My, how Raleigh and WRAL have changed

Posted October 2, 2012 11:59 a.m. EDT

If you ever have an afternoon with no particular place to go and no particular thing to do, I have an idea – especially for that inner historian in many of you. Visit the NC Archives and History library in downtown Raleigh. Ask for a microfilm newspaper reel, pick a month and year from your childhood. You will experience an incredible rush of memories that you didn't even know you had.

I chose The Raleigh Times, because I was one of their paperboys in 1969 til about 1972. I picked the year 1968, a pivotal year in the history of the country and Raleigh definitely experienced the ripples of that year's changes. I was 9 years old, in the 4th grade at Myrtle Underwood Elementary. Raleigh was a much different city than it is today. In fact, every business, including WRAL TV, was quite different. Here's what hit me with just one article from January 25, 1968.

'Raleighites Tell Greatest Needs'

My first reaction is to the article's title: I don't think the term "Raleighites" ever really caught on. What are we really? "Raleigh-ers" – "Raleigh-atians". The name doesn't lend itself well to suffixes. I think we should all call ourselves "Sir Walters" – or just “Walters."

Whatever we called ourselves, the Jaycees released the results of a survey in 1968 that showed folks in Raleigh were typical of the '60's generation; restless. We wanted more big city amenities. The highest percentage of responses focused on more parks and recreation facilities followed by libraries.

In the '60s, Olivia Raney Library in downtown Raleigh was one of only a handful of public libraries in the county at the time. On the Andy Griffith Show, Opie had a school project that required a trip to Raleigh to do research at the "Raleigh Library." The characters could only have been headed for the Olivia Raney branch right across the street from the Capitol building. You knew it was a big city library because Andy and Opie both came dressed in their Sunday best.

The sitcom made Raleigh sound like New York City. Every character from Raleigh fit into one of these categories; rich and spoiled, snobby, con artists, dismissive of small town people, rude and disrespectful. Mayberry was the anti-Raleigh. Sure, they had goofballs – but they were friendly, neighborly, honest and polite to a fault.

On the series, a few "Walters" got lost in Mayberry only to get arrested for side-swiping a farmer's produce truck (that was Bill Bixby, later to become "The Hulk") - or other city slickers in sports cars who threatened to call their daddy or lawyer in Raleigh to snuff out Andy's reign as Sheriff.

Yes, Raleigh was outgrowing its britches in the late '60's, but the real big city types from the north arrived here and discovered that certain pockets of the city were just like the charming TV town. We were one of those families. Just like Opie, I had free-roaming privileges on my bike. With new friends like Dan Sapp (son of the Reverend Bruce Daniel Sapp of downtown's episcopal Christ Church) we often cycled over to Five Points. It still resembles the mythical Mayberry shopping district. Our favorite hangout was Johnson's Pharmacy which included a lunch counter with sundaes and milkshakes on the menu.

Early city planners made sure a few of these mini-shopping districts were planted just outside the downtown boundary. North Person Street had several shops, a grocery store, gas station and Person Street Pharmacy with its own lunch counter. It also had something downtown didn't have; fresh, hot glazed doughnuts at Krispy Kreme.

Five Points offered the original Colony movie theater, later to be named the "Rialto." The new Cardinal Theater at North Hills and the older Village Theater at Cameron Village competed with downtown's Ambassador for the most popular movies.

Back to the Jaycees' survey; it showed Raleigh-tiers (still experimenting with new names here) were still a religious folk. Seventy percent didn't think retail stores should be selling their wares on Sundays. However, 49 percent thought "public sale of alcohol should be allowed."

Pollsters also asked Raleigh-ian-ite-ers about their desire for more media – radio, TV and newspapers. The sentiment leaned to more of all. Little did they know what was coming in just a few years at places like WRAL. New technology would soon revolutionize the medium.

WRAL TV was just 12 years old and operating the way TV news rooms had been since the start of television. I have a distinct memory of WRAL's animated opening to its "Dateline" news cast at 6pm. I've never seen it in any of our station's archive collection, so I re-created it from memory.

In the '60s, reporter/photographer crews shot news footage on film. They surrendered valuable time in the news cycle waiting for the film to be developed. Then they had to physically cut and splice celluloid clips and synchronize it with the audio track. Most of the half hour 6 o'clock newscast, with Sam Beard at the anchor desk, involved "copy" stories – simply reading information to the camera.

The newscast included many still photos of an event or of a new city building rather than film. The anchor read many stories accompanied by film. Many stories were about meetings or ribbon-cutting ceremonies. There might be two stories "packaged" by reporters, but they were so complicated to produce on the air that only about two or three of them were enough for the half hour.

Imagine making all this work smoothly on live TV. First, one reel of film called the A-roll contained the sound-bites from interviews and a reporter doing a "standup" bridge or close where they appear on camera looking very smart and authoritative. They loaded another reel called B-roll on a second projector. The reporter might record three separate audio tracks, narrating the story. They recorded these tracks on audio cartridges, or “carts” was the jargon we used. The audio operator loaded them into a machine. The technical director gave the order for the film operator to simultaneously roll the two film chains (called a simul-roll) and, following the reporter's script instructions; he switched at just the right moment from A-roll to B-roll. He cued the audio operator to roll the right voice track just as the B-roll appeared. Needless to say, it was time consuming. That’s why reporters had to keep their stories as simple as possible. In just a few years, portable video cameras and video editing machines would begin to change the entire art of storytelling.

Today we have the answers to the 1968 survey of "Sir Walters." They would get their wishes – more entertainment options, an abundance of libraries, parks and recreational facilities and more shopping options. As for more media, compared to 1968 – now it's like we're drinking water from a fire hose. We’ve got countless channels to choose from and the TV clicker keeps us jumping from show to show to avoid commercials. I’m thankful to be a part of this unique TV station which is still committed to provide the best local news coverage and with the best community service philosophy of any local station in the country.

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