Talking shop with Carl Kasell

Monday, November 1, 2010
National Public Radio broadcaster Carl Kasell assists with a local fundraising segment during "Morning Edition" in the KRCU studio Tuesday, Oct. 26, 2010 at Southeast Missouri State University. (Fred Lynch)

National Public Radio's veteran broadcaster Carl Kasell recently lent his famous voice to local NPR affiliate KRCU's fall fundraising campaign. Since retiring from NPR's "Morning Edition," Kassel now travels the country as NPR's reaving ambassador and serves as judge and scorekeeper for the weekly news quiz show "Wait Wait ... Don't Tell Me." During his more than 60 years in radio, he's seen many changes but says radio will continue to be a valuable medium.

Question: Why are universities and NPR stations such a great match?

Answer: When I was going to University of North Carolina in the 1950s their campus station first went on the air as an educational station and later became an NPR affiliate. Affiliation with schools is great because you have a great number of enthusiastic young people who want to help out and become members of the staff. You have so many experts in so many subjects you can go to, it's like having Google at your fingertips before there was Google.

Q: How is "Morning Edition" different from other news programs?

A: When we do "All Things Considered" and "Morning Edition," you get more than just headlines. You get a lot of information behind the story. We put our reporters on the scene so you can get the stories from there. What NPR offers is in depth coverage of a story. We explain the story completely.

Q: What's been the most significant change in the radio industry during your tenure in broadcasting?

A: Technological changes have been the most significant. Networks used to send programs by telephone lines, today it's done by satellite. Went from playing 78 rpm records to digital things in a box somewhere, you just pull them up. During World War II, we used shortwave radios, today you record your story by your computer. You have none of that snap crackle, it sounds like the person is in the room with you. For years I had to type my scripts on carbon paper to have a second copy. Now you just print as many copies as you want.

Q: What does the future hold for public radio?

A: The radio is not dying. Back in the '50s when TV came along and they were soaking the airways left and right with TV shows, radio's dead, radio's dead, they all said. Radio is not dead. Today, we're thriving. We're working together, for example we've become more of a media organization than just plain radio. You just go to our webpage and you've got all the news you want right there. If you missed something, It's right there. You can download all of our programs on your iPod. About a million people download "Wait Wait ... Don't Tell Me" each week. We had a serious money problem back in the 1980s and almost went bankrupt, but the people came through. Since then, support around the country has really been tremendous.

Q: You will be inducted into the National Radio Hall of Fame later this month. What was your reaction upon learning this?

A: It was a big surprise. When I think about the great talent and wonderful reporters in this building I can think of a dozen people more deserving than me. I am overwhelmed that my name will now be with Edward R. Murrow's and so many others.

Q: Tell me about your service in the U.S. Army.

A: I was a draftee and served for two years after the Korean War. For me, I came in between wars. There was nothing going on. I got a good job in the Army and they sent me to Italy for a year and a half. For me it was like a vacation with pay. It's something I never would have asked for, but when it was all over with it was something I wouldn't have missed. I was able to travel and see things and I met my first wife there in Italy.

Q: What's on you radio right now?

A: Our Washington affiliate, WAMU.

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