It may seem surprising, but a pioneering opera company played an important role in the history of Capitol Broadcasting Company.
CBC founder A.J. Fletcher had a life-long love of opera that led him to start the Grass Roots Opera Company in 1948. Fletcher wanted to present opera in English to people who might not otherwise get a chance to experience it.
Beginning in 1950 the Grass Roots Company toured North Carolina and surrounding states to stage performances at schools, civic centers and auditoriums. Much of the focus was on rural schools, and during the company’s first half century more than 1.7 million school children heard opera—many for the first time.
The Grass Roots Company eventually evolved into the National Opera Company, but its overall mission never changed. The company gave aspiring singers a chance to practice their craft in front of audiences. Hundreds benefitted from the professional experience with the company and many more took advantage of the opera company’s educational outreach. In addition to programs in public schools, the company held master classes at local colleges and granted scholarships to talented music majors.
The National Opera Company was based in Raleigh with headquarters in a stately house on Hillsborough Street. A.J. Fletcher even built an auditorium for performances adjacent to WRAL-TV’s studio building on Western Boulevard. It was a state-of-the-art performance hall that was later converted into the WRAL –TV newsroom.
In 2001 the National Opera Company merged with the North Carolina School of the Arts graduate opera program to form the Fletcher Opera Institute. The institute carries on the mission that A.J. Fletcher started more than 60 years ago.
Work underway for constrcution of auditorium dedicated to opera performances. Photo taken June 18, 1965.
Elon College, located in Elon, North Carolina near Burlington, honored the legacy of Mr. A.J. Fletcher (1987- 1979) on the 100th anniversary on his birth. This video, produced in 1987, features Mr. Robert Anderson who was the assistant to the president of Elon College.
Anderson presents a biography of Fletcher with emphasis on the impact he had on the community of fine arts, specifically in regards to opera.
Included in this video presentation is David Witherspoon who worked at the Fletcher Foundation. Frank Fletcher, one of AJ’s three sons, shares memories of his father.
The video was viewed by an audience prior to a performance by the Elon College community orchestra.
*Elon College is now Elon University.
Construction begins on opera hall at WRAL-TV.
This vintage video is from the 1964-65 performance season of The National Opera Company. Patrick Lally performs “La Culunnia” from The Barber of Seville.
This vintage video is from the 1964-65 performance season of The National Opera Company. Enjoy listening to Perry Price sing “Granada.” “Granada” is a song written in 1932 by Mexican composer Agustín Lara. The song is about the Spanish city of Granada and has become a “standard” in music repertoire.
CBC divisions have supported the community in many ways, often through special projects that benefit a specific cause. This section of the archive contains a sample of those special projects.
The Children’s Miracle Network telethon began on WRAL-TV in 1993 as a way to raise money for medical research and treatment of children’s health issues.
The CMN organization was founded by the well-known Osmond family (Donny & Marie et al) and actor John Schneider, among others. The network is made up of 170 children’s hospitals across the country.
WRAL’s first telethon raised nearly a million dollars for patients undergoing treatment at Duke Children’s Hospital in Durham. In 1994 MIX-101.5 began its annual CMN “Radiothon” that has raised more than $15 million in the last two decades.
Deputy Five was a life-sized robot designed to teach school children about safety and good citizenship. It was donated by Capitol Broadcasting Company to the Wake County Sheriff’s Public Service Unit in 1986.
Riding the wave of robots portrayed in movies like Star Wars’ R2D2 and C3PO, the children would identify Deputy Five as one of the good guys. The robot served as a positive role model and reinforced the purpose and image of law enforcement officers as those who serve and protect the public.
Deputy Five was equipped with a VCR and television monitor for playing public service messages.
“Doctors on Call” was a WRAL-TV health outreach program that gave viewers the opportunity to get free, confidential medical advice from physicians and specialists with the NC Medical Society. The program began in 1989 and was produced annually until 2003.
The interactive program was broadcast over the course of a single day, with half hour specials and live cut-ins during WRAL newscasts giving viewers in-depth looks at a wide range of medical topics. “Doctors on Call” was hosted each year by WRAL Health Team physician Dr. Allen Mask.
Partners Auction was a unique blend of live telethon and auction that raised money for a local non-profit organization that matched disadvantaged youth in Wake County with caring adults.
