Longtime MJ-school benefactor James F. Goodmon to receive honorary degree at UNC’s 2018 Commencement

Visionary North Carolina corporate and community leader James Fletcher “Jim” Goodmon (b. 1943), long a generous benefactor and advocate for ethical and responsible communications, will be recognized by the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill with an honorary Doctor of Laws degree at the University’s 2018 Spring Commencement on Sunday, May 13, in Kenan Stadium.

Goodmon is CEO and board chairman of Raleigh’s privately held Capitol Broadcasting Company (CBC). Over the last 40 years, he has grown his grandfather A.J. Fletcher’s successful family broadcast business into a diversified media industry leader, with a thriving community as his number one goal. The scope of his commitment to journalistic excellence is broad, from producing award-winning news and public affairs at CBC to fostering media and communications students and professionals, many at the UNC School of Media and Journalism.

Goodmon is equally respected for a lifelong commitment to community service, leveraging CBC resources, the A.J. Fletcher Foundation’s grant-making capacity, and his own time and talents into a powerful force for long-term advocacy for the arts, education and social justice. In 1987, the North Carolina Association of Broadcasters recognized Goodmon with a Distinguished Service to Broadcasting Award in recognition of his contributions to the field and commitment to community service. A decade later, Goodmon was inducted into the North Carolina Hall of Fame in Journalism (now the NC Media and Journalism Hall of Fame).

MJ-school Dean Susan King noted that “Jim Goodmon stands out because of his values, his belief in the responsibility of media to serve a community and his innovative muscle to keep journalism alive and serving a democracy. We couldn’t be more pleased to celebrate this honor with Jim, who has been such a steadfast supporter of our students and has made such an impact on our community.”

The MJ-school has long been strengthened by the support of all three pillars of Goodmon’s outreach efforts, from CBC to the Foundation to personal involvement and support. An example is the student news broadcast program Carolina Week, which is produced in the James F. Goodmon Studio, a state-of-the-art professional television broadcast studio. Located on campus in Carroll Hall, the studio receives financial and in-kind support from CBC/WRAL-TV. 

Another is the annual CBC-UNC Diversity Fellowship Program, an intensive five-day workshop led by professionals at WRAL-TV and MJ-school faculty. The fellowship program gives college students from all over the country the opportunity to produce reports and newscasts, create professional broadcast reels and make invaluable industry contacts. Kiara Palmer ’13, communications editor at the National Institute of Health, took part in the inaugural workshop.

“To see that my school and the industry itself was interested and willing to help people get that foot in the door,” she remembered, “was an honor in itself. And that fellowship was the professional foundation that I needed for my career. At that point in my education, nothing beat the actual experience.” She went on to work as a production assistant at WRAL before moving into communications at the NIH.

Carroll Hall, which houses the MJ-school, was updated with the generous support of the Fletcher Foundation and other supporters. The Foundation also supports a post-graduate Fletcher Fellowship for Education Policy Reporting dedicated to reporting on education issues for WUNC-FM. An MJ-school graduate benefits from this fellowship as does the community from this in-depth reporting on policy.

In these and innumerable other ways, Goodmon has underscored the importance of a vibrant media and journalism school at the heart of one of the nation’s most dynamic public universities.

Tall and energetic, he is a fast-moving man with the thoughtful gaze of a good listener, and a penchant for looking five or ten or twenty years down the road in any given situation. He’s less inclined to look back on his achievements.

“I think people would say that I always want to talk about the future,” Goodmon said. “That I’m sort of restless about where we are and always trying to figure out where we want to be and how to get there.”

He is not one to relish the fanfare around an honor of this caliber.

“This came out of the blue,” Goodmon said. “And I’m embarrassed by the whole thing. But I am also really honored.”

 

Corporate history

Capitol Broadcasting Company’s founder, A.J. Fletcher, was born in 1887, the son of a Baptist minister in Ashe County, North Carolina. As a young student, Fletcher worked odd jobs to help provide for the family and save for college. When he ran out of money studying law at Wake Forest College (now University), Fletcher got a job single-handedly running a weekly paper in the small town of Apex. He never graduated, but went on to pass the bar. He and his wife Elizabeth moved to Raleigh in 1919 and had three sons—Fred, Frank and Floyd—and a daughter named Betty Lou. A.J. Fletcher was a lawyer working with various clients before forming his own life insurance company.

