GARFIELD: From NPR’s Jarl to NPR’s Carl. Yes, the venerable Carl Kassell, legendary newscaster and Wait, Wait Don’t Tell Me scorekeeper, who retired from the network in May.
GLADSTONE: (over applause) Ladies and Gentlemen, Carl Kasell...
GARFIELD: Brooke sat with Carl recently to commemorate a distinguished, and deeply baritone, public radio career.
GLADSTONE: Who is that kid. His name is Hunter Flattery. Son of our senior communications strategist at WNYC Vicky Elkins who told me this story today: "A few months ago on the drive back into Manhattan after a packed day full of errands and a visit to grandma's my husband heard a Grateful Dead song on the radio and seized it for a father-son teaching moment starting jamming on the air guitar and said, 'Hunter...do you know who Jerry Garcia is? He's a legend! Do you know who he is?' and my son replied instantly, 'No. But I know who Carl Kassell is so you change the radio station back right now.' In an interview with Renee Montaigne you said that when you were a really small kid you knew you would be in radio. And you used to play with your grandmother's Victrola in Goldsboro, North Carolina.
KASELL: I did. My mother would run me out to the yard so many times a week. 'Get out and play - get away from that darn radio.' One of those large furniture-sized radios. It sat in the corner of the living room. And I would get behind that radio sometimes and nobody could see me. And when somebody walked by, I would pretend I was on the radio doing some news. Or once in a while singing.
GLADSTONE: You worked at a local radio station part-time. When you were in high school you were an actor in local theatre. One of your high school teachers was a bit of a theatre aficionado could you put a picture 3?
KASELL: That's Andy Griffith down the right hand corner. And that was me the Indian in the bottom picture. He was a great teacher, believe me. He helped me a lot. And sometimes during the summer when we were doing a show, we'd take of a couple of days and I'd get out on the highway and hitch a ride back to my hometown. And pretty soon here comes a beat-up station wagon, Andy Griffith's car.
GLADSTONE: Wow. That's so Mayberry.
KASELL: He'd take me home and pick me up the next day back to the theater. He was a great guy he really was. I miss him a lot.
GLADSTONE: How did you wind up at NPR. We're talking about 1975. They hired all these kids and I wondered what your first impression was.
KASELL: I'm always impressed by the good points about people. And I learned a lot just by working with them. I think they learned something from me too.
GLADSTONE: Like how to dress?
KASELL: Some would come dressed up kind of sloppily from time to time. And I had to, uh, set a precedent. Start wearing a tie and a jacket. Try to bring some class to this place. And some of them jumped in and started doing the same thing.
GLADSTONE: You told me backstage that some of them needed help, particularly Bob Edwards.
KASELL: Bob Edwards needed a lot of help. (Laughs).
GLADSTONE: So now, let's transition to Wait Wait Don't Tell Me, which premiered in January 1998. Doug Berman found you. And placed you in an unexpectedly comedic role. Why?
KASELL: Because of a joke I told one day. I was asked 'what time do you get up in the morning?' 'I get up at five minutes after 1 o'clock.' 'Why don't you get up at 1?' ' Because I like to sleep late.' So that's how I got on Wait Wait.
GLADSTONE: Some 2200 have your voice on their answering machines.
KASELL: I know what the question is. I will not go beyond certain boundaries of of good taste. And keeping it clean.
GLADSTONE: But I read that you've been asked to put "Rapper's Delight" and "What's New Pussycat" on answering machines.
KASELL: I, yeah, I think I did record What's New Pussycat (sings it). If you recorded this tonight while I'm doing it. You've got a classic. (laughter)
GLADSTONE: Tell me about when Barack Obama was a guest on Wait Wait.