The annual Partners Auction provided a high-energy, rapid-fire broadcast that enticed viewers to bid on items ranging from boats to blenders to a rotor blade from SKY 5. You name it; it was there. If you can imagine a blend of QVC and eBay with WRAL personalities coaxing viewers to call in a bid—that was the Partners Auction!
WRAL-TV converted the Kerr Scott building at the State Fairgrounds into a large studio for each year’s auction. A phone bank was staffed with volunteers to field the many bids from viewers. Members of WRAL’s on-air staff took turns “auctioning” the items and asking for donations.
The Partners organization received the bulk of its yearly operating funds from the auction. Local businesses graciously donated goods and services to be featured on the live televised auction.
WRAL-TV first began producing the Partners Auction in the late 1970’s when Fred Barber was the station’s General Manager. The auctions continued annually under the leadership of GM John Greene until the last broadcast in 1989.
Project Tanzania was an ongoing effort to help people in the East African nation of Tanzania overcome the effects of hunger, drought and poverty.
Capitol Broadcasting Company President Jim Goodmon was deeply moved by the suffering of many Africans affected by the massive drought in the early 1980s. So in 1985 he helped organize a fact-finding trip to locate an area whose citizens wanted assistance in becoming more self-sufficient. The rural Shinyanga Region was selected and “Project Tanzania” was born.
WRAL-TV produced an hour-long documentary that introduced North Carolinians to the situation and identified ways to help Tanzanians help themselves. Citizens responded with generosity and compassion, funding both a Reforestation Program and a Scholarship Program. Educational supplies, medical supplies and essential healthcare materials were donated by North Carolina school children; the supplies were sent directly to schools and clinics in the rural villages of the region.
Project Tanzania received national recognition, including The World Hunger Award, the National Education Association Award for the Advancement of Learning through Broadcasting, a Presidential Citation for Private Sector Initiatives and the International Understanding Award from the North Carolina Center for International Understanding.
“Save Our Sounds” was WRAL-TV’s award-winning environmental awareness campaign that focused attention on threats to the sounds and waterways along the coast of North Carolina.
This long-term station commitment utilized news reports, documentaries and public affairs programming to inform North Carolinians about the issues and show what they could do to ease stress on the state’s threatened sounds and rivers.
“Save Our Sounds” began in 1988 with a documentary hosted by WRAL-TV anchorman Charlie Gaddy. “Troubled Waters” gave viewers an in-depth look at coastal pollution and stresses on the state’s estuaries.
A second documentary – “Troubled Rivers” – investigated pollution sources along the once-pristine Neuse River. WRAL environmental reporter Bill Leslie hosted the program that ended up winning the national Sigma Delta Chi award for Distinguished Public Service.
Leslie later wrote and presented a series of investigative reports on hog farm pollution, Pfisteria, Navy dumping, and dioxin contamination threatening our waterways. That series and the overall “Save Our Sounds” campaign were honored with the prestigious George Foster Peabody Award for journalism in 1991.
The “Save Our Sounds” effort got help and support from an unexpected source. Retired CBS anchorman Walter Cronkite played an active role in the campaign, observing coastal development from WRAL’s SKY5, making speeches and recording public service announcements.
WRAL’s environmental initiative brought change and made a tangible difference in the state. The campaign led to new statewide legislation, procedural changes by business and government, and cleaner water for the citizens of North Carolina.
More than a half century ago WRAL-TV began an annual holiday tradition that–to this day—lights up the night skies of West Raleigh and brings excitement and wonder to children of all ages. Each December the station turns its 300-foot-tall transmitting tower into the biggest Christmas tree in North Carolina.
The tradition began in 1959 as the brainchild of CBC founder A.J. Fletcher. At his urging, station engineers scaled the tower and strung colored lights top to bottom. It took nearly 3,000 lights to complete the job, but the results were spectacular and a tradition was born.
Early each December the tower lights are turned on during a special program featuring carolers, musicians and a variety of festive entertainment. The lights shine throughout the month of December and always draw a crowd.
In the early ‘60s, traffic jams would form as cars filled with tower-gazers backed up along Western Boulevard. Even today, hundreds of visitors come to the station to join the excitement when the switch is thrown and the lights of the WRAL-TV tower shine once again.
WRAL-TV and the United Cerebral Palsy (UCP) telethon share a history that goes back more than four decades.
