UNC alum and National Public Radio news anchor Carl Kasell died Tuesday, April 17, from complications from Alzheimer’s disease. He was 84 years old.
Kasell anchored NPR news for over three decades building an audience of millions. He joined the fledgling network in 1975. In 1979, as the network continued to grow, he became the announcer for NPR’s “Morning Edition,” a Peabody Award-winning program. Later in his career, he joined the news quiz show “Wait Wait… Don’t Tell Me!” as the judge and official scorekeeper.
Susan King, the dean of the School of Media and Journalism, said Kasell had a voice of warmth and honesty.
“His voice is iconic,” King said. “You knew it wasn’t just John or Joe – it was Carl. Carl Kasell.”
King acknowledged not only Kasell’s role as one of the early pioneers of radio but also his ability to adapt to the changing landscape of news broadcasting.
“It’s really important for young people to realize that he could make it in a digital era,” King said. “If you know your craft, it doesn’t matter how the pipes may change or the platform may change, you too can make it.”
Adam Hochberg, a lecturer in the UNC School of Media of Journalism and correspondent for NPR, often worked with Kasell.
“I think in a lot of ways he set the tone for the sound of NPR, always professional but not too stodgy,” Hochberg said.
Being from Goldsboro, Kasell always had his roots in the Tar Heel state. He spent four years at UNC as a member of the class of 1956. He never graduated because he had been drafted into the army. As a student at the university, he co-founded the public radio station WUNC. After becoming a newscaster for NPR, he often returned to UNC visiting classrooms and giving talks. In 2004, he was inducted into the North Carolina Journalism Hall of Fame, housed in the School of Media and Journalism.
Hochberg said Kasell loved visiting his alma mater.
“Carl never thought that he was more important than the news or more important than anybody,” Hochberg said. “He was a gentleman who was always glad to meet a new person and to help educate young people, and I hope that carries over to other people in our profession.”
When Kasell’s health was declining, his colleagues at NPR reached out to UNC. King said they asked if they could get some university paraphernalia to wear around the newsroom in his honor.
“I think that says something really wonderful about his relationship with the University,” King said. “I guess he always had swag around his office and in the newsroom, so they all knew he was a Tar Heel.”
Throughout his career, Kasell was known for his professionalism in the workplace and his dedication to the news. But his sense of humor was revealed in his work with “Wait Wait… Don’t Tell Me!” news quiz show and in interactions with those who knew him.
David Brower, the program director for WUNC, had the opportunity to see that lighthearted side of Kasell. He recalled one WUNC celebration at which Kasell served as the master of ceremonies and displayed his skills as an amateur magician. Brower said Kasell was as serious as a newsperson could get, but he still had a sense of humor.
“I think that’s one of the reasons why he lasted so long in the industry,” Brower said. “He was able to be a huge radio personality yet still be himself.”
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