His deep, melodic voice that puts one at ease and brings a smile at the same time, seems to be the first thing people think of when they remember Charles Kuralt. He was a laid back, cubby and somewhat wrinkled journalist, who had a talent for listening and finding the inner charm within ordinary people.
Ralph Grizzle was commissioned by the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill to conduct a series of oral histories with family, friends and colleagues of Charles Kuralt. What comes across is the deep affection everyone felt for this gentle man and the respect for him as a seasoned journalist.
Charles Bishop Kuralt was born on September 10, 1934, in Wilmington, North Carolina. His parents had driven an hour south to the hospital from the 100-acre tobacco farm of his maternal grandparents in Onslow County. He was raised as a farm boy, and his rural roots were evident throughout his life’s work. The evenings of his youth were spent on the front porch with the family listening to his grandfather’s long yarns and his grandmother reading travel books, poetry and short stories. Kuralt credits his love of words and the rhythm of language to her readings.
While in high school, Kuralt entered broadcasting as a disc jockey and news writer for ABC-affiliate WAYS. In college, he did radio drama for the campus radio station WUNC, then became editor of The Daily Tar Heel is junior year. It was the 1950’s, and Kuralt used his gentle wisdom to cover topics like integration and Senator Joe McCarthy with his liberal idealism. With his eye always toward the future and now a married man, Kuralt left Chapel Hill lacking a couple of physical education courses to complete his degree in Journalism, to accept a job with the Charlotte News.
It was at the Charlotte News that Kuralt’s “PEOPLE” column became the foundation of what would become “On the Road.” His series of glimpses into the lives of ordinary people, won the Ernie Pyle Memorial Award. When the CBS sent their congratulations on the award, Kuralt jumped at the opportunity to seek employment with them. He accepted a job as news writer for WCBS radio. Within six months, he was promoted to television. During his career for CBS he anchored “Eyewitness to History,” toured America with “On the Road,” and brought a reflective news broadcast with “Sunday Morning.” When Kuralt would stand-in for Walter Cronkite as anchor of “CBS Evening News,” rating would sour causing speculation that he may be chosen over Dan Rather as Cronkite’s successor.
In 1994, at age 60, Charles Kuralt retired from CBS to return home to North Carolina and write. During the short three remaining years of his life, Kuralt connected to old friends, state loyalties, and his roots.
Compared to the many memoirs by journalists reflecting on their careers,
Remembering Charles Kuralt stands out as a unique look at the man from
the people who knew him best. Ralph Grizzle talked to nearly 100 people,
collected over 60 hours of interviews and transcribed 1,200 pages of notes.
In his preface, Ralph Grizzle summed up Remembering Charles Kuralt in
much the same manner in which Kuralt closed each broadcast of CBS’s “Sunday
Morning” – “The spirit of Remembering Charles Kuralt is best summed up by a
line from British playwright J.M. Barrie, who said in 1922: ‘God gave us
memory so that we might have roses in December.’ Kuralt presented us with
beautiful stories and beautiful people – roses, to help us remember.”
© 2002, Southern Scribe Reviews, All Rights Reserved