAL-TV studios, 2619 Western Blvd., is lit Thursday, temperatures will be sliding from the daytime highs in the mid-50s to an overnight low in the low 30s.
The best way to see the entire celebration is on TV. Tune on to WRAL News starting at 5 p.m.
Transforming the tower into a lighted Christmas tree started in 1960 as the the holiday vision of A.J. Fletcher, the founder of WRAL-TV's parent company, Capitol Broadcasting Company.
Each year, Fletcher went on the air and read "A Christmas Carol" to viewers before the tower was lit. The original tradition has been embellished with new ones, including musical performances, aerial video from Sky 5 and streaming video on WRAL.com.
Over the years, there have been some surprises. Scrooge paid a visit in 2005, and WRAL chief meteorologist Greg Fishel has played his tuba.
A new tower was built in 1998 and lit with thousands of new lights. Those lights must be inspected each year.
"When the lights come on, the little ones will start looking up and up and up," Gaddy said. "And, you know, they finally almost topple over to see the top of the tower, which has a star up there."
Gaddy says he often thinks about the students and nearby residents who can see the tower lit up every night through New Year’s Day.
"We really do celebrate Christmas here in a big way," he said.
In 1981, Gaddy introduced the tower lighting with the help of Sky 5.