KASELL: Well he was a senator back in those days. And Peter said, 'now before you leave Senator, we know that you have a big thing in mind to do in the very near future. Tell the American public tonight what it is so they can hear it here on Wait Wait Don't Tell Me. He hummed and hawed and Peter just pounded away at him. 'Senator...please..." and finally he said, 'Ok Peter, I'll tell you what I'm going to do. I gotta go home and do the dishes...good night.' (laughs)
GLADSTONE: Let's play video Q2
VIDEO (Obama): Carl, for 30 years on Morning Edition yours was the voice America woke up to. You brought us the news of everything from presidential elections to the fall of the Berlin Wall. We trusted to tell us what happened and why it mattered. And then for some reason, you joined a show where Peter Segal makes you read goofy limericks and imitated everybody from Britney Spears to Barack Obama. Turns out they all sound like Carl Kasell. Anyway. We're glad you did. Over the years Wait Wait Don't Tell Me in my home town of Chicago and across the country. And Carl, you've been its heart and soul. I will never forget my time on the show. A lot of people didn't know my name, but you guys were already making fun of it. So...Carl congratulations on an incredible career and a well-deserved retirement. We will miss you, but it's good to know you won't be giving up everything. Who knows maybe in a few years you'll get a call from another contestant, Barack from Chicago. And if I win, I'm glad you will still record my voice-mail.
GLADSTONE: In August of 2010, you're inducted into the National Radio Hall of Fame. It was in the closely watched category of national active radio personality. And you beat out Howard Stern. (laughter) Now he claimed that he didn't really want to be inducted but he was kind of snotty about it anyway.
Video (Stern) Who is Carl Ka-SELL? (another voice) he has been on public, national public (Stern again) OOOH...what a career! He got himself all the way to National Public Radio? What a lucky duck. (sarcastically). WOW! Give it to him. He's waaaay more successful in this business than me. He's gotta be. He's on NPR isn't that a national terrestrial thing?..(still sarcastic).
KASELL: (recording) 'My dear Mr. Stein. My understanding is that you're featured on a satellite information service. Available in some brands of cars. On which you host a show about gynecology. While I'm sure this is a useful service for medical professionals like all of us in radio you aspire to something greater. Best of luck to you.'
GLADSTONE: Talk about another honor. You were the voice of the Kennedy Center Awards. And you did it unseen from a booth.
KASELL: They give me a little studio in a storage room in the back of the stage. I have a TV monitor and a script about so thick and then...the night of the show. Everybody has to come dressed, because when the show is over they turn the lobby into a giant restaurant. I get to meet some people I had never met before. Not too long ago I was looking for Stephen Colbert. And I walked over to him and I said 'Stephen' - and he said 'Carl, I knew that was you introducing me.'
GLADSTONE: It's funny you should mention him. I just so happened to have Stephen Colbert.
Video (Colbert): Stephen Colbert here. Just saying what everybody what everyone else is thinking. All of us who loved you on NPR. All of us who listened for your voice every week on Wait Wait are so so sad sad that you're going to go go. Send us some limericks or something. Very few things rhyme with 'Carl' by the way. I tried. The rhyming dictionary goes: 'Carl' 'gnarl' and 'snarl' -- you were dealt a rough hand when it came to a first name, I gotta say. When it comes to rhyming. How ironic.
KASELL: Good old Stephen. He is such a good guy. A good friend.
GLADSTONE: I met him one time. I was going to be on the show and he came in while I was getting my make-up on. And he said what he apparently says to everybody before they go on the show, which is, 'just remember, I'm an idiot.'
KASELL: That's Stephen.
GLADSTONE: I have to tell you though. You've gotten a Peabody. Or probably 10 Peabodys I don't know. But the award that I'm most envious of is this one.
KASELL: Oh yeah, The Simpsons.
Video (Lisa Simpson): It's so much fun to finally have a friend who likes the NPR Wait Wait Don't Me as much as I do. (Peter Segal voice: So Carl Kassell who did the House Minority Whip do on our news quiz?) Well Peter, he got 2 out of 3 right. So he wins me, recording his outgoing message. (another voice: oh that's ok, really, please don't) It's not optional.
GLADSTONE: So Carl, what's up next?
KASELL: Well I want to find a way to get back into the NPR building. People, have brought up the word 'retirement' for me. And it's not in vocabulary. Dick Smothers told me one time, 'You know, people retire from work, I never considered what I do work. Nothing to retire from.' And I said, 'Brother, you're talking about me too.' So, uh, I do have an office at NPR. I show up everyday. And I'll find something to do and I'll be back on the air. Guarantee it.
GLADSTONE: Carl everlasting, ladies and gentleman, Carl Kasell.