Charles Osgood, the Unhurried Host of CBS News Programs, Dies at 91

Charles Osgood, the genial radio and television commentator who anchored CBS Sunday Morning for more than two decades, died Tuesday. He was 91.

Osgood, who also was heard on the radio for more than 50 years with CBS’ The Osgood File, died at his home in New Jersey of dementia, the network announced.

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The low-key Bronx native took over CBS’ Sunday program from Charles Kuralt in 1994 and retired in September 2016 as its longest-running host. After handing over the reins to Jane Pauley, he continued to broadcast The Osgood File and contribute stories to CBS News.

In December 2017, Osgood and Westwood One announced an extension to keep The Osgood File going, but he changed course just 15 days later.

“Although I was very much looking forward to continuing … unfortunately my health and doctors will now not allow it. So I will retire from The Osgood File and radio at the end of the year with great appreciation for all the success we’ve had together,” he said. “I wish you a Merry Christmas, Happy New Year and the best of everything in 2018.”

The Peabody Award winner also was known for sporting bow ties on camera and for his signature sign-off, “Until, then, I’ll see you on the radio,” at the end of each Sunday show. What also made Osgood so endearing was his eloquent delivery that often incorporated verse. When a magazine writer suggested that men who wear bow ties cannot be trusted, Osgood responded with this whimsical retort:

“For those who have lusted to be honored and trusted,
A bow tie, I say, doesn’t hurt.
It isn’t your tie that most people will eye —
It’s the big soup stain there on your shirt.”

Debuting in 1967, The Osgood File aired four times daily from Monday through Friday on the CBS Radio Network. Each segment would last only three minutes, yet that was more than enough time for Osgood to present his take on an unusual person or story. His prose was so engaging, he was dubbed the “poet in residence” at CBS Radio; his voice so lyrical, he was tapped to narrate the 2008 animated feature Horton Hears a Who!

As he was about to join CBS Morning News Sunday in 1994, Osgood explained his radio style to The New York Times. “Sometimes, if you take a conventional story and add a rhyme to it, you can turn it into something special and spin it out over two and a half minutes. Of course, the story should be funny. Or poignant. Sometimes you’re lucky, and it turns out to be both.”

Osgood successfully transferred this approach to television, entertaining viewers for more than 22 years.

“Watching him at work was a masterclass in communicating,” Pauley said Tuesday in a statement. “I’ll still think to myself, ‘How would Charlie say it?’, trying to capture the illusive warmth and intelligence of his voice and delivery. I expect I’ll go on trying.

“He was one of the best broadcast stylists and one of the last. His style was so natural and unaffected it communicated his authenticity. He connected with people. Watching him  on TV, or listening on the radio, as I did for years, was to feel like you knew him, and he knew you. He brought a unique sensibility, curiosity and his trademark whimsy to ‘Sunday Morning,’ and it endures.”

Born Charles Osgood Wood III on Jan. 8, 1933, he attended Fordham University in the early 1950s and found himself drawn to the college radio station. When he wasn’t spinning records during his show, Osgood would play the piano. He’d also pal around with colleagues that included Alan Alda and Jack Haley Jr.

“They were infectious, and we had lots of fun,” Osgood said during his New York Times interview. “There were times, of course, when we spent more time at the station than in classes, but we managed to graduate anyhow.”

After he left Fordham in 1954, Osgood saw an opportunity that led him to the army. While meeting with a friend at a radio station, he was introduced to the announcer for the U.S. Army Band and learned that he was nearing the end of his stint. Osgood tracked down the soldier’s commanding officer and enlisted. From 1955-58, while based at Fort Myer in Virginia, Osgood toured as the band’s emcee. During visits to Washington, he would fill in as an announcer at radio station WGMS.

He was there when President Dwight Eisenhower suffered a heart attack, and the station turned to Osgood to create a radio broadcast that was piped exclusively into Ike’s hospital room. “I kept it light, because it’s not every day that you have a captive presidential audience,” he remembered.

