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Bill Leslie's Carolina Conversations

30 Years at WRAL

Posted June 11, 2009 10:24 a.m. EDT

I knew it was coming but somehow it caught me by surprise this morning. Today marks the 30 year anniversary of my employment at Capitol Broadcasting Company. Bill Jordan reminded me this morning during a radio chat at 6:55AM on WRAL’s Morning News. The last 30 years have flown by.

It’s been a fun run. My first five years at CBC were spent in radio. I was the news director of WRAL FM and the North Carolina News Network. We had an awesome news team and won dozens of major awards including a Peabody and a Robert F. Kennedy Award which earned us a trip to Ethel Kennedy’s house in McLean, Virginia. Our crew included Steve Shumake, Nancy Lyons, Mike Edwards, Donna Jones, Pamela Hart, Dave Collins, Ron Colbert, Jay Joiner, Tom Britt, Laura Glass, Eric Burch., Ralph Gordon, Kay Bowman, Mike Bonasso and Kathy Culpepper. I worked the morning drive shift with FBI, Famous Bob Inskeep, Zoot and Greg Fishel doing the weather. Those were some great days. Bob and I still get together for breakfast every month or so. He’s a Presbyterian minister in Raleigh.

John Greene hired me in 1984 as managing editor of the TV news department even though I didn’t have an ounce of training in television. I enjoyed the challenge but missed writing stories and delivering the news. So they found a spot for me anchoring the weekends with Sandra Bookman who now works in New York. WRAL also looked at me as a potential replacement for Charlie Gaddy but they felt I looked too young and green. My first beat was Tar Heel Traveler and The Spirit of Carolina. I crisscrossed the state looking for Charles Kuralt-type stories. Charles was my journalistic hero. I was fortunate enough to interview Charles less than a month before his death in 1997.

John Greene also put me on the environmental beat in 1988 and told me to be an aggressive investigative reporter. That was the most satisfying part of my broadcast career thus far. We broke all sorts of big stories on pollution and cover-ups. Several stories prompted corrective change in the NC Legislature. My reports on the Navy dumping garbage off the Carolina coast sent me to Washington to testify before Congress on two occasions. Congressional hearings led to new rules and regulations for Navy ships. We won another Peabody that year and the top public service award from the Society of Professional Journalists beating out all of the major networks.

Eventually I found my way into the morning news anchor chair sitting next to Renee McCoy who remains a dear friend today. Getting up early has never been a problem. I did it throughout my radio career. I enjoyed working with Renee and later with Laurie Clowers, Lynda Loveland, Valonda Calloway and Kelcey Carlson. Meteorologists I’ve worked with along the way include Greg, Mike Maze, Elizabeth Gardner, Mike Moss, Chris Thompson, Bill Schmidt, Dave Eichorn, Glen “Hurricane” Schwartz and Brian Orzell. Former UNC classmate and sports guru Bob Holliday and I also spent a lot of time together on the weekends in the WRAL newsroom.

Some of my favorite interviews include the first President Bush on a campaign train in the Charlotte area. I rattled off my hardest questions and he didn’t even flinch. I also interviewed former First Lady Barbara Bush in Houston. I interviewed Barack Obama three times via satellite during the 2008 presidential campaign. It was also a great honor to interview legendary evangelist Billy Graham at his home in Montreat.

The biggest changes I’ve seen in the broadcast news business include the growing importance of the internet. WRAL has one of the best news web sites in the country. I have also been amazed at the expansion of newscasts. We used to do 30 minutes in the mornings. We now do four hours of news on WRAL and Fox 50.

I am extremely proud of Capitol Broadcasting Company. President and CEO Jim Goodmon is a tremendous leader who has kept us on the cutting edge of technology the whole way. He has also taught me a lot about the value of community service. I don’t know anyone who gives more to the community than Jim Goodmon. He is a true hero.

I’d like to say I’ve got another 30 years in my tank but I think that would be a stretch.  I' m not a Mike Wallace or Andy Rooney.  But  I do love my work here and hope to continue for many more years to come.