Remembering Carl Kasell

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Erika Funke: It was a posting on NPR today and here's how it begins. Every weekday for more than three decades, his baritone steadied our mornings even in moments of chaos and crisis, Carl Kasell brought unflappable authority to the news. But behind that, he had a lively sense of humor revealed to listeners late in his career when he became the beloved judge and official scorekeeper for Wait, Wait, Don't Tell Me, NPR's news quiz show.

Carl Kasell died Tuesday from complications from Alzheimer's disease in Potomac, Maryland. He was 84. And we here are all digesting the news today about that and Lisa, no one on our staff spent more time with Carl Kasell than you did as the regional anchor for Morning Edition.

Lisa Mazzarella: You know, Erika, when I first started here at WVIA, there were three people that were my friends that I never met, three people. Bob Edwards, Jeannie Cochran, and Carl Kasell. And every morning I'd come in and I'd listen to what they had to say, and of course I was very informed and aspired to be like one of them someday. And you hope that you get a chance to meet them down the road and I did. I finally got a chance to meet Carl Kasell, back in 1999 and he and Bob Edwards, they were at a conference in Washington, a Public Radio conference, and when they had Morning Edition exhibit, I went over there and I introduced myself. I was nervous, but I introduced myself to Carl Kasell, who was a tall man, Bob Edwards slightly taller, and they said, "So, you're from WVIA. Welcome aboard, welcome aboard." And it was really the nicest and warmest welcome.

I was able to cross paths with Carl Kasell again and actually all of us had the pleasure to do it. It was in the early '90s and he came to Bloomsburg. He had a very good friend, a Dr. William Gibson, and Dr. Gibson invited him to talk to the Boy Scouts in Bloomsburg. And he came and he addressed the families and the Scouts and we were there at a table and Carl Kasell was just amazing. Not only was he the serious newsman who brought us the world, but he was funny. And he was delightful and charming. He did magic for us and he just made us feel so good. And it's almost like we had known him for so many years.

And then, our paths crossed again. We were celebrating Wait, Wait, Don't Tell Me and we had invited Carl to come to the area and actually we were gonna kind of give him something back. We were writing limericks and so forth for the Wait, Wait, Don't Tell Me kind of a model that we were introducing to him and he was all part of this dinner and we had read local limericks that we wrote and he was so patient and just a lovely, lovely gentleman. Larry said it nicely today. He said he was not only a gentleman but a gentle man. And it is true. He was a tour de force. And he wasn't the type of person that was haughty, or like, "I'm Carl Kasell."

He was a very low-key but knew his stuff and from some of the things I heard on Morning Edition today, such a perfectionist in what he did. He wanted everybody to have that bar raised and anytime you had the opportunity to be in his company, you always felt the exact same way, in some form or fashion. He kind of elevated our spirits so we could elevate the bar for ourselves and I'm going to miss that. I have a little doll here. Nobody can see it yet, but Doc Gibson had an opportunity to visit Carl Kasell a couple of years ago and they have a lot of Wait, Wait, Don't Tell Me memorabilia and so Doc Gibson came up to the studio and he says, "Lisa, here's a present from Carl Kasell. And it's a Carl Kasell doll and Carl signed his name on the forehead, on the doll's forehead. 




So that's figured prominently in our middle studio and, of course, every time we look at it now, it's gonna make it even more special. Very, very special person and somebody who has really inspired me. I don't know how much more I can say, without getting overly emotional about it. When I heard the news yesterday, you know that people can't live forever. You know that everybody has their time and their turn. But when you have someone who is so dynamic and someone who was so up to date and knew everything about everybody, and then you hear how he died and the disease he died from.

First of all it makes you sad, because I'm sure that a lot of that memory was wiped away because of Alzheimer's. But secondly, just to know that this wonderful, compassionate person, he's one person that probably will never cross your path again. And so we were very fortunate and very blessed to be able to have an opportunity to meet him a couple of times and interact with him. And if anybody ever comes to the studio, and they walk down our hall of fame, there able to see a photograph of the entire WVIA staff and Carl Kasell is right in the middle. And it makes me feel so good every time I pass it.

Erika: He's got his arms around those of you who were next to him.

