In 1948, WRAL Radio President Fred Fletcher hired Helms as the News Director for WRAL-AM, WRAL-FM and the company’s two growing networks—the Tobacco Radio Network and the Tobacco Sports Network.
During the next few years Helms ran CBC’s radio news department and developed an intense interest in politics. He began spending spare time working on the 1950 U.S. Senate campaign of Willis Smith, who beat Frank Porter Graham in a hotly-contested election.
After the successful campaign, Senator Smith hired Helms away from WRAL and brought him to Washington as his Administrative Assistant. Helms served capably in that capacity until Smith died suddenly in 1953. He then worked briefly for Alton Lennon—Smith’s successor, but returned to Raleigh before the year ended.
In 1960, the time was right for a reunion between Jesse Helms and his old friend, A.J. Fletcher. In a move that would change his life and career, Helms joined Capitol Broadcasting Company as its Executive Vice President, Vice Chairman of the Board, and Assistant Executive Officer.
In his new role at CBC, Jesse Helms’ chief responsibility was to write and express the views and positions of the company on a variety of topics. He communicated those positions in daily editorials on WRAL-TV and Capitol Broadcasting’s radio outlets. The commentaries were called “Viewpoint,” and the segment title became synonymous with Jesse Helms.
In early 1972, Jesse Helms filed as a Republican candidate for the U.S. Senate, and the Viewpoint editorials that had made him famous came to an end. Helms left Capitol Broadcasting Company and that fall won the bellwether election that would send him to Washington for the next thirty years.
Jesse Helms died July 4, 2008. He was 86.
This interview was conducted by WRAL News anchor David Crabtree in 2006 for a special presentation of the 50th anniversary of the station.