Voices of truth

To hear a radio voice in person is to peek behind the glass. It’s like focusing a blurred image, the subject coming into clearer focus but not really changing. It’s surreal, to say the least, a disembodied voice finding a home, moving in and looking completely at rest, natural and complete.

We saw it firsthand last night at the Sioux Falls taping of Wait Wait Don’t Tell Me.

People on the radio never look like you think they do. Radio masks the physical attributes that we all use as landmarks and renders them illegible. So to see Peter Sagal walk on stage was like seeing a complete stranger who had stolen your favorite shirt. There’s something familiar, but it takes a while to figure out what it is.

The night went as you’d think it would. You see the inner workings of a radio production – the gaffes, the banter, the re-recorded pick-ups at the end. (These pick-ups, by the way, are the most surreal thing you can see – Peter Sagal, re-voicing his script to, well, no one. He even re-voiced some questions to Sen. George McGovern, our “Not My Job” guest. Or, at least, to the empty chair Sen. McGovern was sitting in earlier.)

The event was fantastic. The talent was gracious, genuinely impressed with the reception they received and willing to meet and greet after taping ended. Mo Rocca was there, as was Tom Bodett and Kyrie O’Connor.

The star of the night, however, was Carl Kasell. More to the point: his voice.

Carl Kasell is a public radio legend. Part of an older generation of news radio voices that focused on nothing but news, Kasell reads engagingly, yet without bias. It’s Walter Cronkite filtered down without the visuals. Sports radio has Dan “Duke” Davis to fill this role. But it’s all the same – an old radio man standing to the side, ready for updates and specializing in playing the straight man to the typical personality-driven programs.

At the top of the hour and every twenty minutes after, you can be assured of what you’ll get. Unfiltered radio. Straight talk. Nothing but news, nothing but that voice, nothing but the most familiar thing you’ll ever encounter.

Hearing Carl Kasell is moving in the way that it’s like family. Comforting. You can’t imagine any other voice taking its place. It’s the voice of a man who has seen everything, who has written about events that have shaped the world, brought us to tears and led us to rage. They are both a gentle grandfather and a sage business partner, a college professor and a moving narrator. They are the voice of reason. The voice of history. The voice of change.

The voice of the news. Talking not in bold print or all caps, but in a solid stream of Times New Roman, 12 point font, occasional italics for emphasis. Nothing fancy, but completely solid; nothing forced, just smooth effortless news, life unfolding from pen to paper to mouth to airwaves.

With a voice like Carl Kasell, there’s no need for the fame. Just the real, unfiltered news, a small spot every hour, to keep you grounded.

A voice that’s not sensational or misleading. Simply the voice of truth.

This was lovingly handwritten on September 26th, 2008