Carl Kasell: After 30 Years, A Chance To Sleep In Carl Kasell has delivered the news on Morning Edition since its very first broadcast. After 30 years, he's focusing on other duties at NPR. We look back at his career — as a local DJ; a game show announcer — and the magician who dared to saw Nina Totenberg in half.
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Carl Kasell: After 30 Years, A Chance To Sleep In

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Carl Kasell: After 30 Years, A Chance To Sleep In

Carl Kasell: After 30 Years, A Chance To Sleep In

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  • <iframe src="" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
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Think of this next story as a love song to radio. We're saying goodbye, this morning, to a beloved colleague who's made his life on our air. Since 1979, Americans have been able to set their watches by this sound.

CARL KASELL: From NPR News in Washington, I'm Carl Kasell.


Just to be clear, it is not exactly one minute past the start of the hour. It is the moment when we hear Carl sit down with Renee Montagne.

RENEE MONTAGNE: And if you haven't heard, today is Carl's last in the newscast chair. A perfect excuse for a look back with the man who was practically born to radio; certainly raised on radio, listening to WGBR in Goldsboro, North Carolina - even snagging an on-air gig when he was just 16.

So, we invited Carl Kasell in for a Longview, our occasional chats with people of long experience. Good morning, Carl.

KASELL: Good morning, Renee.

MONTAGNE: So, it's sort of unusual, us talking like this, when we're not in the hallway drinking coffee together - 2:30 in the morning.

KASELL: Yeah, that's early, isn't it?

MONTAGNE: Yeah. Well, it's not so much longer for you.

KASELL: Nope. Just another, you know, well, it's finished.

MONTAGNE: Well, we're not really finished, Carl. In fact, you're barely letting up.

KASELL: That's right. Actually, I hear the word retirement a lot concerning my situation, and the only thing I'm retiring is my alarm clock. No more will I hear that clock go off at one o'clock in the morning or five after one as I like to say because I like to sleep in.

But I will be at NPR full time. I will be working for as a roving ambassador for the network and I will also keep my job on WAIT, WAIT... DON'T TELL ME.

MONTAGNE: Which, of course, at this point in time, is how a whole lot of people know you.

KASELL: This is true. As a matter of fact, they know me so well that many of them have my voice on their home answering machine - about 2,000, as a matter of fact.

MONTAGNE: Take us back to how you began as a newscaster. Because in fact you actually wanted to be on radio as a little kid.

KASELL: I did. Before I even started to school, I sometimes would hide behind the radio, which would be sitting on the 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 seven years old - and I do remember this very well - my grandmother had a wind-up 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.

MONTAGNE: And I gather that your father knew you were so taken with radio that he took you down to the station there in Goldsboro.

KASELL: He did, usually on a Sunday afternoon and I could look through the plate glass windows and see these people working. But the thing that really had fascinated me was to go to that little room off the lobby and see that teletype machine working. Boy, there comes the latest news. Can you believe that?

MONTAGNE: I think there might be a lot of people who will be sort of delighted to know that when you went to the University of North Carolina you worked with someone who did pretty well himself, Charles Kuralt.

KASELL: Yeah, Charlie was a student, as I was. We were both 18 years old when we entered the school. And WUNC went on the air in '53, and I auditioned and Charlie went over and helped out too. But I don't think his sound changed that much. He was so good that I really began to realize I didn't know that much about radio.

MONTAGNE: Well, we have an opportunity to judge for ourselves because we have a clip of that.

(Soundbite of radio broadcast)

KASELL: This is a show about a man who wants to broadcast over the air - about any man, about every man, about all men who have ever dedicated a program, inaugurated a show, gone on the air for the first time. Everything's ready, Mr. Paulson.

Mr. CHARLES KURALT (Radio Broadcaster): Thanks Ed. I suppose I better get him then. Somehow this is the part I always hate.


MONTAGNE: So, that is the young Carl Kasell.

KASELL: That's was the dedication program for WUNC, runs about a half hour. But it's a little drama and Charlie's on there. The first voice you hear is mine and then Charlie comes in.

MONTAGNE: Now, of course, you graduated WUNC and went back to WGBR. And I think this will be a special treat to some listeners as well - different sort of Carl Kasell.

(Soundbite of music)

Unidentified Man and Woman: (Singing) It's the Carl Kasell Show.

Unidentified Woman: (Singing) Talks and tunes and Goldsboro radio.

Unidentified Man and Woman: (Singing) Carl Kasell plays the best.

Unidentified Woman: (Singing) Tunes that are your favorite requests.

Unidentified Man and Woman: (Singing) 1150 Carl Kasell Show.

Unidentified Woman: (Singing) The Carl Kasell Show.

(Soundbite of laughter)


KASELL: How you like that, huh?

(Soundbite of laughter)

MONTAGNE: Now, that was late 1950s, right?

KASELL: I guess it was that late 1950s, because after college I was drafted into the Army. And when I came back, that theme was waiting for me as I took over the morning program and did it for several years.

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

KASELL: I was working in Alexandria, Virginia, 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, Middle East war, Watergate came along.

And so it was a great learning period even though there was some bad times in there, and it got into my blood. And I wound up being the news director at the station.

MONTAGNE: You know, you and I appear together at a conference of folks who do development work for stations, that is raise money. And you had to say a little something except you actually didn't say too much. You came up, you did something, I was so surprised. You did magic jokes.

KASELL: Um-hum, yeah.

MONTAGNE: And you were really good at it.

KASELL: Well, competent, let's say, in some illusions. Not completely. But I had fun with it, yeah.

MONTAGNE: And I've actually heard that you cut Nina, Nina Totenberg, in half?

KASELL: Exactly, yep. I have a saw - and this is during one of our holiday parties - and she volunteered. We laid her out on the table, we got that saw and (makes sounds) through her middle section. And she said it tickled. And...

(Soundbite of laughter)

KASELL: ...and she got up and walked away in one piece.

MONTAGNE: 'Cause I, well, then in a way it all seems as if you were destined for WAIT, WAIT...DON'T TELL ME. That this whole newscasting thing - just one big stepping stone.

KASELL: Yeah, I guess so. But, you know, when I think back about my newscasting career here at NPR, I've enjoyed every moment thereto. And I look out the window in the morning sometimes and the sun is rising and people are going to work, and I look at Washington as being that big sleeping giant just stretching and waking up and going about its business.

And to know that I'm working in the capital of the most powerful nation of the world, I feel good about that.

MONTAGNE: I, like so many listeners of MORNING EDITION, will miss you delivering the newscast in the morning. All the best to you and we'll hear you and see you.

KASELL: That's right. And I'll be on WAIT, WAIT.

MONTAGNE: Thank you very much for joining us.

KASELL: It's been a pleasure, Renee.

INSKEEP: NPR's Carl Kasell concludes 30 years of news on MORNING EDITION today.

(Soundbite of music)

Unidentified Woman: (Singing) The Carl Kasell Show.

(Soundbite of laughter)

INSKEEP: This is NPR News.

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