It’s no surprise Jesse Helms cozied up to the FBI. He and J. Edgar Hoover were the leading enemies of Martin Luther King and the civil rights movement.
But the revelations spotlight part of WRAL’s history that people at the station today might rather forget.
In the 1960s, WRAL was known as the Jesse Helms station. The self-proclaimed “Voice of Free Enterprise.” The conservative counter to the liberal News & Observer. And the “white station.”
Five nights a week, Helms would spew his special brand of venom against liberals, Kennedys, King and all those he suspected were closet communists. His “Viewpoints” lasted several minutes, an eternity today.
Mysteriously, the tapes seem to have disappeared. Too bad. They’d make interesting viewing.
As a WRAL radio reporter during the infamous Frank Graham-Willis Smith Senate race in 1950, Helms took to the airwaves after Graham led the first primary. He urged Smith supporters to go to their candidate’s house in Raleigh and urge him to call a runoff. They did, and one of the most racist campaigns in Southern history ensued. Smith won.
In 1964, Helms was on TV the night Richardson Preyer led the Democratic gubernatorial primary. Over and over, he credited Preyer’s lead to the “black bloc vote.”
One Preyer man remembers supporters calling headquarters: “Do you see what they’re doing to us on WRAL?” Preyer, like Graham, lost the runoff.
That’s the way A.J. Fletcher – the man who founded the station and hired Helms – wanted it.
Here’s a clue to Fletcher’s viewpoint. Back in those days (my kids won’t believe this), TV stations signed off the air around midnight. Most ended their broadcasting day by playing the National Anthem.
Not WRAL. It signed off with “Dixie.” And not the jaunty, bouncy version. But a mournful, dirgelike rendition – over scenes of Civil War battlefields and mossy old plantations.
The message was clear: Things were a lot better back when you-know-who knew their place.
But that’s a long time ago. Jim Goodmon, A.J. Fletcher’s grandson, has transformed the station. He’s invested in technology, a top-notch website and top talent. And Goodmon has become a progressive force in the state and community.
That was definitely a channel that needed changing.