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NPR's Carl Kasell Discusses His Career as News Anchor

Carl Kasell is a morning mainstay for NPR listeners who hear him anchor the newscasts during Morning Edition. December 30th will be his last day on the early morning anchor desk, though he’ll continue in his role as judge and scorekeeper of “Wait, Wait Don’t Tell Me.” KSMU’s Missy Shelton spoke with Carl Kasell recently about his career in public broadcasting.

Shelton: Carl Kasell has been bringing the news to public radio listeners for three decades. I spoke with him recently about his career.

Carl, what stories from your time anchoring the newscast are most memorable for you?Kasell: I think 9-11 stands out very sharply, along with the Oklahoma City bombing, things like the fall of the Berlin Wall. I thought that was a real big story. Those stories stick out in my mind and the way we covered it. I remember when we didn’t do newscasts 24 hours a day, when we just did them during All Things Considered and Morning Edition. Only would we put on newscasts between those programs if a big story was breaking. It was in January, I’ve forgotten what year. The Challenger was about to go up. I put on my overcoat, ready to go home but I thought I’d stick around to see the Challenger go up. When it went up after launch and began to split up. You could see pieces and smoke going in different directions. I knew something was wrong and I’d be on the air at 12 o’clock, special broadcast and I was. And we put it together in bits and pieces, looking at wire copy coming in, underlining the points you wanted to emphasize. In our research library, we were handed some information about a previous tragedy on a space ship so we had that to refer to. As I went on the air at 12 o’clock our time, I was told on my headphones that we had a statement from the White House very shortly and it would be available during the newscast. So, we’re putting it together as we go along. That’s how we do stories like that.

Shelton: When you’re bringing our listeners stories like the Challenger explosion, like 9-11, how did you keep your emotions in check as you deliver the news?Kasell: You don’t have time to get emotionally involved in it. You’re so busy trying to put together a program concerning the event, or in my case a newscast and you’re looking for material, information. You’re on the telephone talking to people. You’re talking to your producer and your editor. The time when it begins to have an effect on you is when you finish and go home. You look at it, maybe on television, what happened that afternoon while you were reporting on that very same story.

Shelton: I read that you grew up in North Carolina. I’m also originally from over in that part of the world…Tennessee in my case. Did you have to deal with your accent when you first went into broadcasting?Kasell: All of us who were born below the Mason-Dixon line, at some time had to deal with it, to get rid of it. I did theatre in high school. That helped a lot. I used to listen to people I liked on the air and tried to emulate the way they talked. I read some books on the subject and worked with some very good people who did not have an accent and who would help me along the way to get rid of it. You don’t want to get rid of it completely because mine shows up a lot, especially in a conversation like this. But if it draws attention away from what you’re reading or saying, then it’s bad. Anytime I go home to North Carolina, a day or so after I’ve been there, I lapse back into that accent so fast.

Shelton: Even though you’re leaving the morning shift, you’ll continue to be judge and scorekeeper for “Wait, Wait Don’t Tell Me.” You and the show have quite the following among young people.Kasell: We have so many young people who listen to that program. It’s amazing. We have a big audience like that, high school kids and college students.

Shelton: What are your plans now that you’re not going to have your regular gig anchoring the morning newscasts for NPR?Kasell: Well, I’ll be out on the road. I’m going to be NPR’s roving ambassador. I’ll be attending fundraisers, any kind of an event a station has and would like to have me there to help out, give a speech, do a little magic. I’m an amateur magician. Anything I can do to help an NPR station, I’ll be there and do it.Shelton: Carl Kasell. We wish you all the best on your new adventures and thank you for being a part of my morning routine for so many years! Kasell: Thank you, Missy.Shelton: I’ve been speaking with NPR’s Carl Kasell, who will anchor his last morning newscast on December 30th. You’ll still hear Carl Kasell on Wait, Wait Don’t Tell Me which airs on KSMU HD2 Saturdays at 1 and Sundays at 11. There’s a live stream of KSMU HD-2 online at KSMU.org