Not too long ago, Charles Osgood retired from his role as host of CBS’s Sunday Morning news program. However, he continues to be heard on the radio, the medium that got him into the broadcast business, as part of the Westwood One family. When he retired from his television show in September, Osgood said radio was his window on the world. “American radio of the 1940s had a profound influence on me — it’s the reason I am doing what I do today, instead of playing the organ at a skating rink. I could imagine no career more delightful, except perhaps to play shortstop for the Orioles. That dream was a little unrealistic, though — I was afraid of ground balls!” Radio Ink recently spoke to Charles Osgood and, over the next three days, we’ll be bringing you that interview. Here’s Part One.
RI: What attracted you to radio?
Osgood: First of all, I had no interest in television, because there wasn’t any television
when I was growing up. That’s something that came along really after the war, for all practical purposes. I was interested in radio from as far back as I can remember. I loved listening to radio broadcasts of all kinds, at that time. I think in the back of my head I thought it would be great fun to work in that medium. During World War II, the United States didn’t start until 1941, that’s when we got involved, when the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor, I was also very interested in news, because my job, such as it was, it was all kids in this job, was to deliver the newspaper. They would deliver us a stack of newspapers on my porch, and I would distribute them throughout the neighborhood.
The first professional job I had in radio was at WGMS in Washington, the classical music station there. I had also been very interested in music, and I already could pronounce all the names, and I knew a little bit about Mozart and Beethoven and all kinds of music. So, radio was perfect for me, because it was a medium that I really liked a lot and it also related to music. In my first years, I was in it, and I’ve never done anything else. I don’t know what I would’ve done if it hadn’t been for radio.
RI: What do you really love about radio? You are still doing it today.
Osgood: Yes, I am still doing it. I never stopped. I’ve always thought of myself principally as a radio guy who did a television program; not as a television guy who happened to do a little radio on the side. This is what I enjoy doing most. I think radio is a better medium than television, and I tell people the reason is the pictures are better.
Rod Serling, who worked in radio for a while before he went to television and did the famous Twilight Zone stories, used to say that in radio you didn’t have a picture, so you had to create one. In radio, if you said, “there was a castle on a hill,” then all of a sudden there were millions of castles built. Each person in his own head created this castle. In television, somebody comes in who’s wearing a belt and tools around his waist and wants to know what kind of castle you want. You know that he’s going to do from the tools on his belt, and it’s not going to be much of a castle. In some way or another, in radio, you have to make or find a castle or a picture of one, or set it up so that it will help you to tell the story. But television is so picture driven that almost nothing else counts. People tend to neglect writing in television because they say a picture is worth a thousand words. The exact opposite is true. A thousand pictures can’t replace the perfect word.
RI: When you’re getting ready to do one of your broadcasts, what’s going through your mind. What are you trying to get across to that listener once you flip that mic on?
Osgood: My radio broadcasts are very short. Five-minute broadcasts, and I do four of them each day. You have to decide on subjects to do, and then you have figure out how you are going to do them. It’s helpful if you have sound. Radio is not about pictures, it is about sound of one kind or another. And people talking, that is the most interesting sound in the world. Or, it can be in the words and if the story is well-told.
When I started doing television, people would say to me, why don’t you do the same kind of thing that you do on radio. I say “Well, I do. I’m not changing the way I speak at all.” And people will say it’s very different. But then I realized that they had been listening to me on radio for a while, and they already had an idea in their heads that they’d created themselves. That’s the way radio is. And, when they would see me, they would say, “No, that’s not Charles Osgood. The real Charles Osgood is the one I invented.”
Before joining CBS News in September 1971, Charles Osgood was an anchor/reporter for WCBS News Radio 88 in New York. Prior to that, he worked for ABC News, was the general manager of WHCT-TV Hartford, CT, and the program director and manager of WGMS-FM Radio Washington, D.C. Part Two of our interview with Charles Osgood will be in your Tuesday morning headlines.