Charles Osgood, lyrical newscaster on radio and TV, dies at 91

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Charles Osgood, lyrical newscaster on radio and TV, dies at 91
The newscaster Charles Osgood in New York on Feb. 19, 2004. Osgood, who told unconventional stories on the radio in unconventional ways — sometimes with rhyme, sometimes with humor, often with both — died on Tuesday, Jan. 23, 2024, at his home in Saddle River, N.J. He was 91. (Andrea Mohin/The New York Times)

by James Barron



NEW YORK, NY.- Charles Osgood, a newscaster who told unconventional stories on the radio in unconventional ways — sometimes with rhyme, sometimes with humor, often with both — died Tuesday at his home in Saddle River, New Jersey. He was 91.

The cause was dementia, CBS News reported, quoting his family.

Osgood became a familiar face on television as the host of “CBS Sunday Morning” from 1994 to 2016. But his passion was the medium he had grown up listening to in the 1930s and ’40s, so much so that he closed his TV broadcasts by saying, “See you on the radio” — an oxymoron, to be sure, but one masked by the cleverness that his audiences had come to expect. He also used the phrase as the title of a book.

On television, he was known for his trademark bow ties; on the radio, it was for his distinctive voice, most familiar from his short “Osgood File” segments on CBS Radio. It was not booming like Paul Harvey’s, deeply authoritative like Edward R. Murrow’s or telegraph-staccato like Walter Winchell’s. Some listeners compared the way Osgood sounded to the jerky rhythms of Rod Serling, the host and creator of “The Twilight Zone.”

But Osgood’s voice was lighter, his approach more conversational, a style he attributed to his having avoided the “journalism machine” when he was young.

“I never took a journalism course or worked for a newspaper or news department of a broadcast operation,” he told Broadcasting magazine in 1985. “Whatever is unique or different in my style would probably have been drummed out of me in journalism school on the first day.”

His style did not include regular rhyming until he was in his 40s. “One day, in a particular story, I incorporated a little rhyme just as a way of doing something different,” he told The New York Times in 1994. “I immediately heard from a management type in the news division: ‘Very nice, Charlie, very clever. Don’t do it again.’”

“Needless to say, I did,” he said.



“See you on the radio” … I say that every week,A peculiar phrase, some people think, for anyone to speak.I’ve got a piece of mail or two, up on my office shelf,Complaining that the sentence seems to contradict itself.“Dear Mr. Osgood,” someone wrote, “that signoff is absurd,Radio is for the ear … the song or spoken word.”



Some listeners heard a latter-day Ogden Nash in Osgood’s segments, though he told People magazine, “My stuff isn’t poetry — it’s just rampant doggerel.” Like Nash, Osgood was not afraid to make words fit his rhyme schemes. In the late 1970s, when Census Bureau data showed that more unmarried couples were living together, the agency created the category “Person(s) of Opposite Sex Sharing Living Quarters,” with the acronym POSSLQ.

Osgood turned that into a three-syllable word that he pronounced “POSS-ul-cue” and went on the air with a love poem that began with four lines from John Donne’s “The Bait.” The next two lines became the title of a book of scripts, “There’s Nothing That I Wouldn’t Do if You Would Be My POSSLQ” (1981).



“The medium for seeing is, without a doubt, TV.That’s why we call it ‘video.’ That’s Latin for ‘I see.’So please don’t say that anymore. You really should know better.”That’s a gentle paraphrase of what was in this viewer’s letter.



For years, Osgood went to bed around 9 p.m. and got up by 3 a.m. to prepare radio segments that would be heard when most listeners were staring bleary-eyed at their bathroom mirrors or at the taillights of bumper-to-bumper traffic. He was accustomed to his schedule, though he once acknowledged, “It does mean you’re not quite in sync with everybody else.” (In later years, he recorded his commentaries the evening before they were broadcast.)



“Dear sir,” I then wrote back to him, and this was my reply:“I do believe that you are wrong, and let me tell you why.”



He liked quirky stories that he noticed on the news wires, often ones that were counterintuitive. He once spotted an item about a man whose arm had been broken in a tussle with store clerks who had caught him shoplifting. The man sued the store and was awarded $13,000 in damages. Osgood delivered a yarn about how crime can pay.

He was born Charles Osgood Wood III in Manhattan on Jan. 8, 1933. His father, Charles Osgood II, was a textile salesperson who moved the family to Baltimore when young Charles was 6 and took a second job, as an expediter for a copper company, during World War II. His mother, Mary (Wilson) Wood, was known as Violet.

