NPR's Kasell recounts 'big stories' that broke while he was on air

Tuesday, October 26, 2010
Carl Kasell

Bringing news to dedicated public radio listeners at 5 a.m. for 30 years was never difficult, National Public Radio veteran broadcaster Carl Kasell told a nearly full Glenn Auditorium Monday at the Southeast Missouri State University campus.

The "big stories" often happened on his watch, Kasell said, who hosted NPR's "Morning Edition" from 1979 to 2009. Kasell is still an ambassador for NPR, traveling the country and visiting member stations.

He's also the judge and scorekeeper for NPR's weekly news quiz show, "Wait Wait ... Don't Tell Me!"

Kasell, who'll be inducted into the National Radio Hall of Fame Nov. 6, was a guest at several events Monday, helping local public radio station KRCU celebrate its 20th anniversary.

"I love anniversaries as they come and go along. This is NPR's 40th anniversary," Kasell said. "It's a time to look at what you did right and what you did wrong. ... Forget those things that went wrong and modify the things that went right."

Kasell rehashed for the audience several of the larger news stories that broke while he was on air, including the 1981 attempted assassination of Pope John Paul II, the 1986 Challenger space shuttle disaster, the 1995 bombing of the Oklahoma City federal building and the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.

"I can't forget that morning," Kasell said, referring to Sept. 11. "I had my 9 a.m. newscast already prepared and had left the newsroom to get my coffee mug refilled."

When he returned to the newsroom, Kasell said, the first aircraft had crashed into the north side of the north World Trade Center tower. As he wrote down a few sentences to get on the air, another airplane hit the second tower.

"That's when I knew this thing could be big," Kasell said. "After that things happened so quickly. If I would write something it would be outdated by airtime."

He continued to monitor copy as it came in, he said, putting together the newscast while he was on the air.

Currently, more than 870 public radio stations host its broadcasts. "Morning Edition" draws nearly 14 million listeners.

"Our audience is always growing; I can't think of a time where it's decreased any," Kasell said, answering an audience member's question about the success of the show. "'Morning Edition' is heard by more people, more than who watch 'The Today Show' and 'Good Morning America.'"

Before taking questions, Kasell expressed his gratitude to the audience of public radio supporters, which included Southeast staff and students.

"You should pat yourself on the back because, in a way, you are public radio," Kasell said.


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