NPR Newscaster Carl Kasell Dies At 84, After A Lifelong Career On-Air Kasell brought unflappable authority to the news, but he also had a lively sense of humor, revealed late in his career when he became the judge and scorekeeper for Wait Wait... Don't Tell Me!

NPR Newscaster Carl Kasell Dies At 84, After A Lifelong Career On-Air

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It is a sad day here at NPR. Carl Kasell has died at the age of 84. He was an NPR newscaster for more than 30 years and a judge and official scorekeeper for the NPR program Wait Wait... Don't Tell Me! He died of complications from Alzheimer's disease in Potomac, Md. NPR's Neda Ulaby has our remembrance.

NEDA ULABY, BYLINE: Even as a child Carl Kasell liked to play newscaster.


CARL KASELL: I sometimes would hide behind the radio and pretend that I was on the air.

ULABY: That's Kasell in 2009 remembering his boyhood in Goldsboro, N.C. He said he also used to play with his grandmother's windup Victrola and her collection of records.


KASELL: And I would sit there sometimes and play those records, and I'd put in commercials between them. And I would do a newscast just like the guy on the radio did.

ULABY: Kasell became a real guy on the radio when he was only 16 years old.


KASELL: The magic hour of midnight fast approaches, and the shadows of the night lengthen and close in.

ULABY: Carl Kasell DJ-ing making a late-night music show on his local station around 1950.


KASELL: Our starlight symphony fades and slowly dies away.

ULABY: At the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, Kasell was unsurprisingly one of the very first students to work at its brand-new station, WUNC. After graduation, he served in the military, but a job was waiting for him back home at his old station in Goldsboro.


UNIDENTIFIED SINGERS: (Singing) It's the Carl Kasell show.

UNIDENTIFIED SINGER: (Singing) With tops in tunes on Goldsboro radio.

ULABY: It's funny to think of Carl Kasell as a music guy, but he was. He moved to northern Virginia to spin records, but a friend convinced him to take a job at an all-news station.


KASELL: 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. It was a great learning period even though there were some bad times in there.

ULABY: In 1975, Kasell joined NPR as a part-time employee. Four years later, he announced the news for the first broadcast of a new show, Morning Edition.


KASELL: Good morning, I'm Carl Kasell. Two men have pleaded innocent to murdering Earl Mountbatten of Burma, a cousin of Britain's Queen Elizabeth.

ULABY: When one of the most recognized voices of NPR stepped down three decades later, the show Talk of the Nation dedicated a full hour to his career. Morning Edition's former host, Bob Edwards, remembered relying on Kasell during, for example, 9/11.


KASELL: Details are sketchy, but it appears that a plane has crashed into the upper floors of the World Trade Center in New York City.

BOB EDWARDS: That morning and a thousand others. Awful things happened in the morning.

ULABY: Edwards said, sure, he was the morning host, but Carl Kasell was in every way its anchor.

EDWARDS: Seven newscasts every morning - what? - nine minutes long.


EDWARDS: Nobody in this business does that. That is incredible.

ULABY: Then the surprise second act.


KASELL: From NPR and WBEZ Chicago, this is Wait Wait... Don't Tell Me!, the NPR News quiz. I'm Carl Kasell.

ULABY: After years of being super serious, Kasell got a chance to let down his hair.


KASELL: (Screaming).

PETER SAGAL, BYLINE: That was the radio version...


SAGAL: ...Of a famous painting that...

ULABY: Host Peter Sagal says no one could have guessed that Carl Kasell would be so funny.

SAGAL: The greatest thing about Carl was anything we came up with he was game for. When we were in Las Vegas, we had him come onstage wearing a showgirl's headdress. No matter what we asked him to do, no matter how many silly voices or weird stunts - we had him jump out of a cake once to make his entrance onstage. He did it with such joy but such dignity.

ULABY: Carl Kasell delivered both when he got one of the highest honors in popular culture - a cameo on "The Simpsons."


YEARDLEY SMITH: (As Lisa Simpson) 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.


SAGAL: So, Carl Kasell, how did the House minority whip do on our news quiz?

KASELL: Well, Peter, he got two out of three right, so he wins me recording his outgoing message.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #2: Oh, that's OK. Really. No, no, no, please don't.

KASELL: It's not optional.

ULABY: Kasell recorded people's outgoing messages on their answering machines because at the beginning, Wait Wait... Don't Tell Me! did not have the budget for real prizes. Eventually he recorded more than 2,000 of them.


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.

ULABY: Many of those messages are archived on the Wait Wait website.


KASELL: We have verified that they do not need siding, windows or a hot tub, and their carpets are clean.

ULABY: One of the great backstage stories about Carl Kasell involves his interest in magic tricks. In 2009, he told NPR's Renee Montagne about a company holiday party where he sawed Nina Totenberg in half.


KASELL: We laid her out on the table, picked up that saw and (imitating sawing) right through her middle section.


KASELL: And she said it tickled.

MONTAGNE: (Laughter).

KASELL: And (laughter) - and she got up and walked away in one piece.

ULABY: Carl Kasell was magic. Neda Ulaby, NPR News.

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