NPR's Kasell to emcee Kitty Askins event
By Phyllis Moore
Published in News on April 8, 2010 1:46 PM
Carl Kasell's love for broadcasting started when he was a boy growing up in Goldsboro.
The famous National Public Radio speaker will return home this weekend to emcee a fundraiser for the Kitty Askins expansion project.
"I listened to WGBR a lot," he said. "I remember the first time I was on the air -- I was in first grade and we got to sing a song."
His father also often took him to the radio station, said Kasell, recalling his impressions of the experience.
"I would see those guys on the other side of the glass," he said. "But what I really enjoyed was seeing the teletype machine. Back then, I knew that this was what I wanted to do. And I got lucky -- coming up this June, I've had about 60 years as a paid broadcaster."
Kasell's career includes a stint as a morning announcer at his hometown station of WGBR and later sharing on-air duties alongside then-classmate Charles Kuralt at the University of North Carolina's station, WUNC.
For the past 30 years, he has delivered the news on National Public Radio's "Morning Edition" and hosted the game show, "Wait Wait ... Don't Tell Me."
And at 76, he shows no signs of slowing down.
Instead of announcing his retirement, he was recently named roving ambassador for NPR, a role that promises to keep him actively canvassing the country.
"I'm on the road every week going somewhere," he said, in addition to the weekly trip to Chicago for tapings of the quiz show. "Now I'm visiting stations -- Pasadena, Calif., Knoxville, Tenn., and Hampton Roads, Va.
"So that's 'retirement.' In some respects I'm busier than I was doing newscasts."
This weekend, he will be back in Goldsboro to be the host for "Along the Way: A Homecoming," which will be held a the Paramount Theatre on Saturday night, featuring musical guests John Brown, Randall Bramlett, Keli Nicole Price and Judson Spence.
"Whenever something like that happens at the Paramount, my good friend David Weil calls and asks if I will emcee it," Kasell said. "Any time anybody at home calls me to come home, I do."
He said he looks forward to taking a few days to also incorporate a visit with family and friends. His sister, Mary Gross, still lives in Goldsboro and other siblings are also in North Carolina.
Of all the changes he has experienced during his radio career, Kasell says the biggest have been in the area of technology.
"When I was working at WGBR in Goldsboro back in 1950, we played 78 rpm records," he said. "I think we had one or two tape recorders in the place. Most everything was done live.
"Of course we would go to the little teletype and rip the news off the machine. Today we don't do that."
These days, stations have the capability to access news all over the globe, with satellite and digital technology an "amazing" addition, he said.
"Who would have dreamed of it back in 1950?" he mused.
The business has not lost its luster, in part because he has enjoyed being surrounded by a wonderful team.
"We have a great organization here at NPR and we have some real experts," he said. "They have made it easy for us who are not gifted in technology, to do our jobs. The people here as well as the technology have been good. It's made our jobs easier."
Some of the excitement stems from his inherent fascination with being a news announcer. And Kasell has counted himself fortunate to have been able to cover some big stories as they were happening.
September 11, 2001 readily comes to mind.
"You can't forget something like 9/11," he said. "I had gone to get a drink of water before 9 o'clock ... returned and saw it on TV. I thought back to the second grade during World War II or shortly afterwards, when a plane crashed into the Empire State Building. That was a cloudy day, (the pilot) probably didn't see the building."
But 9/11 wasn't a cloudy day.
And for Kasell, there was little time to think.
"I went in to do my 9 o'clock newscast. We had nothing to say except that a plane had crashed into the building," he said.
As bulletins began filtering in, they were quickly brought to air.
The momentum built throughout that morning, he said.
And the immediacy that radio affords presented its own unique challenges.
"As far as writing the story, forget it," he said. "It was already outdated by the time we would write it. We were putting it together as it went along."
Other memories also come to mind of sensational stories during his career -- the Oklahoma City bombing, the Challenger explosion among them.
And each time, Kasell could only react one way -- by doing his job.
"I have had people ask me several times, 'Do you ever get caught up in the emotions?' The answer is no, you don't have time," he said.
In such cases, he admits, any feelings have to be put on hold until he gets home.
The adrenaline, the desire to get the news out to the public, are all part of what has kept broadcasting interesting, he said.
And every once in awhile, seemingly out of nowhere, a pleasant surprise interrupts the flow and reminds him that people are listening to him.
"About three years ago, I'm sitting at home and the telephone rings and the guy introduced himself as Michael Stevens, the son of George Stevens Jr.," he said, explaining that George Stevens Sr. produced such movies as "Giant" and "Shane." Stevens Jr. and his son are also producers, responsible for the Kennedy Center Honors.
"They asked me if I would like to be their announcer. I got that job, so for the past three years, I have done it."
All because they had heard him on NPR, he said.
But, he is quick to point out, it's not about awards or honors or recognitions.
It's simply about being a die-hard news hound who enjoys the excitement of the hunt and the ability to pass along the information.
"I love this business so much," he said. "I will stay in it until they run me out. It's been fun. I still have fun doing it.
"It's like my dad said, 'If you want to keep on doing it, keep on doing it.'"