I remember the car rides to my grandmother’s house every Sunday. At 11 am, my father would always turn the radio on, turning the dial until it reached 89.3, KPCC, one of the NPR affiliates in Los Angeles. A low baritone voice would always blare over old-fashioned radio news jingles.
“From NPR, and WBEZ in Chicago, this is Wait, Wait… Don’t Tell Me, the NPR News Quiz.”
That low baritone voice was that of Carl Kasell, whose tenure on Wait, Wait from my own birth year, 1998, to 2014 was the soundtrack of my family’s weekly drives to my grandmother’s house. This was my first introduction into this man with a golden voice.
Before Wait, Wait Carl Kasell had begun his career as a child in North Carolina who would pretend to be a radio newscaster. By age 16, he was DJ for a music show, later going to have music shows in University of North Carolina’s WUNC until he moved to Virginia in the 1965. In a time where so much was happening historically — the Vietnam War, protests in Washington, assassinations of politicians and civil rights leaders — Kasell became the news director of WAVA in Arlington, Virginia.
He soon joined NPR as an announcer for All Things Considered and became the anchor for Morning Edition at its inception. When NPR launched Wait, Wait in 1998, Kasell became the announcer and scorekeeper, with an unpredictable sense of humor. His regular segments included “Who’s Carl This Time?”, where listeners were ask to identify who Kasell was mimicking from the week’s news in his old-timey announcer voice, and the “Listener Limerick Challenge”, where listeners were asked to identify the last word in a news-related limerick, also delivered in Kasell’s deadpan delivery. You were given three chances. Win two and you won. Winners of games on Wait, Wait were awarded a prize, not of money or certificates of any kind. No, they won something much more valuable: the voice of Carl Kasell on their home answering machine.
I would always play along, pretending I’d just called in. I even made sure I had watched or listened to the news each week so I’d be prepared for the show. I hoped one day I could call in and win that sweet, sweet old baritone that reminds me of the drives to my grandma’s.
Carl Kasell passed away on April 17 due to complications with Alzheimer’s. He was 84 years old. Although he no longer announces on Wait, Wait, you can still win his voice on your voicemail.