“One thing to remember about A.J. Fletcher,” said his grandson, “is that he was an opera singer and started an opera company. And a Shakespearean actor. He was just a remarkable guy. Also, very conservative. Of course, he hired Jesse Helms.”

Asked if he and his grandfather talked a lot about politics, Goodmon noted drily, “No. I was not on the editorial board.”

By the late 1930s, Frank Fletcher had followed his father A.J. into law and went to work for the precursor to the Federal Communications Commission. A.J. Fletcher’s interest in music and business and his middle son’s knowledge of the radio industry convinced A.J. Fletcher and four partners to apply for a radio license in Raleigh. WRAL-AM aired in 1939, the same year that A.J. and his oldest son Fred visited an RCA television demonstration booth at the World’s Fair, piquing an interest in the fledgling television industry.

 

Early memories

As a child, Jim Goodmon developed an avid interest in how broadcasting worked. He remembers his mom driving him to the WRAL transmitter at her father’s station. At CBC, he helped out and “figured out how things worked,” never imagining that he’d work anywhere but at his grandfather’s company.

“What I wanted to do is, I wanted to make the TV station work,” Goodmon said. “That was my love.”

“WRAL-TV first aired on December 15, 1956,” Goodmon recalled. “I was at the site that first day, at the transmitter the first day that WRAL-TV was on the air.”

He was thirteen years old, and remembers being hired as the first audio operator for the station. Asked if that level of responsibility intimidated him, he laughed.

“No. I didn’t know enough to be intimidated.”

At Broughton High School in Raleigh, he carried a French horn to school and was so involved in student government that he ended up serving as student body president.

“Jim was in the 10th grade when I was a senior,” said developer, philanthropist and two-term Raleigh mayor Smedes York. “I was his mentor. Look how that turned out. I tell people that and it gets a big laugh.”

Six decades later, Goodmon still remembers teachers like Mrs. Peacock who taught English, and Miss Runyon’s social studies class.

“I loved Broughton High. Oh my goodness.” Goodmon remembered. “We had no worries.”

College basketball was and remains an avid interest.

“I grew up a Carolina fan,” he said. “I made a scrapbook every year on UNC basketball.”

Somehow—despite the scrapbooks—Goodmon ended up at Duke University in 1961, where he studied electrical engineering. That year, his grandfather established the A.J. Fletcher Foundation in Raleigh to carry on philanthropic interests, primarily cultural and education outreach initiatives.

Goodmon left Duke University’s engineering school in 1965 for the Navy Reserves before obtaining a degree.

“After my junior year,” he said, "I decided that I was more into how you use technology then what the equation for it is.”

Stationed in Memphis, Tennessee, he served three years at a large training facility for naval aviators during the day. At night, he kept his mind on the family business by working at WHBQ in Memphis.

Goodmon returned to Raleigh in 1968 and married Barbara Lyons, a nurse he’d met while stationed in Memphis. They raised daughter Elizabeth and sons Jimmy and Michael in the capital city. Initially hired as Operations Manager at WRAL-TV, Goodmon quickly took on increasing responsibilities: he replaced Jesse Helms as Executive Vice President of CBC in 1973 when Helms left to run for the U.S. Senate; became President in 1975 when his uncle Fred Fletcher retired; and accepted the CEO position four years later. Patriarch A.J. Fletcher continued to come to the studio until two weeks before his death at the age of 91.

 

Media industry leader

The company holdings now include three television stations, with NBC affiliate WRAL-TV as the flagship station; nine radio stations; CBC New Media Group; Wolfpack Sports Properties and the Durham Bulls minor league baseball team; satellite services provider Microspace Communications; real estate holdings in the Historic American Tobacco District in Durham and a mixed use riverside textile mill redevelopment in Rocky Mount; American Underground startup hubs in Raleigh and Durham; and majority interest in Professional Builders Supply, a building material distributor.

