WRAL TV

History of WRAL Digital

Posted May 9, 1996
Updated July 14

WRAL Digital is on the cutting edge of television's future. From our start as the nation's first high-definition television station to our groundbreaking HD coverage of news, entertainment and sporting events, WRAL Digital continues to make history.

1996—Breakthrough Beginnings

On May 9, 1996, WRAL-TV filed the first application in the nation for a license to operate a high-definition television station. On June 19, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) granted WRAL-TV the first experimental HDTV license in the country. The new station, WRAL-HD, operated on channel 32 at 100 kilowatts with an antenna 1,750 feet above the ground.

Thirty-four days later, on July 23, 1996, WRAL transmitted the first digital signal. It culminated 20 years of dreaming and planning by broadcasters around the world. It took an army of engineers and equipment experts those 34 days to get to transmission capability.

In order to make the deadline, everyone worked almost around the clock, doing in 34 days what normally should have taken eight to 10 weeks to accomplish: installing a brand new Harris HD transmitter.

Television history was made as WRAL shared the first public demonstrations of the new high-definition technology in the nation. Over 200 members of the media and the television industry watched their first HDTV show at the WRAL studios. The demonstration was a joint exhibit by WRAL and the HD Model Station in Washington, DC.

On July 24, the FCC granted an extension of the experimental license to continue operations and testing of the HDTV signal. For these experiments, WRAL-HD was operating at 100 kilowatts of effective radiated power from an antenna that was placed at 1,736 feet on WRAL-TV's main tower near Garner, N.C.

1997—Summer Of Signal Tests

In May and June 1997, WRAL-HD engineers drove a specially quipped van all around the Raleigh area, measuring the strength and quality of the HDTV signal. Reception was successful 90 percent of the time at 65 miles. Picture reception increased to a 95 percent success rate at 55 miles. FCC staff members were especially pleased with the results of the tests and additional test plans.

On Sep. 6, WRAL became the first commercial station in the nation to complete a live HD satellite feed of an Atlantic Coast Conference football game. The game was the first football game produced in HDTV. The signal was transmitted from the site to a K-2 satellite and then returned to the WRAL-HD transmitter, where it was broadcast live to monitors placed at Wallace Wade Stadium at Duke University in Durham, N.C.

1998—Goodmon Appointed To President's Committee

In 1998, Jim Goodmon, president and CEO of Capitol Broadcasting Company, Inc., was appointed to the President's Committee on Public Interest Obligations for Digital Broadcasters. The members of that committee were asked to make recommendations on what television broadcasters should be required to do in order to meet and address the needs and interests of the communities they serve.

On Oct. 28, WRAL broadcast the first live news event, bringing viewers across the nation a 70-minute broadcast of John Glenn's return to space.

In December, WRAL began construction of a new 1,989-foot-tall TV tower in Garner that would hold the antennae for WRAL and WRAZ, as well as other Triangle TV stations' digital operations.

1999—Goodmon Receives Digital Pioneer Award

On April 19, Broadcasting and Cable and Digital Television magazines presented Capitol Broadcasting President and CEO Jim Goodmon with one of three Digital Pioneer Awards. Goodmon was awarded this great honor for his leadership in bringing the nation's first digital station to the air and for the role models he and WRAL-HD had become in encouraging others in the broadcasting industry to tackle the HDTV challenge.

After airing the first live NFL game, the first prime-time series ("Chicago Hope") and two network movies ("The Bodyguard" and "The Shawshank Redemption") in HDTV, CBS shot the first news magazine program, "48 Hours" in high-definition. It aired on WRAL-HD at 10 p.m. on April 1.

On May 11, CBS announced it would begin high-definition, prime-time programming in September. Viewers watching WRAL-HD would see HD simulcasts of programs being seen on analog WRAL-TV, Channel 5.

In August, WRAL began data broadcasting, or datacasting, inserting Internet data into the digital television signal. Two years later, WRAL and DTV Plus began offering TotalCast, a free, datacast service. Viewers equipped with data-enabled digital receivers received a variety of content, including a smaller version of WRAL.com, video-on-demand clips of WRAL newscasts, games, short films and software.

HD-5, a mobile HD production truck, was unveiled in December . A joint venture between WRAL-HD, DTV Resources and HD VISION, Inc., HD-5 made history as it produced the first live college basketball game to be broadcast across the nation in HD.

2000—Multiple Channels = Happy NCAA Fans

March 16, was another historic day in the television industry. For the first time, viewers could watch any of the 63 games played during the NCAA basketball tournament on WRAL. (WRAL continues to provide all 63 games to its viewers every year).

While analog channel 5 ran the No. 1 game in each region, WRAL-HD broadcast four separate channels, each carrying a different game. That allowed digital viewers to switch among any four of the regional games being played at the same time.

WRAL's experimental station, WRAL-HD, channel 32, signed off the air after completion of the new TV tower, which had been completed during the winter. From the new tower, WRAL Digital began full-power operation on its new permanent home -- channel 53 -- on March 24.

In April, Raleigh's N.C. Museum of Natural Sciences opened with a bang, and much of the excitement was based in the new WRAL Digital Theater. The theater is the first high-definition system of its kind in North Carolina or in a museum.

The high-definition, large-format presentation, "Wilderness North Carolina," features North Carolina critters in action from birds to frogs to otters.

In July and August, WRAL Digital teamed up with Japan's NHK Television to provide the first-ever live gavel-to-gavel coverage of both the Republican and Democratic national conventions. Digital viewers were able to watch the conventions in full HDTV.

WRAL set another milestone on Oct. 13,, becoming the first TV station in the world to produce and air an all-HD newscast, including graphics, live shots, and news stories. The historic newscast was broadcast from a special stage at the North Carolina State Fair in Raleigh. The broadcast came just days after WRAL announced it was purchasing equipment from Panasonic to allow the station to gather all of its news stories in the 1080i format.

2001—All-HD Newscasts; NewsChannel Debuts

In 2001, WRAL began broadcasting all of its newscasts in HD. WRAL also introduced a 24-hour NewsChannel so viewers can get WRAL News, weather and sports anytime they want.

2003—Debut Of Weather Center Channel

In February, WRAL unveiled the Weather Center Channel to provide local weather information 24 hours a day. Viewers can watch the WRAL Weather Center's two-minute forecast "on the 5's" as well as view current conditions, satellite images, forecasts and the Doppler 5000 radar during a10-minute cycle. The Weather Center Channel is available over the air at 50.3 or on Time-Warner Digital Cable channel 252.

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