In this season of peace and goodwill to all men, they had a big fight in the state capital — over the Christmas parade.
For 43 years the Raleigh parade had been sponsored by the big TV station there, WRAL, channel 5 (think of WFMY, channel 2, in Greensboro). However, rival station WTVD in Durham, channel 11, (think of WXII, channel 12, in Winston-Salem) won the title of official parade sponsor in October.
What followed was a battle royale worthy of World Wrestling Entertainment and could’ve made Santa Claus cuss.
Those at the Raleigh TV station reacted to the switcharoo, made by the merchants association, by proclaiming that they would go ahead nevertheless with their annual broadcast of the parade for the 44th year. Anybody can have their cameras rolling on a public street, after all. This is America.
“There is no way the hometown station would not broadcast this,” a statement from the TV station explained.
WRAL even broadcast an ad with the parade’s Santa proclaiming: “What goes together like Rudolph and me? WRAL and the Raleigh Christmas parade!” Santa threw up his white-gloved hands with a figure of Rudolph by his side that looked to have been drawn by a fourth-grader.
Folks at the Durham station were not amused. They footed the bill for the parade in exchange for exclusive broadcast rights.
“I don’t know if WRAL realizes that they are essentially putting the future of Raleigh’s Christmas parade in jeopardy,” the merchants association director told the big Raleigh newspaper.
The Raleigh TV station chief responded: “If GRMA (merchants association) is interested in the future of the parade, they would have gone with our more lucrative offer.” The association denied the offer was more lucrative.
Next, the merchants association said the Raleigh TV station missed a September deadline to enter a float, and it issued orders to not allow WRAL TV cameras near floats. “You will be removed from the parade immediately and will not be allowed to participate in future parades and no refunds will be given,” the association warned in a letter.
Meanwhile, the parade’s Santa got booted after appearing in the WRAL ad, the Raleigh newspaper said. “I said, ‘Hmmm, what have I stepped into? I don’t have time for this,’” Ron “Santa” Campbell told the newspaper. “Santa is above politics.”
The parade on Nov. 18 marched uneventfully along the capital city’s main drag, Hillsborough Street, to the state capitol — with a new Santa bringing up the rear.
WRAL set up its cameras and broadcast team at the start of the parade and began its broadcast a half hour before WTVD, which set up in front of its Raleigh newsroom near the parade’s end.
And what did the folks at Durham TV station think of all of this? “I don’t want to get into a tit for tat,” its chief honcho said in a news conference. “It’s a parade.”
Compare all of that with our own Sunday-afternoon Christmas parade, coming Dec. 10. They pretty much allow most anyone and anything in the two-town celebration of the holidays, just come and join the lineup, first come, first serve.
“Everyone can participate,” happily proclaims a parade website.
Even TV folks? I have an idea. Let’s invite the folks at the Raleigh and Durham TV stations and at the Raleigh merchants association to come and march together in our Christmas parade. It’s up to them whether to lock arms in Christmas cheer.
I bet the Greensboro and Winston TV stations would even come and broadcast. There’ll be plenty of room at the inn.
Peace and goodwill to all.
Stephen Harris returned home to live in State Road.