Son of WNCT's founder reflects on bringing TV to eastern Carolin - WHLT 22 Connecting the Pine Belt

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Son of WNCT's founder reflects on bringing TV to eastern Carolina

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GREENVILLE, N.C. - When it comes to masterminds in technology, just about everyone can name a few, Bill Gates, Steve Jobs, among many.
     
But, before we were spoiled with those gadgets, all we had was radio, and, eventually, television.
     
It was in 1953, that visual images on TV made its way to eastern North Carolina. And while one local man didn't invent the technology, his vision and passion helped to start the first television station east of Raleigh.
     
It was WNCT. And we’ve been On Your Side ever since.

Behind the walls of 3221 South Evans Street in Greenville are the hopes and dreams of a hometown boy named Hartwell Campbell.
     
WNCT-TV was his brain child. Campbell was only 33 years old at the time, a former preacher turned broadcaster, who wanted and loved to be heard.

“He called the show, The Friendly Philosopher. That was back in the days when radio was wide open and you could do whatever you wanted to do. He could talk about religion, politics and philosophy and current events,” said Tom Campbell, son of WNCT’s founder.

He was only a youngster at the time, but knew his dad was a part of something special.
 
“Through the years, I would ask dad tell me the story of how this happen, or how did you go about doing this,” he remembered fondly.

Hart Campbell went on to be hired as the radio station's general manager. Times and technology were changing. And he wanted more.
 
“WTVR, the Richmond CBS station had gone on the air, I think in 1940, and so dad bought a television set and from Hopewell he could see TV. And dad thought, picture and sound, it doesn't get any better than this," Campbell recalled.

At the time, television had been around since the 20s. There were already 3 other stations operating in North Carolina. It was an industry that Campbell craved.

"So, he and a group of people got together and bought the station where he was doing his Friendly Philosopher shows and they bought it sole intent of applying for a television station,” said Campbell.
 
The planning started in the early 1950s, an idea that many found to be ridiculous, but wanted to be a part of. Campbell had to raise money, convincing people to buy shares into the business,” Campbell explained. “The typical response dad would get is, ‘Hartwell, this is the craziest idea I think I've ever heard of in my life, I'll take $2,000 worth.’"
         
Hartwell met with RCA executives. At the time, the company was the largest manufacturer of television broadcast equipment. The company did their best to persuade Campbell not to start the station. They said, one, he simply could not afford it. And two, find a new city.

“Greenville was where he lived. Greenville was where the rest of the shareholders, Greenville, Dunn, that was where the rest of the shareholders were. It was an area that he loved and he believed in it. And he believed that's where he wanted to raise his family and participate in the affairs of the community,” said Campbell.

And so it began. There was no backing down.
     
Campbell convinced RCA to finance part of the funding. The location was selected; the land had to be big enough for a building and an 800 foot tower back then. It was the tallest structure in the region.
     
WNCT went live on December 22nd, 1953.

“I was 8 and half years old, I'll never forget it. It was a Tuesday afternoon. We knew they were going to try and flip the switch," recalled Campbell. “Everything went to black and the next thing I saw, was my dad. And he was talking. And I could see him and hear him. He was talking. It was incredible!"
     
Programming was limited at first, but Hartwell recognized talent and he helped launch the longest running morning show in the state, Carolina Today. And now, WNCT-TV is still making history.

"Guys like dad, Hank Tripley, so many of the McNicholson, so many of the Gene Hodges, and Ed Fields and Eber Adams, that were so involved in the start-up of it, they were all proud of what they did. They knew it was special. They knew they were on the cutting edge of a new way of communicating with people. And they knew they were changing people's lives throughout eastern Carolina,” said Campbell.
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