In 2017, Goodmon’s older son James Fletcher “Jimmy” Goodmon Jr. ’05 MBA was named President and Chief Operating Officer of the family business. As CEO and recently elected Board Chair, the senior James Goodmon remains actively involved in the diverse business holdings that fall under the CBC umbrella. Son Michael Goodmon, CBC Senior Vice President, oversees the mixed-use developments, startup hubs and solar/alternative energy/building material investments.

Over nearly four decades, Goodmon has pushed those who work with him at CBC to be innovative change agents. He is enthusiastic about cutting-edge technology. His understanding of the rapidly changing media landscape allows him to continually visualize the future of the broadcast industry five and ten years out, and adapt accordingly.

“One is, if you can improve your product, do it,” he enumerated. “And two is when you do it, be first to market.”

Over the years, WRAL-TV was one of the first to use videotape, and to gather news electronically. In the ’80s CBC’s Microspace Communications’ disruptive satellite technology changed the industry. In the mid-’90s WRAL was the first station in the country to broadcast in high definition (HD) and to offer an HD local newscast. At the same time, CBC leadership quickly recognized the potential of the internet, enabling WRAL.com to quickly become a national local news site leader. In ’07, WRAL was an early adapter of dual-polarization Doppler radar. Currently, the company is pioneering the use of drone technology and introducing renewable energy into the media landscape.

“Being out there first, you get to blaze a path,” WRAL Director of Engineering and Operations Pete Sockett said about WRAL-TV’s “Take Me Out to the Bulls” documentary, the first locally produced 4K (ultra high definition) program in the country. “You get to be…the people who know what they’re doing—first.”

Goodmon is eager to begin broadcasting in the new ATSC3.0 digital technology, which will essentially turn every mobile device into a digital receiver for WRAL’s content.

“We have an experimental [ATSC3.0] station on the air now. I think in the next maybe three to five years,” he predicts.

Looking to the future of broadcasting, Goodmon accepts that fragmentation—all of the chatting, streaming and other forms of competition for the traditional broadcast television audience—is a fact of life.

“We have to differentiate ourselves by doing great local programming with a ‘hyper-local’ focus,” he explained.

 

Leading efforts to revive historic downtowns

During his career, Goodmon has overseen the company’s diversification efforts into sports and real estate.

Always passionate about baseball, Goodmon led CBC’s acquisition of the minor league Durham Bulls team in Durham in 1990 and oversaw the construction of a new 10,000-seat ballpark, the Durham Bulls Athletic Park, in 1995. Stadium plans included the old barber shop chair from the previous Bulls stadium, now ensconced in the owner’s box where a barber is available for free to all players. In 2016, Forbes magazine ranked the team the seventh most valuable team in the minor league. In 2009 and again in 2017, the Bulls captured the only two Triple-A National Championship Title wins in franchise history.

In 2002, CBC furthered its investment in downtown Durham, with Goodmon negotiating the complex corporate, academic and city/county support required to redevelop and repurpose the American Tobacco Historic District. In 2003, Jim Goodmon was named Tar Heel of the Year by The News & Observer, in part due to his development of Durham’s American Tobacco Complex. Between 2002 and 2012, CBC invested more than $200 million and revived downtown Durham, receiving national recognition along the way.

In 2007, Goodmon oversaw the purchase of an old textile mill along the Tar River in Rocky Mount, and announced plans for another mixed-use development, working with his son Michael, now CBC’s senior vice president in charge of “real estate, beer and baseball” as he puts it. Anchored by commercial brewery incubators managed by a German-born brewmaster, the complex sports a mix of offices, lofts, cottages and common areas. In January 2018, The News & Observer reported a waiting list for the next vacancy at the rentable mill houses on site, each furnished with a small beer tap “kegerator.”  

The multimillion-dollar project seeks some of the mixed-use residential and commercial successes experienced in the Durham location, albeit on a slower trajectory.

“They’re different communities,” Michael Goodmon said. “It’s going to take time. But Dad is very patient with problems he understands will take some time. He’s a man of quick action. But he’s patient about results, when time is warranted.”

