A peek at unedited excerpts from the
first draft of Carl Kasell’s autobiography
Carl: From NPR and WBEZ, Chicago, this is ‘Wait, Wait … Don’t Tell Me!, the NPR news quiz. I’m Carl Kasell and here’s your host at the Chase Bank Auditorium in downtown Chicago, Peeeeeeter Sagal! (LOUD APPLAUSE)
Peter: Thanks everybody. We have a great show today … but first, as many of you have already heard, Carl Kasell has an announcement to make.
Carl: So long, suckers! (LOUD LAUGHTER AND APPLAUSE)
Peter: That’s right, after 60 years in broadcasting, including more than 30 years at NPR and this show’s official judge and scorekeeper from the very first episode, Carl has decided to lay down the microphone and become our Scorekeeper Emeritus. He will continue to record voice mails for all our winners. He’ll hang around our offices and he’ll make sure we don’t lower our standards.
Carl: As if that is even possible.
Peter: He’ll be with us for a few more months, at least. We now begin with our Carl Kasell Farewell Tour. In the meantime, we’ll wring every last ounce of dignity from him.
Wait, Wait…I’m Not Done Yet!
Wait, Wait … I’m Not Done Yet! Copyright © 2014 by Carl Kasell, Mary Ann Foster and Bantry Bay Media, LLC. All rights reserved.
Presumably, the day I was born was the most important day of my life, but I don’t remember that. I do remember the day I met Carl Kasell, though, so that tops my personal list.
Carl and I had been working together for at least six months as we rehearsed and then performed the very first Wait, Wait shows, but we hadn’t yet met …
We met in Washington, D.C., where we had been flown to shoot some publicity stills. Standing around in a performance studio, posing for some dull shots of us in our sport jackets, Carl spied a grand piano in the corner. Soon, he was lying on top of it, chin in hand, looking like a more dapper Michelle Pfeiffer from The Fabulous Baker Boys, while I pretended to play the piano. He batted his eyes at me and said, “I’ve always wanted to do this.”
As Scorekeeper Emeritus, Carl remains public radio’s most dashing and beloved personality and we will miss him and his famously understated wit. As we began taping Carl’s final show in Chicago, I said, “Carl, we thought that the best tribute to you would be to just do a really good show.” He replied, “Well, it would be about time.” — Peter Sagal, host of Wait Wait … Don’t Tell Me!
EXCERPT from chapter one
…The air base is where Dad came in contact with many German POWs. As many as 500 were housed at Seymour Johnson and because so many of our farm boys were off fighting the war, the Germans were put to work raising crops and harvesting timber. I remember my father telling us he’d made friends with many of the POWs, and that they told him that they loved America so much, when the war was over they wanted to come back, build a home and live here. Although they were the enemy, they were treated fairly by the military and the community. My father got along so well with them, the POWs would slip him things that they had access to that most people in town didn’t; things like lard, flour and sugar to bring home for Mom to cook with. Sugar was probably the most valuable and Dad used it to pay doctor bills.
There was this feeling about the Germans that someday we would all live together peacefully. Dad and Mom told us that the POWs were just like us, human beings caught up in the war. Our name, Kasell, is German and there’s a city in north-central Germany of Kassell. Because of the similarity, we changed the pronunciation of Kasell to “kuh- SELL” to try to avoid any connection to that town. I continued pronouncing it that way until my sophomore year in high school when my radio course teacher, Clifton Britton, said he didn’t care what I called myself outside of radio, but it was important that I pronounced my name “Castle,” because it sounded better and was easier to understand and remember.
This may seem odd coming from someone my age, but I miss my parents a lot. They were wonderful and we had a good, loving family. My mom was just the best. “Anything for my boy!” she would often say. To this day, my siblings claim I was Mom’s favorite.
EXCERPT from chapter two
My mom used to have to drag me out of the house to go play with other kids because I couldn’t get enough of listening to the radio. I was fascinated by what came out of it and I’d sit spellbound for hours if she’d let me to The Lone Ranger, The House of Mystery, Superman, Batman and on and on, one right after another. We had one of those large radio consoles, a furniture piece, and a potted plant behind it. Sometimes I would hide behind the plant and radio and with it turned off, pretend I was on the air and try to fool anyone who came by. My grandmother had a Victrola with the big 78 rpm records and I would play disc jockey, talking in between songs. I’d tell jokes, give the time and temperature, make up commercials, just like the guy on the radio did. I fell in love with radio.
Dad could see how taken I was with it and he bought me a small table radio so I could listen to programs as I went to bed at night. Also, Dad would take me to the local radio station, which was just off the highway outside of town, on weekends. The doors weren’t locked so I could just walk in and look through the windows and watch the guys playing records and talking on the radio. I thought that was really cool, but even cooler was the teletype machine in a little room off to the side, just typing away with all of the latest news. I thought that was fascinating and wished I could have had one at home.
