Reprinted from North Carolina Libraries | Fall 2000
He was smart. He could write about anything and it was magic. From childhood, he had the most wonderful voice, warm and rich and deep. Busy people stopped what they were doing to hear his stories. Most of all, he listened. He was interested in everything you had to say, whether the conversation was the state of the nation or the vagaries of raising corn. He was Charles Kuralt, and there was no one else like him.
Remembering Charles Kuralt is not a biography, but a series of loosely chronological reminiscences of the many friends and colleagues interviewed by Ralph Grizzle, a contributing editor to North Carolina's Our State magazine. Using his own voice, but heavily sprinkling the text with quotations from the interviews and other sources, Grizzle follows Kuralt from his boyhood in North Carolina through his outstanding broadcasting career to his untimely death in 1997.
Early on Kuralt knew he wanted to be a journalist. He published his own newspaper from about the age of seven, selling it to neighbors for a few cents a copy. As a teenager he wrote for the Charlotte News, the city's afternoon paper, and he had a radio show on WAYS at age 13.
At UNC-Chapel Hill he was elected editor of The Daily Tar Heel, then returned to the Charlotte News. When his "People" column earned the 23-year-old the prestigious Ernie Pyle Memorial Award and CBS sent him a letter of congratulations, he wrote back, "If you really mean you're impressed by this, isn't there something you could do?" CBS came through with a job in their radio newsroom, the stomping ground of Kuralt's hero, Edward R. Murrow.
By 1960 Kuralt was named the host of Eyewitness to History, and CBS approved his idea for On the Road in 1967. The first telecast, a two-minute piece from a side road in Vermont, began: "It is death that causes this blinding show of color. But it is a fierce and flaming death." CBS loved it.
Kuralt stayed with CBS for 37 years, mostly doing the American snapshot mini-documentaries at which he excelled, but the crushing work load, chain smoking, and poor eating habits finally caught up with him. He was tired, the constant stress of meeting his own impossibly high standards all those years taking its toll. He resigned in 1994, and died, appropriately enough, on July 4, 1997. His friend Bill Friday honored his wish to be buried in Chapel Hill.
This book should be in every library. It is easy to read, insightful, and especially valuable for the photographs and the inclusion of some of Kuralt's writing. Given the transitory nature of broadcast media, it is sorrowfully likely that much of his work will be lost.
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