In 2008, Jim Goodmon was recognized with a Design Guild Award from the NC State College of Design for being “a tireless advocate and catalyst for progressive, historic preservation, adaptive re-use, creative urban design solutions and innovative mixed-use developments.”

 

Family tradition 

Growing up in Raleigh in the ’40s and ’50s, Goodmon learned about giving back to the community by watching his grandfather and uncles.

“Uncle Fred was head of Parks and Rec for 35 years in Raleigh,” he said. “The family was very involved in the community. That’s always been how you do it.”

Goodmon, his wife Barbara, and their sons Jimmy and Michael serve on the board of the family’s Raleigh-based A.J. Fletcher Foundation. President Barbara Goodmon also served as executive director from 2003 to 2012.

“It’s great to see family members that are rooted in the community take such an active part in the community,” said Smedes York.

“[Jim Goodmon]’s a bulldog when he gets focused on something. And it’s not just talk. There is financial support behind it, often from the A.J. Fletcher Foundation, but also through CBC and from Jim and Barbara personally, depending on the particular situation.”

“What he’s done is probably more than anyone in the Triangle,” York continued, “both in terms of getting involved in the community and in committing his own financial resources.”

Goodmon pointed out that civic commitment is a key aspect of the news business.

“Philosophically, I came along in this business when the overriding principal was one of community service. We are here to serve the community. We have significant responsibilities in that regard. When I came along, there were actually requirements about that in the FCC.”

“I could tell you how I see [the future of] CBC,” he continued. “For CBC, both Jimmy and Michael are right out of the mold. We have a great respect for the news organization: for journalism. I think the company has worked really hard to do a good job in the news. And we keep trying to do that.”

That attention to quality reporting is a community service in its own right.

 

Transforming the Dix campus

Goodmon is known among civic leaders for his powerful commitment to strengthening local communities through public/private partnerships.

In 2000, Governor Jim Hunt presented Goodmon with the North Carolina Award in Public Service, crediting him with “combining broadcasting, baseball and regional pride to lead the Triangle to a better tomorrow.”

“Jim Goodmon is extremely good at bringing people together, he’s a consensus builder,” said York.

The transformation of the Dorothea Dix campus in Raleigh into a downtown park has the potential to be a game-changing partnership. The future park is a place that Goodmon and many other city leaders think could become the greatest park in the country.

A 308-acre site acquired by the City of Raleigh from the State of North Carolina for $52 million in January 2016, Dix Park is owned and operated by the city with the support of philanthropic partner The Dorothea Dix Conservancy, a nonprofit organization currently led by Board Chair Goodmon along with Vice Chair Ann Goodnight. A Master Plan is currently underway for the site, in part thanks to a 2016 pledge of $3.5 million by the Conservancy.

“Dad always said, ‘The future is made of partnerships,” Michael Goodmon said.

Raleigh Mayor Nancy McFarlane is happy to have Goodmon on board.

“He’s a brilliant guy,” she said. “And when he decides he’s dedicated to something, he is all in.”

She calls Goodmon an incredible driving force, interested in thinking about Dix Park fifty years out, and asking all of the right questions.

“He never stops thinking,” she said.

To illustrate his relentless quest for answers, she talks of an early Conservancy executive committee meeting at Whiskey Kitchen off of Nash Square, where McFarlane pointed out the kids trampling through the Square during the Pokemon Go craze.

“My grandson told me about Pokemon Go,” Goodmon told her. “I don’t know anything about it.”

McFarlane set her phone to “video” when Goodmon jumped out of his chair and ran into Nash Square, trying to find virtual Pokemons, walking up to random teens asking “Do you know how to make this work?”

“That is so him,” she said.  

 

Commitment to education

Educating North Carolina’s children was an important philanthropic consideration of CBC founder A.J. Fletcher, who helped put himself through school. Education was one focus of the Foundation he founded in 1961, and remains important to the family and the Foundation today, reaching far beyond the scope of media and communications.

The Fletcher Academy of Achievement was founded in 1981 and serves students with learning differences and their families. Hundreds of students have benefited from the Goodmon family’s guidance and support.

At the UNC School of the Arts, the A.J. Fletcher Opera Institute trains exceptional singers and collaborative pianists at the undergraduate and graduate level, carrying A.J. Fletcher’s passion from the past century into the operatic cutting edge.