Osgood went to Fordham University, where, he later said, he spent more time at the campus radio station than in class. His first job after he graduated in 1954, with a degree in economics, was as a radio announcer at a classical music station, WGMS in Washington, D.C. (the call letters stood for “Washington’s good music station”). Realizing that he might be drafted, he applied to be the announcer for the U.S. Army Band at Fort Myer, in Arlington, Virginia, and got the job, which he held from 1955 to 1958.

He also moonlighted under assumed names at several radio stations in the Washington area. Top-40 listeners knew him as Chuck Forest and, with a wink at Henry David Thoreau, Carl Walden. The pseudonyms were plays on his real name, which he had used on WGMS.

He briefly broadcast to an audience of one. After President Dwight D. Eisenhower had a heart attack in 1955, Osgood was recruited to be the president’s personal disc jockey. “I was put into a studio with a stack of records that had all been chosen as his favorites,” he said in 2016, “and I spent most of the day playing records for Eisenhower.”

When his Army service ended, he returned to WGMS, where he became the program director. RKO General, the network that owned WGMS at the time, later transferred him to a pay television station it operated in Hartford, Connecticut. “We lost money at an alarming rate,” he said, and RKO let him go in 1963.

ABC hired him in 1963, but that network already had a newscaster with a similar name, Charles Woods. “Since he got there first, it was clear that I was the one who was going to have to do the changing,” Osgood wrote in 1989, explaining why he started signing off with his middle name.



No television set that’s made, no screen that you can find,Can compare with that of radio, the theater of the mind.Where the pictures are so vivid, so spectacular and real,That there isn’t any contest, or at least that’s how I feel.



Osgood moved to WCBS-AM in New York in 1967, when it was making plans to drop its middle-of-the-road music format and switch to all news.

But the afternoon before the all-news format made its debut, a single-engine airplane lost in a storm smashed into the transmission tower, not far from La Guardia Airport in Queens, and knocked the station off the air. When Osgood went on the next morning, the all-news programming was carried only on WCBS-FM, which suspended its usual music format until a temporary AM transmitter could be hooked up.

Osgood joined CBS News four years later, anchoring hourly radio newscasts in the morning. He also appeared on television, covering, among other things, the Democratic National Convention in Miami Beach in 1972.

His first marriage, to Theresa Audette, ended in divorce in 1972. The next year, he married a colleague from CBS News, Jean Crafton. She survives him, along with their five children, Kathleen Wood Griffis, Kenneth Winston Wood, Anne E. Wood, Emily J. Wood and Jamie Wood; and three grandchildren. He is also survived by a sister, Mary Ann Mangum, and a brother, Ken Wood.

Osgood was named the anchor of the “CBS Sunday Night News” in 1981 and did brief “Newsbreak” segments during prime-time programs. He was an anchor of the “CBS Morning News” from 1987 to 1992 and became the host of “CBS Sunday Morning” when Charles Kuralt retired in 1994. He won three Emmys for his reporting and a lifetime achievement Emmy in 2017. In addition, “CBS Sunday Morning” won three daytime Emmys while he was the host.

To give Osgood the job on “CBS Sunday Morning,” the network made an exception to a policy that barred CBS News correspondents from doing commercials. Like other syndicated hosts on radio — notably, Paul Harvey and, later, Rush Limbaugh — Osgood had long done radio commercials on “The Osgood File.” He said he did not believe the audience would be disconcerted if he appeared as a newsman on television on Sundays and a pitchman on the radio during the week.

He continued “The Osgood File” through the end of 2017, when he announced that he was retiring. “Although I was very much looking forward to continuing to see you on the radio,” he said, “unfortunately my health and doctors will now not allow it.”

I’m there inside the radio, the one beside the bed.And it’s me you hear when it goes off … come on now, sleepyhead.I can see you in the morning … I can see you coast to coastAs you sip your glass of orange juice and bite into your toast.



Osgood was also an accomplished pianist, and while he maintained that he was not good enough to have played professionally, for some stories on CBS he played the organ and banjo. He performed with the Boston Pops and the New York Pops, as well as the Mormon Tabernacle Choir. After the terrorist attacks of 9/11, he wrote a setting of the Pledge of Allegiance; the sheet music was published in 2002.

He also had a writing credit, as Charles Wood, on a 45 rpm single that rose as high as No. 29 on the Billboard Top 100 in 1966: “Gallant Men,” a patriotic ode. A friend from his Army band days, John Cacavas, wrote the music. Sen. Everett M. Dirksen, R-Ill., who was the Senate minority leader, recited the lines Osgood had written.

As on the radio, Osgood was heard but not seen as the narrator in “Horton Hears a Who!,” a 2008 film adaptation of the Dr. Seuss children’s book.



And that may be the ultimate and quintessential testThat proves beyond the slightest doubt that radio is best.A friend will always stick with you … though your poems may not scan.I’ll see you on the radio … I can, you see, I can.

This article originally appeared in The New York Times.










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