In the integrity and independence of the enlightened individual lies in the hope of the nation – to inform the public without bias or favor, is the station’s highest duty. – A.J. Fletcher
Born to a Baptist minister in Ashe County, NC, Alfred Johnston “A.J.” Fletcher grew up working a variety of odd jobs. He did not grow up with a silver spoon in his mouth, but by learning the value of hard work young, a principle that he passed on to his children and grandchildren. In his youth, Fletcher worked as a stable boy, a bank clerk, a bellhop, a delivery boy for a grocery store and an attendant at a fruit stand. He discovered the world of news when a law student at Wake Forest College; he had run out of money for school and began running the small weekly paper in Apex. For the paper he served as news reporter, editor, ad solicitor and publisher, working every angle as a one man show.
In 1910 Fletcher married Elizabeth Utley and took the $900 he had saved working at the paper to return to school. He never graduated from college but learned enough law to join the bar and run his own practice as an attorney. He founded the Fuquay Springs Gold Leaf weekly newspaper and invested the money he earned at law and the paper in a variety of interests. Radio Corporation of America was one such company that caught his attention.
Fletcher moved his young family to Raleigh in 1919; he and Elizabeth had three sons at the time and added a daughter, Betty Lou, three years later. He looked for new pursuits in the Capitol City, continuing the practice of law and foray into news.
By the late 1930’s Fletcher’s son Frank had followed his father into the practice of law and was among the first group of lawyers hired by the Federal Communications Commission in Washington, DC. Because of A.J. Fletcher’s interest in music and business and Frank’s reports on the new medium of radio, Fletcher applied for his own license. On July 28, 1938, the FCC granted Fletcher’s request to operate station WRAL on 1240 kilohertz with a power of 250 watts. WRAL-AM signed on the air on March 29, 1939, with NC Governor Clyde Hoey and Raleigh Mayor George Isley issuing welcome addresses. At the time A.J. Fletcher was 52 years old.
Fletcher’s interest in television had already been piqued shortly before WRAL-AM went on the air. He and his eldest son, Fred, saw a demonstration of television at the RCA demo booth at the 1939 World’s Fair. At the customary retirement age of 65, A.J. Fletcher began his battle in Washington, DC, along with Fred, to win the first VHF television license for Raleigh.
Fletcher had a wide variety of other interests but remained particularly devoted to opera. Himself a bass singer and avid performer, he formed the National Grass Roots Opera Foundation in 1948. He wanted to make opera available and accessible to public and provide young artists with professional careers. Through Grass Roots Opera, which later became the National Opera Company, he fulfilled that goal throughout his life.
Even in the years close to his death, A.J. Fletcher maintained an office at 2619 Western Blvd, the home of his beloved WRAL-TV. He drove his black Cadillac up to the door and signed the myriad of papers that needed his approval and was an active participant in Capitol Broadcasting Company’s business until the end.