04/29/12 — Kasell opens museum journalism exhibit

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Kasell opens museum journalism exhibit

By Dennis Hill
Published in News on April 29, 2012 1:50 AM

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Carl Kasell speaks to a group at the Wayne County Museum about his career in radio broadcasting as part of a new journalism exhibit.

Award-winning National Public Radio broadcaster Carl Kasell was in Goldsboro Saturday for two reasons.

Kasell gave a lecture at the Wayne County Museum to kick off an exhibit on journalism. And he was to meet with classmates later to celebrate the reunion of the Goldsboro High School class of 1952.

Kasell reached national fame first as the voice of NPR's morning news show, "All Things Considered", and then later as the host of the network's popular quiz show, "Wait, Wait ... Don't Tell Me."

Now technically retired, he continues to travel around the county helping with NPR fundraisers.

When Kasell was growing up in what most people would describe as "old" Goldsboro he knew he wanted to be a radio star.

He loved to listen to serials like "The Lone Ranger" and "Superman" and the music that came from the magic box. He would play records, then mimic the jocks with his own banter. Sometimes he would hide behind the big radio and try to fool listeners in the room into thinking his voice was the real announcers.

"I'd play the records and make up the news," he said. "As far back as I can remember, I wanted to be in radio and I got lucky."

Playing the hits and cutting up with some snappy patter -- that would be his ticket. And that, in essence, is just what happened, Kasell told a group of nearly 100 at the museum Saturday afternoon.

Kasell knew his dream would not come true just fantasizing about it. He began working at radio station WGBR as a high school student, preparing the early morning news for his boss, the late Vassie Balkcum, before someone picked him up in time for school.

At school, one of his teachers was a fellow named Andy Griffith.

After graduating from GHS, Kasell pulled a stint in the Army, then attended the University of North Carolina, where he met another young student from the eastern part of the state who was interested in radio.

His name was Charles Kuralt.

Kasell and Kuralt helped start the school's radio station, WUNC, which still broadcasts today. They were good friends as well as co-workers, Kasell said.

"I miss Charles," Kasell said of his fellow Tar Heel, who died in 1997 "He was one of the best writers radio and television ever had."

Kasell returned to Goldsboro and WGBR, still spinning the hits and reading the news. In 1965, he was offered a job at a radio station in Washington, D.C. He started as a broadcaster at WAVA and eventually became its news director.

One summer, he was told by a friends of a young woman who was interested in an internship. He hired her.

Her name was Katie Couric.

"It's amazing what she's done," he said.

Kasell joined NPR in 1975 as the news announcer for "All Things Considered." He later became the news announcer for the network's morning news show, a job he held for 30 years.

"Wait, Wait ... Don't Tell Me," debuted in 1998. At first it was difficult to find celebrities to go on the air. Now, they call asking for a chance to be on the show.

Over the years, Kasell has been on the air with hundreds of celebrities. He declined to name favorites, but noted that Paula Poundstone, Roy Blount Jr. and Tom Bodette are always a hit with listeners.

The prize for winning the quiz show is Kasell recording the winner's home phone answering machine message. It's become a tradition and a highly-sought after prize but Kasell said it only started because the network didn't have enough money when it began to buy real prizes.

Kasell still travels a lot. He described himself as a "roving ambassador" for NPR, traveling around the country helping raise money for the network. He still flies to Chicago every Thursday to record the show.

The museum's exhibit will run through July 20. The next speaker in the accompanying series will be Dr. Frank Fee of the University of North Carolina, who will speak Tuesday, May 1, at 7 p.m. on journalism during the Civil War. On Saturday, May 12, Pulitzer Prize winning newspaperman Eugene Roberts will speak.