WCTI NewsChannel 12 turns 50 Saturday: How it all began

WCTI celebrates 50 years on air: Part 1

NEW BERN, CRAVEN COUNTY - Saturday is the 50th anniversary for WCTI NewsChannel 12. On this occasion, we take a look back at how it all began, and how things have changed in the past five decades.

Flash back to 1963: John F. Kennedy was president, a new home cost a little more than $19,000, a gallon of gas was 25 to 30 cents, and minimum wage was $1.25 an hour.

That year was when our station was born. Nathan Frank, president of the Piedmont Television Corporation, made a $1 million-dollar investment in launching WNBE-TV, which hit the airwaves on Sept. 7, 1963.

This is the station's first ad. It ran in TV guide in August 1963, the first of many.

Frank's daughter, Jo Ann Frank, hosted the station's morning show, a community oriented program. To this day, she still lives in New Bern. (Pictured below: Jo Ann on set.)

Jo Ann Frank, right, with Batman's Adam West.

Librarian Elinor Hawkins began hosting "Telestory Time" at the station in December 1963, three months after the station opened (pictured below). Miss. Elinor and her show were even featured in TV Guide on Dec. 2, 1967.

"I remember we used to just absolutely burn up when we were on a show,"Hawkins recalled. "One of the greatest things is that the lights are not as hot now."

Of course back then, the shows were in black and white. TV stations also had artists who drew placards for commercials and special events. (Pictured below: a look at the station's control room.)

Tom Bayliss was a camera operator and director in the station's early days. But he wore a number of other hats.

"Boiling the hot dogs for the kid show, Bozo Show, I think it was. And I had a wife and two kids. I was going to college- so I ate every other hot dog," Bayliss recounted.

Soon, Bayliss went from boiling hot dogs to being on the air.

"Production manager came to me and said, 'Bayliss, have you got a tie and a jacket?' And I said, 'I don't know.' He said, 'you're going to be doing the sports.' I said, 'I can't do any sports.' He said, 'I just let the sportscaster go,'" said Bayliss.

Bayliss left the station after four or five years. Decades later, he was elected mayor of New Bern. But there's one lesson from his television days that he'll never forget.

"They always told us don't tear up the film, because we have to pass it on," Bayliss said.

Nowadays, there's no film at the station, and no videotapes either. The station went tapeless in 2010. Videos are now shot on memory cards and uploaded onto a computer.

There have been other changes throughout the years. WNBE became WCTI in 1970 when Continental Television bought the station. The addition of a new 2,000-foot tower in the early 1980s meant a sharper signal and a broader viewing area.

WCTI became a place of familiar faces and favorite anchors, including Jan Beam and Gary Dean. Jami Turner was an anchor here from 2004 to 2009.

"I think my favorite story I ever covered was the election of our first African American president," Turner said. "To be able to sit at a news desk and cover that, I think was one of the most remarkable things I could have asked for."

Speaking of milestones, when Virginia Foye joined WCTI in 1976, she became the first African American news anchor in Eastern Carolina.

But Foye had a major stroke in 2002 and had to stop working. Her speech is limited now, and she's partially paralyzed. Even though she can no longer live on her own, her love for NewsChannel 12 lives on.

"Happy birthday, Channel 12," Foye said cheerfully.

Stay tuned for part two of Valentina Wilson's report on the history of the station. It will air Friday on NewsChannel 12 at 6 p.m.

Most Popular