Smoke in the Engineering/ Former Ladies’ Room!

Throwback Thursday: CBC History

Friday, November 3, 2017 was a night to remember at WRAL. As you know, an electrical fire started and was thankfully contained to a small room with concrete walls and pink tiles. Engineer Chris Cormier’s quick thinking and immediate action prevented the fire from spreading to other areas of the station.

In a previous TBT article, we mentioned that if you know where to look in the broadcast building, you can find evidence of previous “lives” – structurally speaking – of WRAL.

Engineering closet

Engineering storage closet after the recent fire.

The remains of floor to ceiling pink tiles on concrete walls gives us a hint to the previous life of that room. It was the women’s “water closet” as the Brits might say. We would say “ladies restroom” or “powder room.” This appears to be the shower area.

Decades ago, the engineering storage room/previous bathroom would have been accessed from the “auditorium” side of the wall. The auditorium building became the newsroom in 1981. And now the auditorium/newsroom is master control/mini control rooms on the first floor and engineering on the second floor. You might need an ol’ WRALer to walk you through the ages of the buildings.

We’ve pulled up a previous TBT from October 1, 2015 to refresh your memory of the bathrooms used by opera singers, sweaty wrestlers and at least one sweaty news director, Steve Ramsey, after his mid-day run.

Throwback Thursday from 2015.

Take a look at the picture and see if you can figure out where you are and what used to be there.

Old bathrooms in loft area

Remnants of old restrooms loft area.

The photo was taken in the hallway behind Studio A. At the top of the picture you can see light coming from the loft area above the door leading to the hallway that houses the mini-studios/control rooms. During the 80’s and 90’s, that doorway led to the newsroom/news set. From 1965-1980, that same space was the auditorium used for opera performances.

Let’s return to the area at the top of the photo. You can see from the two photos, there is pink and light green tile on the walls. You can also see the remnants of pipe plumbing. Yes, we are in the bathrooms that were once located on that floor. Pink for the ladies; green for the gentlemen. A shower was up there as well.

The bathroom area was conveniently located between the auditorium and Studio A. The opera performers used the bathrooms for make-up and to change costumes. They could zip down the steps and be onstage in the auditorium in a matter of seconds.

The bathroom/changing room was also used by professional wrestlers, and this led to some “interesting” interactions at times!  Yes, grown men wrestled each other on a rope-ringed stage in Studio A.

Once a week during the ‘60s and ‘70s, Studio A was converted into a wrestling arena with bleachers filled to the brim with screaming fans. Wrestlers, with names like “Wahoo McDaniel” and “Andre the Giant,” would fling their bodies against the rope and sling-shot into their opponent.

Chief Wahoo McDaniel & opera singer

“Chief” Wahoo McDaniel (left photo) & an opera singer

Imagine what the bathrooms might look like if a wrestling match and opera performance were scheduled at the same time. We’ll leave that to your imagination. Needless to say, in order to avoid any culture conflicts or disagreements between a well coifed opera singer and a sweaty, bare chested wrestler, a new schedule was made. Clarence Williams, long-time WRALer, recalls that WRAL Director of Programming David Witherspoon arranged for the singers to rehearse only half day on Wednesdays – the wrestling matches were usually videotaped that evening. Crisis averted!

The shower was also put to good use by Steve Ramsey, legendary news director from 1985-1988.  Steve would often spend his lunch break squeezing in a little exercise. He would change into a gray “Rocky Balboa” sweatsuit and then run a few miles, work up a sweat, and then hit the shower before changing back into a suit/tie and resuming his newsroom duties.

The old bathroom/loft area now serves as a depository for old logos, billboards, and pictures. If the pink and green tiled walls could only talk!

Thanks to Corp’s Pam Allen for this capcom story & these photos. Pam Parris Allen is a former WRAL newscast producer/director who now works as a researcher and producer on the CBC History Project.

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