WASHINGTON, D.C. — For a generation of NPR readers, the name Carl Kasell is synonymous for morning newscasts delivered during the pubcaster’s signature Morning Edition program, and for his role as the judge and official scorekeeper for Wait Wait… Don’t Tell Me!, NPR’s news quiz show.
Kasell on Tuesday lost his battle with Alzheimer’s disease, and died at the age of 84 in nearby Potomac, Md.
Kasell is a native of Goldsboro, N.C., and began his radio career hosting a late-night music program on a local AM radio station at the age of 16, in 1949.
As a student at the University of North Carolina, Kasell was one of the first students to work at WUNC.
He served in the military, and intended to return to Goldsboro to spin records. A friend convinced him to read the news instead.
“I kind of left the records behind,” Kasell said to NPR in an archived interview. “It came at a time when so much was happening; we had the Vietnam War, the demonstrations downtown in Washington, the [Martin Luther King] and Bobby Kennedy assassinations. And so it was a great learning period even though [there were] bad times in there.”
In 1975, Kasell joined NPR as a part-timer. Four years later, he announced the news for the first broadcast of a new show called Morning Edition. He spent three decades associated with the program, becoming one of NPR’s most-recognized hosts.
Wait Wait … host Peter Sagal was surprised by Kasell’s turn as a humorist, and never guessed that he’d be so funny. “The greatest thing about Carl was anything we came up with, he was game,” Sagal told NPR’s Neda Ulaby. “When we were in Las Vegas, we had him come onstage in a showgirl’s headdress. No matter what we asked him to do — silly voices, or weird stunts; we had him jump out of a cake once to make his entrance onstage — he did it [with] such joy and such dignity.”
He stepped down from Wait Wait … in 2014.