(Public Radio readers: don’t forget that in addition to being able to pitch Carl’s personal narrative, you’ll be offering your audience digital downloads of some of his funniest moments – both on-air and in voice-mail greetings. Announcement coming September 2, 2014!)
Fortune was on my side when I went to high school. Goldsboro High had an excellent drama department, one of the biggest in the South at that time, and the department offered a radio class! Of course, I took that class and we had the opportunity to present a weekly student show that aired on the local station. We were taught how to create images using voice, sounds and music. I also became active in the drama depart¬ment and loved every minute of it.
… When it came to the many other people who had an influence on my career, let’s begin with our high school drama and music teacher: Mr. Andrew Griffith. That’s how he was formally listed in the Goldsboro High School yearbook, but the world would know him years later as the wise Sheriff Andy Taylor.
It was his first job out of college and he taught there from 1949-1952. He told the story about his first day on the job at Goldsboro High where he, with his impossibly thick, country-southern accent, was assigned a speech class where he was to teach students how to speak without an accent. “Talk about the blind leading the blind,” he said. Things got worse when he decided to start with the word “coffee,” and, as he wrote it on the blackboard, misspelled it. …
It was about the same time as Andy’s famous “What it Was, Was Football” monologue in November, 1953. I was honored to help Andy edit that while I was at the UNC campus station, WUNC. He recorded it and I trimmed it down so it would fit on a record. When he performed it live at the Chapel Hill stadium, I went to see him. I asked, “Is Barbara here?” He pointed and said, “Yes, look over there.” I did, and there was Barbara blowing kisses to me.
We all thought Barbara was the one with the great talent. She could sing, dance, act and was beautiful. The two of them traveled around the region together performing. That led to Andy’s big break. At one of their stops, he performed the football monologue and a talent scout was in the audience. From that, he got the role of Will Stockdale in “No Time for Sergeants,” which ran on Broadway, on TV and as a movie. That is where he and Don Knotts first worked together.
Both he and Barbara encouraged me to go into acting, but understood that my heart was in radio. Dixie told me how proud Andy was of me and what I was doing in life with my career and that he felt proud that he helped a little in getting me there. Oh, he helped me more than a little, but hearing that made me feel so good. On July 3, 2012, Andy passed away at age 86 from a heart attack in his home on the Roanoke Sound, not far from where we performed in The Lost Colony. When I heard the news, I just sat there and cried. I had lost a dear friend. I just loved the guy.
… and when I went to college at the University of North Carolina in Chapel Hill, the cockiness I had developed as a “star” in my small hometown didn’t last long. There were many very talented broadcasters there, and probably the most gifted was a young man from Charlotte who majored in history and wanted to be a writer. But he had won a national high school speaking contest and did some work on a radio station in Charlotte, and when I heard him on the campus station, I knew immediately that I wasn’t nearly as good as I thought I was and had a lot of work to do. His name was Charlie Kuralt and the two of us helped put the campus FM radio station on the air.
… Charlie was so good at creating things, they just came out of his head, and he was a master writer. He could have you laughing in one line and crying in the next. Of course, he went on to have an amazing career at CBS, working on The CBS Evening News with Walter Cronkite and as the first anchor of Sunday Morning, but his On the Road series is what many people remember most.
I went along with him once and we drove into a town where there were signs everywhere saying, “Welcome Home, Joe Smith!” “Glad to have you back, Joe Smith!” I asked Charlie, “I wonder who Joe Smith is?” He said, “I don’t know, let’s stop and find out.”
Charlie walked around and talked to everyone he could and listened to stories about Joe Smith. Then he said, “Okay, let’s go.” I asked, “Don’t you want to meet Joe Smith?”
He said, “No, I think we already know everything we need to know about Joe Smith after talking to the people who know and love him.” And he wrote a beautiful story about Joe Smith.
EXCERPT from chapter three
Joe shares my love of baseball and we were both brokenhearted when the Washington Senators and our heroes like Frank Howard departed for Texas after the 1971 season. Team owner Bob Short became the most hated man in Washington, and that’s quite an accomplishment in this town.
No one believed that we’d ever really lose the Senators. I mean, who could imagine the nation’s capital without the national pastime? And then we had to suffer through broken promises that another team would soon be here. Year after year we kept hoping that we would get a team, and rumor after cruel rumor only poured salt on our wound.
Finally, our 34-year nightmare ended in 2005 when the struggling Montreal Expos franchise was moved to Washington. The team would not be the Senators, though; the mayor of D.C. objected to that name because the District of Columbia does not have representation in the Senate. So the Washington Nationals took the field and baseball was back at RFK Stadium. A few years later, the Nationals moved to their sparkling new stadium.