WRAL-TV began televising UCP’s “Star Fest” telethon in 1969 and the fundraiser appeared annually on Channel 5 for the next 30 years—helping to raise millions of dollars to aid in the fight against the disorder.
Star Fest was one of the first annual telethons in the country. It was created in 1950 by network television executive Leonard Goldenson, whose child had the disorder. Television personality Dennis James was the first nationwide host, and he visited Raleigh on occasion to help with local fundraising efforts.
Longtime WRAL anchorman Charlie Gaddy is most-closely associated with the station’s telethon broadcasts. Gaddy hosted Star Fest for many years and UCP honored him for his efforts by naming a children’s treatment center for him after he retired.
In 2000, the WRAL Star Fest broadcast had to be canceled because of a record-breaking snow-fall that blanketed North Carolina. The next year, Gaddy and WRAL’s on-air personalities returned to raise more than $230,000 for UCP of North Carolina.
The WRAL Weather Cruiser was a specially-designed truck filled with weather instruments, computers and communications equipment. Its purpose was to take the science of meteorology on the road so the public could gain knowledge and interact with WRAL’s weather staff.
The Weather Cruiser was essentially a weather station on wheels, with the ability to gauge temperature, humidity, wind speed and other weather metrics. In turn, that information was beamed back to the station over a special communication link. WRAL’s meteorologists would then use the information to showcase weather conditions where the Cruiser was located at the moment.
WRAL commonly dispatched the Weather Cruiser to the NC State Fair, regional festivals and countless other gatherings where people could get a small taste of the science behind the weather.
Pops in the Park is an annual Labor Day concert that quickly became one of Capitol Broadcasting Company’s signature community projects – a spectacular evening of music that proved perfect for television and radio.
In 1981, WRAL-TV and WRAL-FM formed a partnership with The North Carolina Symphony and began broadcasting the concert live on location. That first broadcast originated from Raleigh’s Pullen Park, but the event was moved the next year to a larger outdoor venue at Meredith College’s McIver Amphitheatre.
The live performances were simulcast in stereo on WRAL-FM, so audio quality was of extreme importance. WRAL producers and engineers spent weeks perfecting microphone placements, sound levels, camera-angles and in-depth knowledge of the musical score that ultimately yielded a first-rate broadcast.
Over the years the concerts have grown in popularity and attendance climbed steadily; by the year 2000, an estimated 40,000 people attended the concert. Many thousands who couldn’t attend the events in person watched on Channel 5 and listened on WRAL-FM.
WRAL news anchors and personalities have routinely hosted the festivities and guest musicians from around the state were given the opportunity to perform with the symphony, including WRAL’s resident composer/musician Bill Leslie.
Various attractions for children were added over time, including soccer contests, pony rides, coloring books, free balloons and registration for the safety-oriented “Ident-a-Kid” program.
Each and every year, Pops in the Park concludes with Tchaikovsky’s “1812 Overture” followed by a rousing rendition of “Stars and Stripes Forever,” complete with fireworks and simulated cannon-fire. It’s always a crowd pleaser that leaves everyone smiling.
In 2001, a final change of venue moved the concert from Meredith College to Cary’s Koka Booth Theater. The NC Symphony enjoys its Summer Concert Series at the Booth Theater to this day.
Enjoy this presentation of Pops in the Park in 2004 by the North Carolina Symphony. The location is Koka Booth Amphitheatre in Cary, North Carolina. “POPS” is a production of WRAL and UNC television. The musical theme for this performance is Irish.
WRAL Chief Meteorologist Greg Fishel served as emcee. Greg enjoys playing the tuba in his spare time. WRAL Morning News anchor Bill Leslie and the music group Lorica perform celtic inspired music composed by Bill Leslie.
Pops in the Park concert was free to the public and aired on WRAL and WUNC on Labor Day weekend.
Camera operator Leesa Moore and Floor Manager Ivan Ingram at 1984 Pops concert. The annual affair at Meredith College drew an estimated 18,000 spectators that year.
Shot from camera on crane high above the 1982 production of Pops in the Park.
The NC Symphony kicks off their 1994 performance season at Meredith College with a LIVE free concert called “Pops in the Park.” WRAL News Anchor Charlie Gaddy serves as host of the telecast with Maestro Gerhardt Zimmermann conducting the orchestra. The first few seconds of the telecast are not seen here.
WRAL-FM morning man Bob Inskeep with Raleigh Mayor Avery Upchurch at POPS in the Park concert.