• Listen to Carl Kasell’s special recording for Bulletin Today
National Public Radio’s Carl Kasell, whose break-of-dawn newscasts over the past 30 years have kept millions of listeners informed about how the world changed while they slept, will sign off from Morning Edition for the last time on Dec. 30.
The veteran announcer joined NPR in 1975 and—with a radio career spanning more than 50 years—has anchored tens of thousands of newscasts, covering everything from the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989 to the 9/11 terrorist attacks in 2001. In a culture that increasingly seems to relish sensational news, the 75-year-old Kasell is esteemed for his steady, understated delivery.
“I try to explain what’s happening in the simplest way,” he says. “In a newspaper you can go back and read it again if you didn’t quite understand. But on the radio, you can’t go back and listen. The listener has to get it the first time.”
Kasell is quick to point out he is not retiring or leaving NPR. “I’m just getting another job,” he says. “I’m going to be busy.”
He will continue as judge and scorekeeper on Wait, Wait … Don’t Tell Me!, which NPR touts as an “oddly informative news quiz.” Recorded in Chicago "before a live audience on Thursday nights, the show challenges listeners to test their knowledge of current events while separating fact from fiction. Contestants vie for a coveted prize: Kasell’s voice recorded in an outgoing message for their answering machine.
In addition, Kasell is stepping into a new role as NPR’s “roving ambassador.” He will travel the country helping local public radio stations raise funds. This new job undoubtedly will give him a venue to unleash the wry humor that landed him a spot on the quiz show.
A Love for Radio
As a boy growing up during the golden age of radio, Kasell had no particular passion for news. He wanted to become an entertainer. He spent evenings sitting by a radio in his hometown of Goldsboro, N.C., listening to such popular programs as Truth or Consequences with Ralph Edwards and Art Linkletter’s House Party. One of his favorite pastimes was playing records on his grandmother’s Victrola, ad-libbing commercials he concocted and pretending he was on the air.
The high school he attended had an award-winning drama department, which hired Andy Griffith as a teacher before Griffith made it big on TV. The school also offered a class in radio performance. Kasell was one of several students who auditioned for and landed a chance to broadcast high school news at the local radio station.
“And, by golly, that summer—I was 16, between my sophomore and junior years—and they offered me a part-time job. And paid me!” he recalls with a chuckle.
When Kasell enrolled at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, he majored in English because, with two years of radio experience under his belt, he thought he was already a pro. But his first encounter with fellow student Charles Kuralt, who later became host of CBS’s Sunday Morning, knocked his ego down a notch.
“He was so good,” Kasell recalls, “I had to go back and start studying again.”
After graduating from college, Kasell enjoyed a brief stint spinning records at a music station in Alexandria, Va. By then, he had a wife and son—and a need for better pay. So he took a job as morning anchor at an Arlington, Va., radio station and was later promoted to news director. That’s where he learned to be a journalist, he says. It’s also where he hired a bright, energetic intern named Katie Couric, now anchor of the CBS Evening News.
Early to Rise
Kasell landed at NPR in Washington in 1975 as a part-time weekend newscaster for All Things Considered. He went full time with Morning Edition when the program began in 1979. Ever since, his workdays have begun hours before dawn, when he and NPR colleagues begin writing copy for his first newscast at 5 a.m.