During his tour with the Army band, Osgood teamed with his roommate, John Cacavas, to write songs. (Cacavas would go on to score TV shows like Kojak and Hawaii Five-0.) A recording of their “Gallant Men” became a hit in 1967, with then-Sen. Everett Dirksen of Illinois narrating. It won a Grammy for best spoken recording and is heard on the soundtrack of Easy Rider (1969).

As Osgood told the Los Angeles Times in 1991: “Dennis Hopper and Peter Fonda ride into town on their Easy Rider cycles, and there is a parade marching down the street. They sort of disrupt the parade and get arrested. The band is playing ‘Gallant Men.’ So every time Easy Rider plays in Europe, I get 4 cents.”

After his tour of duty ended in 1957, Osgood joined WGMS as a full-time announcer under the name Charles Wood and was promoted to program director the following year. One of his more notable projects was 1960’s FDR Speaks, a six-album collection of 33 speeches given by President Franklin Roosevelt from 1933-45. Osgood provided the introductions and commentary.

Osgood got his first taste of television in 1962 when RKO General, the parent company of WGMS, transferred him to Hartford, Connecticut, and named him GM of WHCT. One of the first paid television subscription services, complete with a decoder, WHCT was a financial failure. And so, at age 30, Osgood was unemployed.

Osgood got in touch with Frank Maguire, a former Fordham classmate in charge of program development at ABC in New York. In 1963, he signed on as writer and co-host of ABC Radio’s Flair Reports — a series of five-minute human interest stories. (One of the reporters there was future Nightline host Ted Koppel.) It was here that Osgood changed his professional name to avoid confusion with Charles Woods, an announcer at the station.

Osgood made a move to CBS Radio in 1967. In the midst of converting to an all-news format, the network chose him to anchor its inaugural morning drive-time segment.

Osgood also was a mainstay in the TV news department at CBS. At some point, he served as a reporter or anchor for all of the network’s major newscasts, including the CBS Evening News With Dan Rather and the CBS Morning News. From 1981-87, he anchored the CBS Sunday Night News.

His affable approach lent itself to a leisurely paced Sunday morning program.

After opening with the breaking news of the day and national weather, Osgood would ease into general interest stories about music, architecture, politics, the ballet and pop culture. For example, the edition on Sept. 18, 2016 (before his final appearance a week later, which was devoted to a retrospective of Osgood) included a story on Ron Howard’s Beatles documentary; a piece explaining the science of luck; a tribute to playwright Edward Albee; a sneak peek at art exhibits in the nation’s museums; and a profile of makeup artist Riccie Johnson, whose 70-year career at CBS included preparing The Beatles for their Ed Sullivan Show debut in 1964 and making up the correspondents and guests for 60 Minutes. (She also was Osgood’s longtime makeup artist.)

With Osgood front and center, CBS Morning News Sunday won two Daytime Emmys for outstanding morning program and three News and Documentary Emmys. The show was honored with a Peabody Award in 1997. Osgood himself won a Peabody in 1986 as the narrator/writer of the CBS Radio program Newsmark: Where in the World Are We? The previous year, a CBS News segment he narrated, “The Number Man: Bach at Three Hundred,” also was honored with a Peabody.

The bow tie that he wore on his final show as host of the Sunday program was donated to the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History.

For several decades, Osgood also penned a biweekly syndicated newspaper column for Tribune Media Services. In 1956, he wrote A Single Voice, a three-act play, and he was the author of seven books, including Nothing Could Be Finer Than a Crisis That Is Minor in the Morning (1979), The Osgood Files (1991), See You on the Radio (1999) and Defending Baltimore Against Enemy Attack (2011).

Survivors include his second wife, Jean (they were married 50 years); their children, Kathleen, Winston, Annie, Emily and Jamie; a sister, Mary Ann; and a brother, Ken.

“Charlie absolutely loved being part of the ‘Sunday Morning’ community,” his family said in a statement. “We’ll miss him terribly, but there is comfort in knowing his life was charmed, in large part thanks to you. From the bottom of our hearts, thank you for welcoming him into your homes on Sundays to share stories, and to highlight the better parts of humanity. He’ll see you on the radio.”

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