WRAL Tower Lighting brightens holiday season

Posted December 1, 2009 5:39 p.m. EST
Updated December 2, 2009 7:42 a.m. EST

The 50th annual WRAL Tower Lighting took place on Tuesday, Dec. 1, 2009.

— A holiday tradition a half a century old continued Tuesday night when WRAL's Kelcey Carlson and Bill Leslie flipped the switch to light up the station's 300-foot TV tower.

The tower at WRAL-TV Studios, 2619 Western Blvd., was first transformed into a lighted Christmas tree in 1960.

The tower lighting was the holiday vision of A.J. Fletcher, the founder of WRAL-TV's parent company, Capitol Broadcasting Co.

Each year, Fletcher went on the air and read "A Christmas Carol" to viewers before the tower was lit.

“I remember when we first started having to find people to climb the tower and they would screw in light bulbs, check the light bulbs,” said Jim Goodmon, president and CEO of Capitol Broadcasting Company.

“I remember one Christmas it rained and the lights shorted out."

The original tradition has been embellished with new ones, including musical performances, aerial video from Sky 5 and streaming video to the Web and mobile phones.

"I think everybody here looks forward to it. It's part of our tradition and traditions are important," Goodmon said.

A new tower was built and lit with thousands of new lights in 1998.

This year, the North Carolina Central University Marching Sound Machine band performed Christmas carols as viewers in the courtyard at at home waited for the big moment.

“The WRAL Tower Lighting is an annual tradition that we all look forward to,” said Leesa Moore Craigie, director of news operations and special projects. “It is our gift to the community and a wonderful way to start the holiday season. It is truly one of those feel-good TV moments of which I’m proud to be a part.”

More than 2,800 lights stay on the tower year-round but are only lighted during the holiday season.

Three 5-foot stars adorn the top of the tower, and the colored lights keep it glowing until New Year's Day.

In the history of both towers, engineers have not had to use their back-up switch to turn the lights on. It takes engineers up to three days to prepare for the lighting each year.

"We see ourselves as a part of eastern North Carolina's family and it's our Christmas greeting to all of our viewers," said former WRAL anchor Charlie Gaddy.

Check out's behind the scenes coverage of the tower lighting:

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