This week we learned of the passing of CBS News icon Charles Osgood at age 91. He had other regular roles on television and radio, but I first knew him from his brief “Newsbreak” spots on the radio, which I heard many mornings in my youth.
My parents gave me two of his books, which you can still find if you look. Both are collections of his Newsbreak spots in prose and verse: Nothing Could Be Finer Than a Crisis That Is Minor in the Morning and There’s Nothing That I Wouldn’t Do If You Would Be My POSSLQ*. (POSSLQ, pronounced “possle-queue,” is an acronym for Persons of Opposite Sex Sharing Living Quarters. It was a simpler time.)
Later I would read his small, charming memoir, Defending Baltimore Against Enemy Attack: A Boyhood Year During World War II. It immediately took an honored place in my small collection of favorite memoirs of childhood.
My Three: Ronald Reagan, Paul Harvey, and Charles Osgood
The other two of my Radio Three were Ronald Reagan and Paul Harvey. Most weekdays in the summer and during other school breaks, as a teen, I listened to Paul Harvey’s fifteen minutes of news and commentary at midday. Early most weekday mornings during the school year, if I wasn’t doing farm work before school, I listened to Ronald Reagan’s brief radio commentaries — and found them cogent, instructive, and persuasive enough that I became, from a young age, a Reagan Republican. (I have recordings of some of his spots and a book with transcripts of more of them.)
Ronald Reagan and Paul Harvey brought humor to politics and the news from time to time, but Charles Osgood brought it more.
One More, After My Three
After these in my listening, some years later, came Rush Limbaugh, a greater force than two of my three (not Reagan). I think Limbaugh was loved more than he was hated, and that’s saying something. He deserves to be remembered too.
He left us nearly three years ago; I wrote about him then. (There’s a link in that post to a fine piece by Mark Steyn.) Soon I was so incensed by the gleeful, triumphant drivel issuing from people I knew who were dancing on his grave — evidently without firsthand knowledge of anything he said — that I wrote an award-winning column, “We Must All Hate the Puppy Stomper.” I told almost no one what or whom it was really about, because I wanted to illustrate their childish, bitter resistance to logic and evidence, but I didn’t want to be mean.
But back to Charles Osgood.
Charles Osgood Samples: A Cat and a Law
Here’s one of the shortest offerings in Charles Osgood’s Nothing Could Be Finer, about President Ford’s cat, Shan, which the White House press office called “a low-key cat.”
A Low-key Cat A low-key cate in the White House sat, A Siamese named Shan, And from where she sat in this habitat She could see how the country ran. Now it's hard to see how she stays low-key Observing the things she can, But we'll all be sad if this cat goes mad, For the fit will hit the Shan.
Turn the page — in the section called “Animals” — and there’s a two-page gem, “You Animals Gotta Stop Behaving Like Animals.” Here’s an excerpt from the middle:
You will never see a pussycat, a goldfish, or a pup Checking out the baseball scores or on the Stanley Cup Or politics or business trends or wars or other crimes Or working out the crossword puzzle in the Sunday Times. They are hopelessly indifferent to the workings of the law, Which is why I doubt that any of them likely ever saw The news accounts of what they did in Oregon this week, In Stanfield, where the city council reached some kind of peak Of legislative silliness in what they had decreed, In this ordinance, which (as I say) no animal will read. The legislation stipulates that animals refrain From sexual activity--allow me to explain. "From sexual activity--where any human being Might be in the vicinity and capable of seeing." . . . The council, in its wisdom, says if sex must be, so be it. But from now on, it's against the law if anyone can see it. Animals may mate, of course, it's perfectly all right, As long as what they do, they do completely out of sight.
Osgood wouldn’t do anything for a rhyme; he was a better bard than that. But he’d do almost anything for a good rhyme, and he’d rhyme about almost anything. Meanwhile, a lot of his Newsbreaks were prose.
What’s a Guy to Listen To?
There is no substitute in my present life for Ronald Reagan’s radio spots, though Senator Ted Cruz’s popular (and much longer) audio and video podcast, Verdict, deserves honorable mention. There is no substitute at all for Paul Harvey or Rush Limbaugh.
But a local radio personality, Jeff Caplan, seems to have caught the spirit of Charles Osgood. Some of his KSL radio pieces appear at his Minute of News podcast, so I can share them, but some of my favorites never do.
Here are some recent posted examples: In “Chicago’s Bizarre Winterfest” “a city of millions celebrates a divot in the sidewalk, and a dead, departed rat.” “A Big Mac Makeover” mostly sticks to McDonalds but goes beyond the Big Mac. And “In Defense of Draymond Green,” is more about bad workplace behavior on Capitol Hill than Green’s workplace offenses in the NBA.
Charles Osgood retired years ago, but I’ve remembered him more lately, thanks to Jeff Caplan and the KSL management which lets him do his delightful thing.
In case you’re curious, I don’t think of Paul Harvey often, and I almost never listen to talk radio, now that Rush Limbaugh is gone (though I tried for a while). I think of Ronald Reagan all the time. After his radio spots, which came after his two terms as one of California’s last sensible governors, he that other job for eight years, and I’ve missed him in it more and more. He was the first presidential candidate I voted for, as soon as I could vote (1984), and it’s been downhill ever since. But I digress again.
Rest in peace, Charles Osgood. And not that you need me to tell you this, but where you are now, make ’em laugh when you make ’em think. I’m pretty sure they’ll appreciate you there.
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