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Fri May 16, 2014
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'I've Enjoyed Every Minute Of It': Carl Kasell On His 60 Years In Radio

Originally published on Fri May 16, 2014 12:06 pm

Carl Kasell — the official judge and scorekeeper of the NPR quiz show Wait Wait... Don't Tell Me! — is stepping down after more than 60 years in radio. While you'll still hear him from time to time as he eases into the role as scorekeeper emeritus, his final broadcast airs on Saturday and Sunday.

Kasell recently had a cameo on The Simpsons, and since that's the pinnacle of any career, this seemed like a good moment to look back on his many decades in broadcast.

Kasell dreamed of being on the radio since he was a kid. "I sometimes would hide behind the radio — which would be sitting on a table — and pretend that I was on the air and try to fool people who came by to listen," Kasell told NPR's Renee Montagne in 2009.

Kasell got his first radio gig when he was 16; he hosted a late-night, easy-listening music show on WGBR in Goldsboro, N.C., playing romantic songs and waxing poetic about young lovers all through the evening. (You'll want to click the listen link at the top of this page to hear a clip of that!)

Once he got a job on-air, only one thing kept him off: He was drafted in the 1950s. After his Army service, WGBR welcomed Kasell back by giving him his very own morning drive-time music program, The Carl Kasell Show.

Kasell eventually migrated into the news business. He joined NPR in 1975 as a part-time weekend newscaster and went on to Morning Edition in 1979, where he stayed for 30 years. While many of the Morning Edition staffers start their day before dawn, Kasell used to wake up at 1:05 a.m. because, he explained, "1 o'clock was just too damn early."

In 2009, he stepped away from the Morning Edition routine to devote more time to his other job, as official judge and scorekeeper on Wait Wait... Don't Tell Me! Kasell's been with that show since it debuted in 1998.

Over the years, Kasell has recorded more than 2,000 voice mail greetings for winning contestants — that's something he plans to continue in his role as scorekeeper emeritus. (Click here to read host Peter Sagal's reflection on the time he spent working with Kasell — and to hear some very funny voice mail greetings.)

It is sometimes said about radio newscasters that although the news may be bad, just hearing their voices every day lets listeners know that things are all right. Throughout the years, millions of NPR listeners have felt that reassurance.

"I have enjoyed every minute of it," Kasell says. "I never consider what I do as work. It has been fun, it's been rewarding and very fulfilling. ... I love my work. It's been good to me."

Copyright 2014 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

Transcript

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

All right. You know you're a fixture in American culture when you make it on to "The Simpsons." Carl Kasell had his turn last Sunday.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "THE SIMPSONS")

YEARDLEY SMITH: (As Lisa) It's so much fun to finally have a friend who likes the NPR show WAIT WAIT... DON'T TELL ME as much as I do.

PETER SAGAL: (As himself) So Carl Kasell, how did the House minority whip do on our news quiz?

CARL KASELL: (As himself) Well, Peter, he got two out of three right. So he wins me recording his outgoing message.

SAGAL: (As character) Oh, that's OK. Really, no. No, no, Please don't.

KASELL: (As himself) It's not optional.

INSKEEP: So that's it. Carl Kasell just reached the pinnacle of his career. It's time to stop. This weekend is Carl's final broadcast as the official judge and scorekeeper of WAIT WAIT...DON'T TELL ME! He becomes scorekeeper emeritus. And while you'll still be hearing Carl from time to time, it is time to review his more than 60 years of radio. The early years sounded like this.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED BROADCAST)

KASELL: The magic hour of midnight fast approaches and the shadows of the night lengthen and close in, making our world a world just for two. Our starlight symphony fades and slowly dies away as we put away our dreams till another day.

UNIDENTIFIED SINGERS #1: (Singing) The witching hour is near...

INSKEEP: That's a teenaged Carl Kasell around 1950, hosting a late-night, easy listening music show. It was on WGBR in Goldsboro, N.C. Carl had been dreaming of a job like that for as long as he could remember.

KASELL: Before I even started to school, I sometimes would hide behind the radio, which would be sitting on a table, and pretend that I was on the air and try to fool people who came by to listen. And then when I got up to about 7 years old - and I do remember this very well - my grandmother had a windup Victrola and maybe two or three records, and I would sit there sometimes and play those records. And I'd put in commercials between them. And I would do a newscast; I would tell jokes; and I would tell the time, just like the guy on the radio did. I loved doing it.

INSKEEP: Once he got on the radio for real, only one thing ever kept him off. He was drafted in the 1950s. But after his Army service, the station welcomed him back.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED BROADCAST)

UNIDENTIFIED SINGERS #2: It's "The Carl Kasell Show." With talks and tunes and Goldsboro radio. Carl Kasell plays the best tunes that are your favorite requests; 1-1-5-0, Carl Kasell's show. "The Carl Kasell Show."

