Cronkite helped WRAL in saving N.C. sounds

Posted July 23, 2009 4:09 p.m. EDT
Updated July 23, 2009 7:18 p.m. EDT

— New residents of North Carolina might not know about the influence legendary CBS anchor Walter Cronkite had here. In 1989, he helped WRAL News launch an environmental awareness campaign about development threatening the state's sounds.

WRAL News anchor Bill Leslie joined Cronkite on a day trip from New York that spring to drum up support for the "Save Our Sounds" campaign.

Sky5 pilot Steve Wiley took them on a tour of Onslow County. Cronkite was appalled by the dense coastal development he saw.

"This has got to be considered nothing but a tragedy, a major tragedy," Cronkite said.

Later, Cronkite met with local fishermen fighting a losing battle with pollution. He talked to them at an oyster roast about the "Save Our Sounds" campaign.

"Writing a letter to your congressman doesn't hurt a darn bit. They may not read them, but they count them," he said.

After an informal lunch, Cronkite recorded public-service announcements for WRAL and then flew to Raleigh, where he delivered a hard-hitting speech at North Carolina State University.

"To put it bluntly, your shoreline now is a disaster zone," he said.

The CBS icon also showed a lighter side that day. He poked fun at then-President George H.W. Bush for sending him a flattering handwritten note. He also impressed locals with his knowledge of Topsail Island.

"Matter of fact, this was called 'Topsail,' because the pirates came back into the opening of Topsail and hid behind the marsh grass," he said. "It was so high, all they had to do was cover the topsails, and they couldn't be seen from the ocean."

Cronkite had a boat built at nearby Wrightsville Beach. He made friends along the coast and visited there often, saying that he could feel like a regular guy there.