National Public Radio hosts trace careers ‘on the air’

National Public Radio personalities Diane Rehm and Carl Kasell held an intimate conversation about their lives on the air before a full Jack Morton Auditorium Tuesday evening.

Kasell has worked with NPR for 30 years and may be best known for being the official announcer, judge and scorekeeper on NPR’s weekly news quiz show, Wait, Wait… Don’t Tell Me!

The prize for the contestants on the show is Kasell recording their voicemail greeting.

“Radio is in our blood,” Rehm said, adding that she and Kasell started their careers in public radio within two months of one another.

“We like to say that no one at NPR actually retires,” she said.

Kasell said he has been interested in radio since he was a child, when he would play behind his family’s radio and pretend to be the voices on air. He developed his voice while participating in drama and radio classes in high school in Goldsboro, N.C.

When Rehm asked Kasell how he keeps his characteristic baritone voice in shape to make the news sound so interesting, Kasell said he does nothing but focus on telling the story.

“The important thing is the message to what you’re saying,” Kasell said. “Forget how you’re saying it, go ahead and say it because that will come through – your personality and smile will come through.”

Up until this past December Kasell was the newscaster for NPR’s daily Morning Edition. When he started with Wait, Wait… Don’t Tell Me! NPR executives were wary of his double role.

“They were worried it would take away my dignity,” Kasell said, laughing. “It’s been so much fun.”

The show today has around 3 million listeners, a million of them via podcast, and Kasell said that now, whenever they have traveling shows, they always sell out.

“We sold out Carnegie Hall in 90 minutes,” he said.

Kasell said humor can always be found in the serious news of the day.

“I mean as long as we got politicians, we can find something amusing,” he said. “You can find the humor, you can find the lighter side if you look for it.”

As for the future of radio, Kasell said that radio is just as strong as it has ever been, noting that when TV first made its debut, people were calling it the death of radio.

“I think we’re going to survive,” he said.

If not, Kasell, in addition to his radio talents, is also an accomplished magician. During the show, he pulled a red scarf out of “thin air.”

University President Steven Knapp and his wife Diane attended the event. Knapp said Jack Morton Auditorium underwent renovations for exactly this type of occasion.

“Diane Rehm is a real Washington institution here, and Carl Kasell is a voice millions of people hear,” Knapp said. “I thought it was a very positive event and we’re glad to host it.”

The Hatchet has disabled comments on our website. Learn more.