Media World: NPR's Carl Kasell retiring as voice of reason (but he'll still rhyme)
Nov 29th 2009 1:00PM
Updated Nov 30th 2009 11:21AM
Carl Kasell's career with National Public Radio almost ended before it started.
The newscaster developed vocal polyps about 30 years ago. His doctor recommended surgery. The post-operative therapy of 30-days of total silence was especially difficult for the native of Goldsboro, N.C., to endure, but he had no other choice. "That's when I saw my career flashing before my eyes," Kasell tells DailyFinance, adding that he has maintained his voice because "I have a good ear, nose and throat doctor."
Good thing he listened to that doctor's advice. The 75-year-old has becoming one of the enduring icons of public radio. He has told millions of listeners about some of the modern era's biggest stories, from the Iranian Hostage Crisis to the fall of the Berlin Wall to the terrorist attacks on 9/11. His final newscast will be Dec. 30.
Though his voice is recognizable to millions, the broadcaster says he "never took any real lessons." In addition to being a newsman, Kasell is a mainstay of NPR's popular quiz show Wait Wait ... Don't Tell Me! Kasell is the "official judge and scorekeeper" and is a featured performer, reading limericks and quotes from the week's news, sometimes in funny voices. He's also part of the prize. Fans of Wait Wait compete fiercely to get Kasell to record the outgoing message on their answering machine.
The popularity of the Wait Wait continues to amaze Kasell, who isn't giving up his job on that program. "We are sold out weeks ahead of time," he says. "The demographics run the gamut" from young to old.
Kasell started as a part-timer in 1975 at the public radio network before officially joining the staff two years later. His career in broadcasting dates to the 1950s, when he was a small-town disc jockey in North Carolina, spinning Elvis Presley records among other things. He also got tips from his high school drama teacher, Andy Griffith -- who later became a TV icon -- and did some acting himself. Along the way, Kasell crossed paths with CBS newsman Charles Kuralt (a classmate at the University of North Carolina) and CBS anchor Katie Couric (whom he hired as an intern at an all-news station in Virginia), according to the Chicago Tribune.
During the course of Kasell's career, NPR has grown from occupying two floors in a Washington office building to occupying a building of its own. After the cutbacks at the television networks, NPR is one of the few remaining broadcasters of serious journalism. It has a staff of about 840, despite recent layoffs. Morning Edition and Wait Wait have both been honored with Peabody Awards.
Kasell is one of a dying breed, an understated broadcaster who lets the story speak for itself. People who regularly pine for nonbiased journalism should give him a listen before he takes up his new job as NPR's "roving ambassador," helping local public radio stations raise funds.
Retirement for Kasell will take some adjustments, at least one of them positive. He will at last be able to sleep in. Kasell currently rises at 1:05 a.m. to be ready for NPR's 5 a.m. newscast.