My Sunday morning schedule is almost always arranged around “CBS Sunday Morning.” For me, its appeal is like that of the best Sunday newspapers but brought to life. Like the Sunday paper, I’ve often enjoyed it alongside family members. Every week, at least one of the segments will be fodder for conversations with friends.
That segment might feature some topic or person of great interest to me, or it might be something previously unfamiliar. I watch from the opening theme — “Abblasen,” played by Wynton Marsalis — to the concluding segment, which always captures the beauty of the planet’s landscape, seascape or wildlife.
For 20 years, Charles Osgood greeted me every Sunday as host of “Sunday Morning.” The last decade of his tenure coincided with the first decade of my career in journalism. So I know I was watching and learning. He exemplified the power and value of storytelling and and how vital it is to meaningful journalism.
As the host and as a contributor, he was teaching. I watched how he and the other “Sunday Morning” contributors presented their stories about how we live and how we find meaning in the world.
I watched how he did it his own way and with his own style — journalistically, poetically and musically.
And then somewhere along the way, I found out that like me, he saw himself as having been defined by a Baltimore upbringing. He expressed a kind of gratitude for the life Baltimore gave him.
I know that feeling.
Charles Osgood Wood III was 9 when his family moved from New York City to Baltimore early in 1942. His father, a textile salesman, had a job transfer, going from the number one U.S. garment manufacturing city to the city that was number two during the early 20th century. Charles, his sister Mary Ann and his parents moved from a small apartment in New York to a house on Edgewood Road in Northwest Baltimore.
During one of the most accomplished careers in American broadcasting, Charles Osgood often shared what he loved about coming of age in Baltimore.
“CBS Sunday Morning” included many of those recollections in its tribute to Osgood broadcast on the Sunday following his death Jan. 23 at the age of 91. The tribute included a segment from 2004 about Osgood returning to Baltimore to recollect his childhood.
“I can still see that boy in my mind’s eye, blissfully happy in that terrible time as only a 9-year-old can be,” Osgood said during that segment. The world was unraveling during World War II, but as a boy, Osgood said he found the idea of a nation engaged in rationing, air raid drills and victory gardens “wonderfully romantic.”
He was occupied by his love of baseball and radio. His was a neighborhood of “white wooden houses with big front porches and grand, white stoops.” He and Mary Ann, who was less than a year younger than him, shared devotion to the then minor-league Orioles. So having their father take them to games was among their greatest joys.
His storytelling in that 2004 segment detailed his upbringing and what coming of age in Baltimore meant for his generation. He recalled his newspaper route and how he folded The Baltimore Sun “into the throwing position” to avoid having it land in the bushes or on the roof.
He recalled when a 42-foot-tall Bromo Seltzer bottle sat atop the Bromo Seltzer Tower.
“In Manhattan, a college boy would meet his date under the Biltmore Clock. In Baltimore, they’d meet under the Fizz.”
Listening to the radio connected him to life outside Baltimore, bringing him “a window of the world, a world unto itself,” Osgood said. It was the war reporting but also “The Lone Ranger” and “The Shadow.”
“American radio of the 1940s had a profound influence on me,” he said. “I couldn’t imagine a career more delightful, except, perhaps, to play shortstop for the Orioles.”
While he would become one of the most familiar faces on television news, his greatest love was always radio. He reminded audiences of that at the close of TV broadcasts by invariably saying, “See you on the radio.”
I knew his voice, his wit and his sometimes-rhyming style from his “Osgood File” reports on CBS Radio, one of the longest-running features in radio history. But he became a Sunday morning hero of mine as host of “Sunday Morning” from 1994 to 2016. Like Charles Kuralt, who preceded him as host, and current host Jane Pauley, who succeeded him, I relied on Osgood every Sunday.
Osgood, with his signature bow tie and conversational style, always delivered.
“It’s great to be part of something that people love, and I know that they do,” he said in that 2004 segment.”
Osgood’s talent and interests made him particularly well-suited to host “Sunday Morning” and to present all kinds of features and conduct a wide range of interviews. He came with much more than his accomplishments as a network radio broadcaster and CBS correspondent and anchor. His love of music was one of the qualities that brought an additional dimension to his work on “Sunday Morning.”
The show’s musical features are among the most memorable for me. For years, jazz pianist, composer and educator Billy Taylor presented interviews with, and performances by, some of the greatest jazz artists. It was the kind of programming unlikely to be found anyplace else on network television.
It wasn’t at all unusual to find Osgood himself at the piano during the show. He played along with guests and played and sang during Christmastime. He accompanied himself on the banjo on one “Sunday Morning” broadcast while singing, “You Are My Sunshine.”
His love for music always found its way into his life and career. In 1955, when he was about to be drafted into the Army, he accepted an offer to become the announcer for the U.S. Army Band and would serve in that role for three years. When President Eisenhower was hospitalized after a heart attack, Osgood spent a day in a studio as his personal disc jockey.
He was also a songwriter. He co-wrote “Gallant Men,” a tribute to U.S. troops. In 1966, it was recorded by Sen. Everett Dirksen. By January 1967, the spoken-word recording climbed to No. 29 on the music charts.
Also in the 1960s, Osgood wrote a song titled “Black Is Beautiful,” and the inimitable Nancy Wilson recorded it. The lyrics touched on various themes, including the hopes that were at the heart of the Civil Rights struggle. Years later, she performed the song on “CBS Sunday Morning,” and he accompanied her on piano.
This was one of many times that piano lessons, which Osgood took at Peabody Institute in Baltimore, served him well during his career and over his lifetime. During that “CBS Sunday Morning” segment about his return to Baltimore, Osgood visited Peabody. While there, Robert Sirota, Peabody’s director at the time, produced his report card. It showed that he took four terms of piano satisfactorily.
Osgood recalled the song he played at his recital, “The Happy Farmer.” He said he almost didn’t get to perform it because teachers initially forgot to call his name.
It turned out to be a name so many of us got to know as his work enriched our lives.
Mark Williams is The Baltimore Banner’s Opinion Editor.