Lisa: Oh yeah, yeah. That meant so much to me, so when this news came to fore yesterday, it was just so sad to hear. You knew that it was coming, but you didn't know when. And when it does come, you just feel so empty inside. So I hope that the people who have listened to his voice over the years, maybe some people now who are new to Public Radio never even knew Carl Kasell, but he was a man of integrity, he was a man of great wit, and he was a man who was ... he was a man among men, very gentle and very, very professional. And it was a real pleasure to get a chance to know him through Doc Gibson. And so, Doc Gibson, if you're listening, thank you so much for introducing us to Carl Kasell.

Erika: And I think you could add to your list there of qualities of Carl Kasell, he was apparently a very good friend, because Dr. Gibson and he were schoolmates and they maintained that friendship all these years and we have a bit of a conversation, Dr. Gibson and Carl Kasell  had at the table where you're sitting, Lisa, when he came most recently in 2012 to visit us, and he's a little bit of that conversation.


Interview Begins

Erkia: What kind of a school was your school? Was it a private high school? Was it a public high school?

Carl: It was a public high school. But we had some good people in our class and we like to think that we were the best class that ever graduated from Goldboro High School. And when you look at our class reunions, every five years by the way, and this was our 60th class reunion, we have a good turnout. We've lost a lot of our members through the years, but we still have a good bunch. Most of us show up, I'd say more than 90%, wouldn't you say, Bill?

Bill: We had our 40th reunion in Berlin. We were one of the first high schools in the country to have an exchange student after World War II. It was a young man from Berlin who never misses a reunion and so he sponsored our 40th reunion in Berlin and we had something like 40 or so of the members went over for that. Had a marvelous time. So it was a good class, a very good class.

Erika: And what was it that drew you two together?

Carl: Well, we lived nearby each other and on the way to home in the afternoon from school, we passed by Bill's home and sometimes I'd stop in. We might exchange comic books or something. And I met his mother and his brother, got to know them, and then I would continue on to where I lived. So we spent some time together.

Bill: Carl and I were in typing class together and Carl always beat me. You'd type along the way and you'd have to subtract your errors from to get your speed and I could never catch up with him. He always outclassed me and you could see when he started his newscast program, that's why he could organize his talks so well 'cause he could type so fast. And we had some of the drama groups together, but I was a second-class citizen when it came to that.

Erika: Were you on the stage together though? Were you in a production together? Or productions?

Carl: I think we were a couple of times.

Bill: Yeah, I was a hand in the shepherd's song. We had a ... tell them about the shepherd's song, Carl. It was an outstanding program.

Carl: It was a yearly thing that our director and, you might say drama director, Clifton Briton, wrote it. It had to do with the Nativity and we had a cast including the shepherds and the wise men and so forth. Every person in the Bible connected with it, we did it. And it was a beautifully done play that he wrote. And we did it every Christmas at the high school. We did it for two or three nights and always had a great turnout.

Bill: But where else did we have it?

Carl: One time we had it on the roof of a nearby hotel. Now when I say roof, the hotel was about, I guess eight or nine stories tall, but they had a terrace down around the second floor on the side and one winter, we did the play up there and people would stand out in the street and see it. We used microphones and so forth. Oh yeah. The play ... he wrote it for the community.

Bill: Carl was the lead. I think I was the donkey or something like that. (laughs)


Interview Ends

Erika: Dr. William Gibson of Danville, life-long friend of Carl Kasell. Carl Kasell, the legendary newscaster from NPR and then the judge and official score keeper for Wait, Wait, Don't Tell Me on NPR. Carl Kasell died Tuesday from complications of Alzheimer's disease in Potomac, Maryland. He was 84 years and isn't it wonderful to hear that rich voice and to know that he was friends with someone here and Dr. Gibson, again, you were right, Lisa, in thanking Dr. Gibson for putting his friendship and service to all of us here by bringing in and inviting his friend, Carl Kasell to our area.

Lisa: And surprisingly, we were just starting this membership campaign, Erika, and Doc Gibson called twice. He called at the beginning of the membership campaign. He just wanted to call and say hi. And then the second day he called me, he wanted to find out about a piece of music. So this was prior to this news coming to our ears. And I'm sure it was a shock to him as well. So, I know that he's mourning the loss of his friend, one of his best friends, and so are we. We're mourning the loss of one of our radio friends and one of the true professionals of broadcasting who has been a terrific inspiration. 

So thank you for the honor of being able to talk a little bit about him today.

Erika: And thank you all for your support so that we can continue to bring you NPR's Morning Edition and the incomparable staff and professionals who come into work every day and do what they do on behalf of all of us.


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