Charles Osgood: A broadcast journalist’s journey

Charles Osgood, news veteran

Any story by Charles Osgood is one-of-a-kind, as is the story of Charles Osgood and his long career on the air. Rita Braver shares it with us: 

Whether describing a national treasure (“Nature’s cooling system -- the great American elm tree”) or deploring the plight of the homeless (“Being cold is not an abstraction, but a reality you can feel in your bones”), Charles Osgood says he wants us to take a closer look -- “and maybe, in some cases, to be angry or amused or sorta shake your head about this crazy world,” he said.

“And by the way, it is a crazy world!”

Charles Osgood tribute: Scott Pelley, David Muir and Lester Holt

Which helps explain how an Economics major at Fordham University in the Bronx ended up at the campus radio station.

“I spent more time here than I did in the classrooms or doing homework,” he said while visiting the radio studio.

He started as a classical music DJ in Washington, D.C., but at some point he moved on to news reporting.

“What was the inspiration for that?” Braver asked.

“There was a job that was available, and I knew how to get it!” he laughed.

His first big-time news job was at ABC; then in 1967 he joined WCBS Radio in New York.

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Osgood at the typewriter. CBS News

His distinctive style soon landed him a job at the CBS Network. And in 1971, he launched one of the longest-running features in radio history: What came to be known as “The Osgood File,” several stories a day, in two-minute segments that are surprisingly complex to craft.

“Short words, short sentences, short paragraphs,” he said. “There’s nothing that can’t be improved by making it shorter and better.”

“When the idea of television was presented to you, was that exciting for you? Or foreboding?” Braver asked.

“It scared me to death!” Osgood said.

In fact, he says, the first time he anchored a broadcast he got some constructive criticism from veteran TV correspondent Mike Wallace: “He said, ‘You looked like you had gone into the room to empty the wastebaskets and you looked up and you saw Walter Cronkite’s chair, and so you say ‘Ooooh,’ and you sat in his chair, and you said to yourself, I hope nobody catches me doing this, hope nobody’s watching!’” 

But soon he realized he just needed to be himself on camera. “It’s important that the audience be comfortable,” he said, “and they won’t be if you’re not comfortable.”

Charles Osgood tribute: "CBS This Morning," "Today," "GMA"

In 1994 Charles Osgood took over “Sunday Morning” from the venerable Charles Kuralt.

“Sounds strange to me, too, but here we are!” Osgood announced on his first broadcast.

Braver asked, “You’ve got to know that the audience came to, not just accept you, but to really be very fond of you. What was that like as you started to realize that?”

“I think if you do something every week, if you show up in their homes, then they get to know you,” Osgood said. “They’re not even surprised when you knock on the door and say, ‘May I come in?’”

In the 22 years since, Charles Osgood has taken us to Cuba; explored our architectural landmarks; even served up Thanksgiving dinner -- in the process helping “Sunday Morning” earn three recent Emmys for Outstanding Morning Program.

Through it all, he’s followed his own wise counsel:

“Before your working years are through, I hope whatever work you do makes you happy, makes you smile. You may be at it quite a while!”