RENEE MONTAGNE, HOST:

(Laughter) Carl.

KASELL: How do you like that, huh?

MONTAGNE: All right!

(LAUGHTER)

INSKEEP: Here's Carl talking with Renee a few years ago.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED BROADCAST)

MONTAGNE: So jump ahead and tell us how you ended up in news.

KASELL: I was working in Alexandria, Va., and a friend of mine who worked at an all-news station in Arlington called me up and said that - we have an opening on the weekend if you can use a few extra dollars. And I kind of left the records behind.

And it came at a time when so much was happening.We had the Vietnam War, the demonstrations downtown in Washington, the Martin Luther King and Bobby Kennedy assassinations, the Middle East war, Watergate came alone. And so it was a great learning period even though there were some bad times in there. And it got into my blood. And I wound up being the news director at the station.

INSKEEP: Carl joined NPR in 1975 as a part-time weekend newscaster. He went on to deliver the news during MORNING EDITION from the very beginning, in 1979. For 30 years, the only certain things were death, taxes and Carl Kasell's voice.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED BROADCAST)

KASELL: From NPR News in Washington, I'm Carl Kasell. President Bush says Iran...

INSKEEP: He used to wake up at 1:05 - 1:05, he said, because 1 o'clock was just too darn early. Finally, he stepped away from that routine to devote more time to his other job.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED BROADCAST)

KASELL: From NPR and WBEZ Chicago, this is WAIT WAIT...DON"T TELL ME, the NPR News Quiz. I'm Carl Kasell.

(APPLAUSE)

INSKEEP: Carl has been scorekeeper on "WAIT WAIT" since it debuted, in 1998. During all those years, it's been hard to imagine anyone else who could even do the job. True, there were plenty of other people who could listen to the jokes of Peter Sagal without laughing. But only Carl had that authoritative voice - calm, quiet, never in distress.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED BROADCAST)

KASELL: (Screams)

SAGAL: That was the radio version of a famous painting that sold for a record $120 million at auction this week.

(LAUGHTER)

INSKEEP: Such raw displays of talent awed even the show's celebrity guests, like Ashley Judd.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED BROADCAST)

ASHLEY JUDD: I am so nervous to be here. I am so nervous.

SAGAL: Really?

JUDD: I was thinking about - I was comparing how nervous I am now to how nervous I wasn't when I addressed the General Assembly of the United Nations.

SAGAL: Yeah.

(LAUGHTER)

JUDD: Like, honestly.

SAGAL: Really?

JUDD: Yes. And I think then because I was speaking truth to power in a way that felt very, you know, spiritual. And I was determined. But oh, my God, that's Carl Kasell.

(LAUGHTER, APPLAUSE)

INSKEEP: And then there are the answering machine messages. He's done about 2,000 of them over the years. And as scorekeeper emeritus, Carl will continue to record those messages.

(SOUNDBITE OF ANSWERING MACHINE MESSAGE)

KASELL: This is Carl Kasell, of National Public Radio News. Reliable sources report that both Mike and Carla are not available to answer the phone right now. We have verified that they do not need siding, windows or a hot tub, and their carpets are clean. They give to charity through the office, and they don't need their picture taken. If you're still with me, leave your name and number, and they'll get back to you soon. And thanks.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED BROADCAST)

KASELL: When the program went on the air, we didn't have much of a budget; we had no budget, really. And we were having listeners call in and play games, and we could only say, well, you're a winner. And that's it. We wanted to give them a gift or a prize. We couldn't afford coffee mugs or totebags or whatever, so I was asked if I would do this for a short time until we had a budget and we could buy some gifts.

Well, I've been doing it ever since. Peter describes them as this.

SAGAL: You can't buy them anywhere, but you also can't sell them. They're the only prize that's both priceless and worthless.

INSKEEP: Priceless to the people who received them, they remain Carl Kasell's signature as he nears the end of a long career. Now, here's something people say about a radio newscaster. The news may be bad, but just hearing that voice every day tells you things are all right. Here's something people say about laughter: It's a sign you're not defeated. Millions of people have felt both kinds of reassurance when they heard Carl Kasell's voice.

KASELL: I have enjoyed every minute of it. I have never considered what I do as work. It has been fun, it's been rewarding, and very fulfilling - the whole thing. I love my work. It's been good to me, and it's the best of my world.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED SHOW, "THE CARL KASELL SHOW")

UNIDENTIFIED SINGERS #2: (Singing) One-one-five-oh, Carl Kasell's show...

INSKEEP: It's MORNING EDITION, from NPR News. I'm Steve Inskeep.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED SHOW, "THE CARL KASELL SHOW")

UNIDENTIFIED SINGERS #2: "The Carl Kasell Show." Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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