From the WRAL archives

WRAL-TV can trace its history to 1939, when Capitol Broadcasting Company founder A.J. Fletcher and son Fred saw a television demonstration at the World’s Fair in New York City. Both were fascinated by the flickering pictures on the small oval screen, but TV at the time was still very much a novelty.

Fast forward to the early 1950s and post-war America; the sale of TV sets was beginning to boom and A.J. Fletcher was determined not to miss out on the potential of the exciting new medium. On October 17, 1953, Capitol Broadcasting Company formally applied for a license to operate a television station in Raleigh, North Carolina.

WRAL-TV went on the air December 15, 1956, as an NBC affiliate, but signed on with the up-and-coming ABC network in 1962. That relationship lasted until 1985, when the station became an affiliate of the CBS Television Network. WRAL partnered with CBS for 30 years, but on February 29, 2016, history came full circle and TV5 once again affiliated with the NBC television network.

Over the last four decades WRAL’s news operation has carried on that stellar tradition with market-leading ratings and national and regional awards. It also achieved an impressive list of “firsts” that cemented WRAL’s reputation as an industry leader: the first news operation in North Carolina with a fulltime helicopter (SKY 5 – 1979); first in North Carolina with a satellite uplink truck (LiveStar 5 – 1984); and first in the nation to produce a documentary in the new High Definition format (The Cape Light – 1999).

WRAL was a pioneer in the development of High Definition Television (HDTV). In 1996, WRAL was the first station in the U.S. to be granted an experimental license for HDTV. Later that year TV-5 became the first commercial station to broadcast an HDTV signal. In October 2000, WRAL was first to produce and air a complete newscast in HD, and in January 2001 the station was first to gather and produce all its news in HD.

All of WRAL’s pioneering technical work with High Definition helped set the stage for the biggest change in television since the introduction of color. On June 12, 2009, WRAL-TV joined stations across the country in turning off their analog signals, completing the official conversion to digital television (DTV). The technological conversion ended more than 50 years of analog transmissions on Channel 5 and ushered in the new age of digital television.

In 2015, the station began the process that would preserve 50 years of television history for the digital age – converting truckloads of videotape and film into a searchable file database.

Every so often, we will dip into that library for a look back at how far we have come.