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If you like Charles Kuralt's story, you might also like:
Sam Donaldson,
Nicholas Kristof,
Dan Rather,
Mike Wallace and
Oprah Winfrey

Charles Kuralt's recommended reading: My Name is Aram

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Changing Lanes

Related Links:
Remembering Charles Kuralt

Charles Kuralt Learning Center

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Charles Kuralt
 
Charles Kuralt
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Charles Kuralt Interview

A Life On the Road

June 29, 1996
Sun Valley, Idaho

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  Charles Kuralt

Did you always know what you wanted to do with your life?


Charles Kuralt: I can't remember a time when I didn't want to be a reporter. I don't know where I got the idea that it was a romantic calling. But, when I was a little boy -- I mean, six or seven years old -- I used to borrow my father's hat, and make a press card to stick in the hat band. Young people will not remember that that was the way reporters were always portrayed in the movies, with their press cards stuck in their hat bands for easy identification.

[ Key to Success ] Vision


Charles Kuralt Interview Photo
From the first or second grade, I thought that's what I wanted to be, a reporter. A newspaper reporter, of course, because there was no television yet. And I never changed my mind. Now that I look back on it, having retired from being a reporter, it was kind of romantic. It was a wonderful way to live one's life, just as I imagined it would be when I was six or seven.

Where do you think it came from?

Charles Kuralt: I can't remember, but there was a cousin of my mother who had always wanted to be a newspaper man and a writer. He had known Thomas Wolfe, the North Carolina novelist, and had lived in New York for a while and tried to make it himself as a writer. I suppose I was a little bit under his influence. He was a great storyteller, as so many Southerners of that generation were.

Maybe it was from him, Ransom Gurganus, that I got the idea. Anyway, kids are always asked, "What are you going to be when you grow up?" And I needed an answer. So instead of saying, a fireman, or a policeman, I said, a reporter.

What attracted you to reporting?

Charles Kuralt: I did a lot of reading when I was a kid, and I remember some collections of good journalism that I had found in the school library, collections of stuff from the golden age of the New York newspapers, The World, and The Herald. I loved reading those exciting pieces of journalism.

As I went along through junior high school and high school, I developed journalistic heroes. Red Smith, the sportswriter, was one of them. I thought he wrote wonderfully. I read the stories of Damon Runyon. I'm sort of embarrassed now to say that I was charmed by all those big city tough guys in Damon Runyon's stories. I could easily imagine myself in that role.

Charles Kuralt Interview Photo
And then, on radio, I developed a great affection for CBS News which, I imagined correctly, was a band of scholar-journalists. Edward R. Murrow, Eric Sevareid, Charles Collingwood, and the rest of them, were a superior news organization. I was lucky enough to join CBS News in the mid-'50s and got to know some of those guys, and they lived up to my expectations.

They were just wonderful, and very accomplished reporters. I don't suppose we'll ever see a single small group of reporters with the credentials that crowd had. So maybe just by luck, I picked good heroes to worship.

Where there values, ideas or experiences that you brought with you from small town North Carolina that helped you in the big city?


Charles Kuralt: I had a little insight into life that most kids growing up in small town North Carolina probably didn't have. My mother was a school teacher, and a good role model for me. But, my father was the real one. He was a social worker and, for years, head of the social services department in my home town. And so, through his eyes I saw the underside of society. I saw how many people were poor and how many kids my age went to school hungry in the morning, which I don't think most of my contemporaries in racially segregated schools in the South thought very much about at the time. I think that was an advantage for me. I knew a little bit more about real life than most kids did, I think. And then, the storytelling tradition that you bring from the South, I don't know where it arose, but it's still there. You can't go to the feed store or the country courthouse on a Saturday afternoon without running into storytellers. And, I had some favorites. I was charmed to sit and listen. And my father, who was a New Englander and a little more reticent, not a great storyteller himself, also was charmed. And so, he and I would stand around and listen to these old guys tell whoppers. And, I think that appreciation for stories probably helped me.

[ Key to Success ] Preparation


Did your parents encourage you in your chosen calling?


Charles Kuralt: They encouraged me in everything I ever wanted to do. I think back and wonder if I would have done this for a child. I wanted to broadcast baseball games. The Charlotte Hornets are now known as a basketball name, but that was the name of our local baseball team. I had a chance to broadcast the games for two or three summers. The only problem was, I wasn't old enough to drive yet, I was 14 or so. So my father drove me to every single home game of the local baseball team. Though he had other things he would rather do, I'm sure, he would listen to the games. And, around the seventh or eighth inning he would haul himself into the car and come back out to the ball park to pick me up and bring me home, and then get a little sleep before he had to go to work in the morning. That went on for three summers, I believe. That's real encouragement. That was really a help. That's not just saying, "Oh, good, be a reporter, be a broadcaster." That was really a help. When I finally went to work, finally for my hometown newspaper my folks were still very helpful to me. Although, I think my mother had more doubts about my being a reporter than my father did. My father, as I said, was a public figure. He was in the press all the time, trying to keep the county commission from cutting welfare benefits to poor children, and all that kind of thing. And it was a conservative community, so he was on the hot seat constantly, at war with the county commissioners. And my newspaper editorially sometimes supported the other side. My mother, at least twice, cancelled our family's subscription to the newspaper I was working on because she was so mad about its treatment of my father.


Was there a teacher who inspired you?

Charles Kuralt Interview Photo
Charles Kuralt: I was lucky. I had several teachers before college who were encouraging to me. In eighth grade there was a teacher named Ann Batton, who was the journalism counselor to the little school paper that we put out. She made me believe that I could do good work, and there were others.

Thinking back on that, I am pretty sure that's what people of that age -- seventh, eighth, ninth graders -- need more than anything else. Just a little bit of encouragement. They need to believe, "This is something I can do." They need a compliment once in a while. Good teachers know how to bring out the best in students.

When we become a really mature, grown-up, wise society, we will recognize that and put teachers at the center of the community, where they belong. I've always felt we don't honor them enough, we don't pay them enough. When I look back at my own beginnings I think how very grateful I was for a couple of underpaid teachers taking an interest in me.

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