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News that long-time sportscaster Tom Suiter is retiring at WRAL-TV takes long-time viewers back. Back to what some of us view as the Bad Old Days at the station.

The N&O noted that Suiter, from Rocky Mount, was brought to the station by Jesse Helms, then WRAL’s executive vice president for news – and nightly editorialist.

During the 50s and 60s, WRAL was the conservative alternative to the N&O. Founded by A.J. Fletcher, the station called itself “the voice of free enterprise.” Fletcher gave Helms five minutes every night to rail against civil rights, Martin Luther King, liberals, Democrats and their fellow travelers.

How conservative was the station? Well, boys and girls, back in those days TV stations used to sign off the air around midnight! Most would do so by playing a rousing rendition of the National Anthem.

Not Channel 5. It ended the broadcast day with “Dixie.” And not the jaunty version you usually hear. This was a slow, dirgelike, mournful version. It played over scenes of plantations and Civil War battlefields.

The message was clear: Things would have turned out a lot better if the Confederacy had won.

That’s hard to imagine today. WRAL has become one of the best stations in the country – both in content and technology.

The man who made the station a leader – Jim Goodmon, A.J. Fletcher’s grandson – is one of the most progressive leaders in North Carolina.

The channel has been changed at Channel 5.

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