Updated Tue, Mar 4, 2014 3:30 pm
Carl Kasell, the famed voice of NPR News for three decades turned comedy star of Wait Wait... Don't Tell Me!, has announced he's stepping down this spring after a five-decade career in broadcasting. Kasell will record his final broadcast for Wait Wait... Don't Tell Me! this spring; celebration shows are planned in the show's home city of Chicago, and in Washington, D.C.
After a three-decade career as a signature voice of the network's newscasts, Kasell became an audience favorite in an unexpected comedy role, as the Official Judge and Scorekeeper of Wait, Wait...Don't Tell Me! Among the program's most popular quiz segments were those built around Carl impersonating newsmakers and celebrities from the week's headlines. "All of his imitations sounded exactly the same," says Executive Producer Mike Danforth. "But the audience loved it. Everyone from Vladimir Putin to Zsa Zsa Gabor sounded exactly like our beloved Carl Kasell."
Every week, Kasell, with Wait Wait... Don't Tell Me! host Peter Sagal, plays to sell-out crowds at the show's home base in Chicago and in "road shows" around the country. "And whose autograph do they line up for after each show?" asks Sagal, sounding slightly envious. "Carl's. The 50-year-old computer programmers are in my line telling me c++ jokes, and the 20-something women are beside themselves posing for pictures with Carl."
Kasell's relationship with the NPR audience dates back to his 30 years as the newscaster for NPR's Morning Edition. "He was the voice people woke up to," says Eric Nuzum, NPR Vice President of Programming. "They opened their eyes, and for 30 years, Carl Kasell was there, reassuring them the world was still in one piece." In 1998, he was recruited to provide gravitas to NPR's new news-quiz, where his title, Official Judge and Scorekeeper, belied his key role as the show's straight man. Kasell delighted in the role, just as the audience delighted in him.
"My favorite time at NPR has been Wait Wait... Don't Tell Me! It was loads of fun and gave me a chance to meet and talk in person to the audiences that I felt I had known for so many years on the air," says Kasell. "I can honestly say I am the luckiest man around to be able to have worked at a job I love for so many years. It's truly been a joy for me."
In retirement, Kasell will become Scorekeeper Emeritus of Wait Wait... Don't Tell Me! He will continue to record custom voice mail greetings for the show's lucky winners and continue to occasionally appear on the program. Thanks to the long-standing and much-coveted prize, more than 2200 people have Kasell's voice on their home answering machines and cell phones – where he's performed everything from "What's New Pussycat" to "Rapper's Delight."