Opinion: Charles Osgood was an anchorman, and a poet
Charles Osgood had a voice as smooth as sherry, and could make words ring and rhyme in your mind. As our friend Bob Edwards, the original host of NPR's Morning Edition, told us this week, "Charles was equally fluent in two languages: news copy, and doggerel. He never saw a reason not to excel at both."
Charles Osgood died this week, at the age of 91. He enjoyed — and I think that's just the right verb — a 65-year career in broadcasting, mostly at CBS, where he hosted CBS Sunday Morning for two decades, and delivered his graceful reports, poems, and, yes, doggerel on CBS Radio.
I first noticed his work on CBS all-news radio when I was in high school. You could tell that a lot of us students had listened to Charles Osgood's wry commentaries and poems in the morning, when we read out our own essays in English class that afternoon. Ours were but poor imitations.
I got to meet Charles years later, after I became a special contributor to CBS Sunday Morning. I won an award once, with Charles' name on it, and he recollected that night how he'd been what amounted to a personal radio staff of one after President Dwight Eisenhower suffered a heart attack in 1955. Charles hosted a closed-circuit program from a Washington DC radio station that was piped directly into the president's recovery room, for the commander-in-chief's high-ranking ears only.
"It reminded me," said Charles, "that no matter how many or how few people are listening out there — or who they are — you always talk to people personally."
Charles could seem a little uncomfortable when people called the verses he wrote and read on the air "poems." He seemed to feel that poems are what Robert Frost, Emily Dickinson, and Langston Hughes wrote. Most of the stanzas Charles wrote were comic verses — doggerel — that stretch rhymes for a laugh.
But this week, I've been thinking of his 2014 composition, 'Time Enough?':
"Man is mortal, this is true. And that applies to women, too.
To each of us, to those we love, And to our dearest friends, At some point human life begins, And at some point it ends.
We don't know when. Life is dispensed In differing amounts. But it is not how LONG we lived — It's HOW we lived that counts.
Death, like life, is natural, And not to be afraid of. If you love life, guard well your time — for time's the stuff life's made of."
I think that's a great poem by Charles Osgood.
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