CBC founder A.J. Fletcher thought that it was important for his company to weigh in publicly on the issues of the day. As a result, CBC has a long history of editorial commentary that aired on WRAL-TV and the company’s radio outlets.
There’s no doubt that the most famous Capitol Broadcasting Company editorialist was Jesse Helms, whose controversial commentaries were broadcast from 1960-1972. Other commentators who delivered CBC’s editorial opinions over the years include William P. Cheshire, Carl Goerch, Joel Lawhon, J.D. Lewis, Charles Dunn and Giles Lambertson.
Several guest editorials are featured in this part of the history archive, but notably missing are any of the legendary commentaries by Jesse Helms. WRAL-TV is often asked: What happened to all those “Viewpoint” editorials? The short answer is that the video segments simply weren’t preserved. While that answer is true, it bears more explanation, which in turn calls for a bit of history about television production in the early days of the medium.
In the early days of broadcasting local television stations carried a mixture of live programming and occasional segments shot on film. Videotape technology was introduced in the 1950s and 1960s, but the new production method did little to promote the archival preservation of television’s early content (to see WRAL-TV’s first videotape machine, type “videotape” into the search box).
The first VTR (videotape recorder) machines utilized costly reels of two-inch-wide magnetic tape. Standard practice was to record a segment on a reel of videotape and then re-use it after the programming had aired. It was just too expensive for most stations to save tapes for posterity, so they were used over and over until they wore out.
The new technology made it relatively easy for WRAL personnel to record the Viewpoint editorials, but it also made it just as easy to erase them. Jesse Helms would record his daily editorial on videotape and it would air in that night’s newscast. The next day the same videotape would be rewound and used again—wiping away the previous day’s commentary forever.
This “re-use” practice erased countless hours of classic programming. Not only were the Viewpoint editorials lost, so were shows like “Tempus Fugit,” “Cap’n Five,” and “Femme Fare.” The practice gradually began to change when smaller, cheaper videotape formats were introduced in the mid-to-late 1970s, but by then many of WRAL-TV’s classic programs had been lost to the ages.