Goodmon was the first board chair of the North Carolina Partnership for Children, which for 25 years has led Smart Smart, a public/private partnership effort across 100 North Carolina counties working to improve early care and education for pre-school children throughout the state.

 

Public broadcasting

In 1989, Goodmon was the founding chair of the North Carolina Public Television Foundation, established to raise funds to equip UNC-TV’s new studios. Supporting local public television and radio remains a passion.

“I know what you can accomplish with television,” he pointed out. “These non-commercial stations are a great community asset. I’m really excited about what they can accomplish with their kids’ and educational TV, with cultural and science programming.”

A one million dollar gift through the A.J. Fletcher Foundation helped launch UNC-TV’s capital campaign. Goodmon has also been a longtime board member—including chair—of the advisory UNC-TV Board of Trustees. Both Carolina Broadcasting Company / WRAL-TV and the A.J. Fletcher Foundation continue to provide revenue resources for broadcast and production of UNC-TV programming. In 2006, Jim and Barbara Goodmon were one of five recipients of the national Public Television Leadership Award.

WUNC-FM, the flagship National Public Radio member station for the Triangle area, is another area of interest for Goodmon.

“The value of their news programming I think is terrific,” he said. “I’ve thought that for a long time.”

When CBC was developing the American Tobacco Historic District, CBC helped WUNC-FM improve and upgrade facilities and reporting, including helping the station establish a broadcast facility on the American Tobacco Campus. The public radio station still broadcasts from studio space near the Lucky Strike tower on the campus, and CBC helped to underwrite WUNC’s free outdoor Back Porch Music concerts under the tower on spring and summer Thursday evenings.

 

The future of journalism

From his perspective—after sixty years in broadcasting—Goodmon sees a need to foster deep curiosity in today’s journalism school students. He looks for reporters who dig for the story behind the story, pointing out inconsistencies in what people say.

“You haven’t done your job when you just get the two opposing views. You need to go after the issue,” he said.

He likes the notion of reporters specializing in a field of expertise, with a background in the field they’re writing about—be it law, education, healthcare, the environment, or other relevant field.

And he’s still a proponent and an end user of the latest technology. Goodmon gets some of his national news from mobile apps by The New York Times, The Washington Post, The Wall Street Journal, Huffington Post and Axios.

“I have all the apps and I use a different one every day,” he said. “I’m interested in their stories, but I’m also interested in how they’re using the platform.”

But he is quick to point out that technology is a means to an end.

“Although I’m really interested in the latest technology, the first thing you have to have is a really good story. Right?” He asks. “It’s the whole thing: storytelling.”

He predicts that enterprise reporting will move from newspapers to the web and television. He points out that current television is almost by definition breaking news and in the past, long enterprise stories were left to newspapers, except in WRAL’s documentaries and weekly public affairs programming.

“I think we’ll start doing more of that [enterprise reporting]. I think local television news is going to evolve into fuller coverage of the issues. It’s going to take some time.”

 

Visionary leadership

Envisioning the future of the Triangle area he calls home, Goodmon asks, “What are we going to do with the 700,000 people who show up in the next 15 or 20 years? How do we maintain the quality of life? How do we get ahead of that throughout the Triangle?”

“He’s a man of few words and each of his words have profound implications,” says North Carolina Museum of Art Director Larry Wheeler, who has worked with Goodmon on many cultural and civic projects over the decades.

“Jim is sort of a seer," Wheeler continued. "He looked out to the future, always thinking about the total Triangle as a metro area. He always understood it as a concept and in terms of its parts, and knew what it would take. Now we look at all the things he’s lent his personal voice to, and the result is what we have today: an incredibly vibrant metropolitan area.”

Jim Goodmon and his wife Barbara have three children and 10 grandchildren. Goodmon is the recipient of honorary degrees from Peace University, Pfeiffer College (now University) and Duke University. He will receive his honorary degree from UNC alongside fellow honorees Phillip L. Clay and Judith A. Jamison. Goodmon serves on the boards of many organizations throughout the Triangle and state.

 

Photos © 2018 Christer Berg