Carl Kasell retires from NPR’s “Wait Wait… Don’t Tell Me,” the radio news quiz. Panelist Roxanne Roberts tells the story.
We knew Carl Kasell’s last taping of “Wait Wait . . . Don’t Tell Me” was going to be a big deal, which is so not Carl. After 16 years as official judge and scorekeeper of the NPR quiz show, and 60 years in radio, he wanted his last show to be just like any other.
As if. Sprinkled throughout the hour were tributes from Stephen Colbert, Tom Hanks, Katie Couric and President Obama, which caused the 80-year-old veteran newsman and the 1,800 people packed into the Warner Theatre on Thursday to get all verklempt.
The crowd, as they say, went wild. We are talking public radio fans, so that meant standing ovations and loud applause, not underwear tossed onstage. At the end of the taping, they politely mobbed Carl like he was Springsteen or the Pope, thrusting items both cute (a Carl plush doll) and mildly creepy (a Carl face pillow) at him for autographs. I’m pretty sure I saw a guy in the second row tattoo Carl’s name across his heart.
So House Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi, Sens. Dick Durbin, Jeff Flake and Kay Hagan all attended a tribute dinner for him Wednesday night, along with the “Wait Wait” family, former colleagues, NPR brass and even some of Carl’s pals from high school. Pelosi presented him with a flag that had been flown over the Capitol, besting (just barely) Durbin’s gift of Garrett’s famous Chicago popcorn.
The man of the hour was, characteristically modest. “Thank you so much,” he told the audience. “I’ve had so much fun. I enjoyed every moment of it.” But official retirement? Not so much. “What does it mean? Putting things aside, doing nothing? Are you kidding?” he said. “I can’t live that way. I’ve got to do something, somewhere, somehow.”
Carl is now officially “Wait Wait’s” Scorekeeper Emeritus, but will continue to record voice mail greetings for winners on the show. (He’s already done more than 2,000.) But — since we’re sharing here — you probably want to know whose voice is on Carl’s home answering machine.
His wife’s. Carl’s king of the castle, but Mary Ann is queen.