'I've Enjoyed Every Minute Of It': Carl Kasell On His 60 Years In Radio

May 16, 2014
Originally published on May 16, 2014 2:06 pm

Carl Kasell — the official judge and scorekeeper of the NPR quiz show Wait Wait... Don't Tell Me! — is stepping down after more than 60 years in radio. While you'll still hear him from time to time as he eases into the role as scorekeeper emeritus, his final broadcast airs on Saturday and Sunday.

Kasell recently had a cameo on The Simpsons, and since that's the pinnacle of any career, this seemed like a good moment to look back on his many decades in broadcast.

Kasell dreamed of being on the radio since he was a kid. "I sometimes would hide behind the radio — which would be sitting on a table — and pretend that I was on the air and try to fool people who came by to listen," Kasell told NPR's Renee Montagne in 2009.

Kasell got his first radio gig when he was 16; he hosted a late-night, easy-listening music show on WGBR in Goldsboro, N.C., playing romantic songs and waxing poetic about young lovers all through the evening. (You'll want to click the listen link at the top of this page to hear a clip of that!)

Once he got a job on-air, only one thing kept him off: He was drafted in the 1950s. After his Army service, WGBR welcomed Kasell back by giving him his very own morning drive-time music program, The Carl Kasell Show.

Kasell eventually migrated into the news business. He joined NPR in 1975 as a part-time weekend newscaster and went on to Morning Edition in 1979, where he stayed for 30 years. While many of the Morning Edition staffers start their day before dawn, Kasell used to wake up at 1:05 a.m. because, he explained, "1 o'clock was just too damn early."

In 2009, he stepped away from the Morning Edition routine to devote more time to his other job, as official judge and scorekeeper on Wait Wait... Don't Tell Me! Kasell's been with that show since it debuted in 1998.

Over the years, Kasell has recorded more than 2,000 voice mail greetings for winning contestants — that's something he plans to continue in his role as scorekeeper emeritus. (Click here to read host Peter Sagal's reflection on the time he spent working with Kasell — and to hear some very funny voice mail greetings.)

It is sometimes said about radio newscasters that although the news may be bad, just hearing their voices every day lets listeners know that things are all right. Throughout the years, millions of NPR listeners have felt that reassurance.

"I have enjoyed every minute of it," Kasell says. "I never consider what I do as work. It has been fun, it's been rewarding and very fulfilling. ... I love my work. It's been good to me."

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All right. You know you're a fixture in American culture when you make it on to "The Simpsons." Carl Kasell had his turn last Sunday.


INSKEEP: So that's it. Carl Kasell just reached the pinnacle of his career. It's time to stop. This weekend is Carl's final broadcast as the official judge and scorekeeper of WAIT WAIT...DON'T TELL ME! He becomes scorekeeper emeritus. And while you'll still be hearing Carl from time to time, it is time to review his more than 60 years of radio. The early years sounded like this.


INSKEEP: That's a teenaged Carl Kasell around 1950, hosting a late-night, easy listening music show. It was on WGBR in Goldsboro, N.C. Carl had been dreaming of a job like that for as long as he could remember.

: Before I even started to school, I sometimes would hide behind the radio, which would be sitting on a 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 7 years old - and I do remember this very well - my grandmother had a windup 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.

INSKEEP: Once he got on the radio for real, only one thing ever kept him off. He was drafted in the 1950s. But after his Army service, the station welcomed him back.


UNIDENTIFIED SINGERS #2: It's "The Carl Kasell Show." With talks and tunes and Goldsboro radio. Carl Kasell plays the best tunes that are your favorite requests; 1-1-5-0, Carl Kasell's show. "The Carl Kasell Show."


(Laughter) Carl.

: How do you like that, huh?

MONTAGNE: All right!


INSKEEP: Here's Carl talking with Renee a few years ago.


INSKEEP: Carl joined NPR in 1975 as a part-time weekend newscaster. He went on to deliver the news during MORNING EDITION from the very beginning, in 1979. For 30 years, the only certain things were death, taxes and Carl Kasell's voice.


INSKEEP: He used to wake up at 1:05 - 1:05, he said, because 1 o'clock was just too darn early. Finally, he stepped away from that routine to devote more time to his other job.



INSKEEP: Carl has been scorekeeper on "WAIT WAIT" since it debuted, in 1998. During all those years, it's been hard to imagine anyone else who could even do the job. True, there were plenty of other people who could listen to the jokes of Peter Sagal without laughing. But only Carl had that authoritative voice - calm, quiet, never in distress.



INSKEEP: Such raw displays of talent awed even the show's celebrity guests, like Ashley Judd.



: Like, honestly.

: Really?

: Yes. And I think then because I was speaking truth to power in a way that felt very, you know, spiritual. And I was determined. But oh, my God, that's Carl Kasell.


INSKEEP: And then there are the answering machine messages. He's done about 2,000 of them over the years. And as scorekeeper emeritus, Carl will continue to record those messages.


: 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. We have verified that they do not need siding, windows or a hot tub, and their carpets are clean. They give to charity through the office, and they don't need their picture taken. If you're still with me, leave your name and number, and they'll get back to you soon. And thanks.


INSKEEP: Priceless to the people who received them, they remain Carl Kasell's signature as he nears the end of a long career. Now, here's something people say about a radio newscaster. The news may be bad, but just hearing that voice every day tells you things are all right. Here's something people say about laughter: It's a sign you're not defeated. Millions of people have felt both kinds of reassurance when they heard Carl Kasell's voice.

: I have enjoyed every minute of it. I have never considered what I do as work. It has been fun, it's been rewarding, and very fulfilling - the whole thing. I love my work. It's been good to me, and it's the best of my world.


INSKEEP: It's MORNING EDITION, from NPR News. I'm Steve Inskeep.

(SOUNDBITE OF RADIO SHOW, "THE CARL KASELL SHOW") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.