Joe and his family live about 45 minutes away from us and he’ll often call and say, “Dad, let’s go to a ballgame.” And we do. There’s nothing like sitting at a ballgame with my son. Grab a cold drink, maybe some popcorn and sit back and watch the game. After the Senators abandoned us, I became a St. Louis Cardinals fan. I like their uniforms with the bat across the chest. In 2010, I was asked to throw out the first ceremonial pitch at one of their games. First pitch for one of my favorite teams! What an honor! Joe had some advice for me. “Dad, don’t you dare bounce the ball. And don’t stand on the mound; you need to stand on the edge of the grass in front of the mound and throw it high.”
“Okay, son. I’ll do it.”
I was able to practice a little with one of the players under the stands beforehand which made it easier when I got out to the field. I followed Joe’s instructions, and it worked! I threw that ball right over the plate for a strike. That was such a thrill. When you’re a big baseball fan and you’ve been a fan for a long time and you get a chance to do this, well, wow!
It happened to me again when I was asked to throw out a first pitch in Cincinnati when the Reds played the Yankees. Again, I followed Joe’s advice and put one across the plate. I felt good about my throw and as I started to walk back to the dugout, the mascot Rosie Redlegs came running up to me and threw her arms around my neck.
I thought it was to congratulate me for my great pitch. Instead, I heard a young woman’s voice from behind the oversized mascot head say, “Carl Kasell, I love your show!” I thanked her, but was a little disappointed she didn’t praise me for my pitch.
EXCERPT from chapter four
Many radio stations in the fifties and sixties used elaborately orchestrated jingles to introduce and promote their disc jockeys. Big bands and singers were used, they were quite the productions. Here are the lyrics to the jingle that WGBR produced for my show:
It’s “The Carl Kasell Show,” with tops in tunes in 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.”
Radio has changed a lot since then. Devoting that much time and expense to a disc jockey’s introduction is mostly unheard of now. The ’50s was also a different era for record promotion. Many singers who were touring in our area would just drop by the radio station to try to get us to play their records.
One young man, just as polite as you could imagine, handed me his record and said, “Sir, I’d appreciate it if you’d play my record a few times. Maybe the audience would hear it and maybe someone might buy it. I’d sure appreciate it if you’d do that. And I thank you very much, sir.”
“You say your name is what?” I asked. “
Presley, sir. Elvis Presley.”
In 1976, I received a note from the station owner. He wrote, “I have a friend of the family who has a daughter going to school at the University of Virginia and is studying journalism. She wants to be a broadcaster. Since we are all-news, she’d like to come here and be an intern this
summer. If you’d like some free help, she’s available.” And he emphasized “free.”
So I dialed the number on the note and asked Katie Couric if she wanted to be my intern. She came by the station and we chatted. She was really a sharp young woman, so I hired Katie to work with us that summer, then she went back to college in the fall. She returned in November to help us out during the elections. Great gal! She brought life to that newsroom. And what you see on TV, that’s Katie.
In early June of 2014, Mary Ann and I flew to New York where Katie invited me on her ABC Television talk show where we chatted about old times. I let her know that since I hired her once, she should return the favor as I have some extra time on my hands.
On a personal note, I was so happy that Katie found love again and was married just a couple of weeks after we saw each other.
Wait, Wait…I’m Not Done Yet! features comments from many of Carl’s admirers.
Here are two examples:
As I’ve described the agony before,I drove through empty downtown Washington streets at 2:30 in the morning, headed for one of the few buildings with office lights glowing through the darkness.
Feeling slightly ill and a bit unsteady because I hadn’t slept, the Morning Edition production area seemed like the perfect place to be; as if it was an intensive-care unit and the patient was a two-hour radio program.
So I would stagger into the newsroom and there was Carl, sitting at his computer working away on the morning’s news. When he saw me, he smiled, got up, walked over, and gave me a big hug. And that made it okay.
Carl is just one of the sweetest souls on Earth and is beloved at NPR and by listeners.
When I arrived at NPR’s M Street studios in 1977, it was a mess. We were all squeezed into a tight space and we were all kids. Some of us were in our 30s, but some were younger than that and the main thing about Carl in those days was that he was the grown-up.
He put up with this group of messy young people working very hard for a broadcast operation that relatively few people had heard of. And then we all started working harder because they created something called Morning Edition. All of us who had been filing for one show were suddenly filing for two shows — and, by the way, not getting paid any more!
We knew, theoretically, it was the right thing to do because morning radio is the right thing to do. We didn’t have any reason to believe that it would succeed other than theory. But when Carl became the Morning Edition newscast voice, that just made all the difference in the program.
When the world started waking up to Carl’s voice, it was, oh, okay; it’s okay. The world has survived overnight because there is that reassurance there letting me know. So, it was not only that he was the grown-up among all of us, but that he gave the American public the sense that a grown-up was in charge and letting them know that the world was still in one piece.