Carl Kasell, dead at 84

It’s hard to imagine there are any fans of public radio who aren’t gobsmacked by the death today of Carl Kasell, the longtime NPR announcer who also was a sidekick on the show “Wait, Wait Don’t Tell Me.”

For 30 years, he played it straight with the news until he retired in 2009

  1. Listen Kasell reflects on newscast career

    Nov 24, 2009 Carl Kasell talks with Cathy Wurzer after announcing his retirement from newscasts at NPR.

Personality, comedy, and the buttoned-down world of serious public radio were never really friends until Kasell proved you could be both a serious news person and funny.

He brought gravitas and goofiness, the Washington Post said in its tribute today.

Some NPR executives initially fretted that Mr. Kasell’s participation on a program that lampooned the news and public radio tropes would collide with the venerable anchor’s normally sedate on-air reputation.

But as Sagal once told The Washington Post, “Deep inside that serious newscaster persona was a huge piece of cured North Carolina ham.” (An amateur magician, Mr. Kasell once sawed NPR legal affairs correspondent Nina Totenberg in half.)

“Wait Wait” executive producer Doug Berman, known to credit-attuned listeners by his moniker, “The Subway Fugitive,” had been trying to cast the show when he heard Mr. Kasell field questions at a public radio conference. A woman asked what time Mr. Kasell woke to do his job.

He stayed with Wait Wait until 2014.

“The greatest thing about Carl was anything we came up with, he was game,” Peter Sagal, the Wait Wait host said. “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.”

Dignity. That’s why today’s news is even more upsetting and life’s unfairness infuriating. Kasell was denied his dignity because he had Alzheimer’s, perhaps the cruelest disease on the planet.

  1. Listen Midmorning Hour 2 for June 25, 2010

    Jun 25, 2010 Peter Sagal and Carl Kasell appeared on MPR’s Midmorning

  • MrE85

    Carl’s voice is now on God’s answering machine, I think.

    • ec99

      “God can’t come to the phone right now, please leave a message. In further news…”

  • Oh man, THAT’S why they stopped his voice on the answering machine.

    RIP Mr. Kasell

  • DotWonder

    absolutely gutted to hear this news. RIP Carl…

  • ec99

    I have the same empty feeling I got when Jim Ed died.

  • Zachary

    Dang. Him and Corey Flintoff were some of the first NPR (national – not the local station) voices that I remember from my early listening days. Truly gut-punching. Condolences to his family. He will be missed.

  • Angry Jonny

    Karl had, in my opinion, the ubiquitous NPR voice. There’s nothing more entertaining than hearing someone who has to play it straight cut loose and get goofy. Every indicator pointed to his sweetness as a human being. I could hear it in that voice.

  • Mike Worcester

    There are not many voices that can be labeled “iconic”. Mr. Kasell’s was one. I loved his cameo in The Game; made me smile broadly.

  • Jack Ungerleider

    Before I started listening to NPR I worked at the college radio station. Every so often when there was a major new story (we had a wire service “teletype” in the room outside the studio) we’d “rip and read” it on air. Even though I had no idea who Carl Kasell was at the time, I know now that his voice and delivery was the one I aspired to.

    While the world is poorer place now that he’s gone, at least we have the tapes.

  • boB from WA

    It’s HIS voice that I will always remember on 9/11/2001, announcing that an airplane had struck the WTC. I hope that someday I will again be able to hear that voice and be blessed to meet the man.