While the Capitol Broadcasting CBS affiliate in North Carolina has a long history of technological firsts, it’s continuing to look ahead, specifically to the promise of mobile. And it’s also getting creative in its sales strategy as it attempts to weather the current economic storm. This is the third installment of TVNewsCheck Contributing Editor Price Colman’s Eastern road trip discovering how the economy and the fundamental changes in the media business are affecting four stations outside the top 25 markets.
Welcome to Part III of TVNewsCheck Contributing Editor Price Colman’s DMA Tour 2009, a rolling trek through four broadcast TV markets in the Eastern U.S. to discover what stations are doing to deal with tough economic times. In the first two installments last week, Colman visited WWNY Watertown, N.Y. (DMA 177) and WHP Harrisburg, Pa. (DMA 39). Today, he checks in with WRAL Raleigh, N.C. (DMA 26). Tomorrow, the tour comes to an end at WVLT Knoxville, Tenn. (DMA 59).
WRAL: STILL ON THE CUTTING EDGE
Steve Hammel, general manager of WRAL Raleigh, N.C., is sitting at his desk, jotting down notes before lunch, when what looks like a red-tailed hawk erupts from shrubbery just outside and flies through dappled sunlight into the nearby woods.
Expansive windows blur the barrier between outdoors and office. For an instant, it seems like the raptor might have been hiding somewhere in the technological thicket in the office: a desktop PC, large HD flat screen, half a dozen conventional monitors and assorted record/replay equipment.
WRAL’s famed azalea gardens, situated on a peaceful, park-like campus, have been part of the station’s persona since it went on-air in 1956. Amid the relentless 24/7 hum of activity inside, they’re a calming influence, which may have been what the late founder A.J. Fletcher had in mind.
“The public is invited to come and enjoy the gardens,” Hammel says. “It’s sort of a throwback to another period of time when broadcasters really cared about the community … and worked hard to inform that community.”
While time and economics have turned the family-owned station — once a cornerstone of broadcasting in the United States — into an endangered species, WRAL is evidence that well-run, dynasties can thrive.
Today, Fletcher’s grandson, James Goodmon, now heads Capitol Broadcasting Corp. and his sons head divisions. In addition to flagship WRAL, Capitol owns the Fox affiliate in Raleigh, WRAZ; a CW/MNT duopoly in Charlotte, N.C., WJZY/WMYT; the low-power CBS affiliate in Wilmington, N.C., WILM-LP; and radio stations in Raleigh and Wilmington.
Through four generations, WRAL has notched more firsts than Michael Phelps. Among them: First on the East Coast to use a satellite truck to relay live coverage of a news event; first in the state and among the first in the nation to purchase a helicopter for news gathering; first commercial station to broadcast in HDTV; first in the world with an HD newscast; and first in the area to launch a station Web site.