‘The Voice of Reason in an Often Unreasonable World’
In a nearly five-decade career at CBS, the 1954 Fordham graduate was known for his distinctive voice and style, his intellect and sense of humor, and a warm, measured tone. He had a predilection for bow ties and a penchant for rhyme that earned him a reputation as CBS News’ “poet in residence.”
A master communicator, he was also a bestselling author of several books, a lyricist who scored an improbable hit in 1967, and a talented musician who played banjo with the Boston Pops and piano with the New York Pops. He could cover hard news “as straight as a string,” as he once put it, and deliver poignant human-interest stories with a wit and authenticity that endeared him to generations of listeners and viewers—both on Sunday Morning and on his syndicated radio show, The Osgood File.
“Charles Osgood has been a presence in all of our lives for decades,” said Tania Tetlow, president of Fordham. “His gentle and poetic delivery of the news, the wisdom of his observations—everything about him spoke of steadiness and integrity. He was the voice of reason in an often unreasonable world. We will all miss him terribly.”
‘The Theater of the Mind’
Born in the Bronx in 1933, Charles Osgood Wood III moved to Baltimore with his family in 1939 and grew up in the city’s Liberty Heights neighborhood, an experience he recalled in his 2004 memoir, Defending Baltimore Against Enemy Attack: A Boyhood Year During World War II. The year was 1942, and it was “the best of times and the worst of times,” he wrote, as he was surrounded by siblings, friends, and baseball—but against the backdrop of the Great Depression and World War II.
“Although memory has a built-in sugarcoater, and childhood is seen through the cotton candy of time, I have always been certain that there was a genuine sweetness to the days when I was nine years old and the country was united in winning the last good war, if there could have been such a thing,” he wrote.
It was also a time when he developed his love for radio, which he called the “Theater of the Mind” and “the greatest show on earth.”
An Education in the ‘Process of Orderly Thinking’
Osgood moved back north in 1946 to attend St. Cecilia High School in Englewood, New Jersey, before returning to the borough of his birth as a student at Fordham College at Rose Hill. He majored in economics—“not communication arts or journalism, as some might think,” he told Fordham Magazine in 1980.
“In those days at Fordham we also studied such arcane subjects as epistemology, cosmology, and ontology. It didn’t seem possible that I’d even make a living from them, but I swear I am! That’s because they developed in me the process of orderly thinking—the methodology of going from one step to another,” he said.
Osgood honed his broadcasting craft working at WFUV, Fordham’s public media station, during his years at Rose Hill. The station, founded in 1947, was just a few years old when he started. He eventually hosted his own show, No Soap Opera, and worked alongside other future luminaries including Alan Alda, FCRH ’56. “When I wasn’t on duty there I would just stay around because I enjoyed it so much,” he said.
After graduating in 1954 with that radio experience, Osgood was hired as an announcer by WGMS, a classical music station based in Washington, D.C. Soon after, though, he joined the military as an announcer for the United States Army Band, a role that he held until 1957. While serving near the Arlington National Cemetery, Osgood took on jobs at several Washington, D.C.-area radio stations under pseudonyms, and in the book Kilroy Was Here: The Best American Humor from World War II, he tells the story of being tasked with DJing a closed circuit radio broadcast for President Dwight D. Eisenhower while the commander in chief recovered from a heart attack in Colorado in 1955.
“I was put into a studio with a stack of records that had all been chosen as his favorites,” Osgood recalled. “And I spent most of the day playing records for Eisenhower.”
During his stint with the Army Band, he also “got to write some lyrics for the band and chorus,” he said in the 1980 Fordham story. “That’s when I really began versifying.”
From the Army, Osgood returned to WGMS until 1962, when he got his first job in television as the general manager of WHCT in Hartford, Connecticut. When the station ran into budget issues and Osgood was fired in 1963, he got his next break thanks in part to a fellow Fordham graduate, Frank Maguire, FCRH ’56, who was in charge of program development at ABC in New York at the time. Osgood joined ABC Radio as a writer and co-host of Flair Reports, which featured human interest stories.
“It had been years since he had seen me work, but he had enough faith to recommend me for the job,” Osgood said of Maguire. It was at ABC that he decided to change his professional name. “My own name was Charles Wood, but since there was another fellow in broadcasting [at ABC] named Charles Woods, I decided to use my middle name, Osgood.”
Beginning a Long Tenure at CBS
In 1967, he began working for CBS, where he would spend the rest of his career. Starting as a radio reporter for WCBS, he moved to the television news division in 1971, the same year he began hosting what would eventually become The Osgood File, short radio segments broadcast on stations across the country multiple times a day, four days a week.
On television, he started as a reporter and became an anchor of CBS Sunday Night News in 1981, followed by stints as a co-anchor of CBS Morning News, a news reader on CBS This Morning, and an anchor of CBS Afternoon News and CBS Evening News with Dan Rather.
It was his next role at CBS for which Osgood became best known: In 1994, he succeeded Charles Kuralt as host of Sunday Morning, where his trademark style as a calm, upbeat presence gave viewers a relaxing alternative to other Sunday morning programming.
“We accentuate the positive and don’t try to shock,” Osgood once told a reporter. ”I think there’s a growing appetite for that. We’re surrounded by shock.”
He hosted his last episode of the program on September 25, 2016, signing off with his signature “I’ll see you on the radio,” before thanking his viewers and the staff of the show. He continued to host episodes of The Osgood File until December 2017.
Osgood received numerous honors throughout his career. He was inducted into the National Association of Broadcasters Hall of Fame in 1990, earned a lifetime Emmy Award in 2018, and received many other accolades, including the Walter Cronkite Award for Excellence in Journalism, the Radio Television Digital News Association’s Paul White Award, four other Emmy Awards, and three Peabody Awards.
The Patron Saint of WFUV News
In 2008, WFUV honored Osgood alongside Dodgers broadcaster Vin Scully, FCRH ’49, one of the first student voices on the station, with lifetime achievement awards in news and sports broadcasting, respectively. The awards, subsequently renamed in their honor, are presented annually to journalists who reflect Osgood’s and Scully’s standard of excellence.
“All of us at the station are saddened by Charles Osgood’s passing,” said Chuck Singleton, general manager of WFUV. “He was the patron saint of WFUV News, a mentor to our young journalists, and a distinguished link to the station’s founding generation of news professionals. Charles liked to say, ‘I went to the University of WFUV.’”
Osgood stayed extremely engaged with his alma mater and WFUV throughout his life. He was a Fordham trustee fellow and an emcee at numerous Fordham events, including the annual Fordham Founder’s Dinner, where he was among the honorees in 2005. Fordham also honored him in 2010, when he was inducted into the University’s Hall of Honor. He received an honorary degree from Fordham and delivered the commencement address to the Class of 1988, encouraging them to “stand for the values that shaped you here at Fordham.”
He occasionally returned to WFUV and was a frequent attendee of the station’s annual On the Record gala, at which other broadcasting legends—including Ted Koppel, a friend who started at ABC on the same day as Osgood in 1963, and Jane Pauley, who succeed him as host of Sunday Morning—received the Charles Osgood Lifetime Achievement Award.
“Everything I learned in my career, I learned at FUV,” Osgood said at the station’s 60th anniversary celebration in 2007. And while he thought the station’s new-at-the-time broadcast center on the lower level of Keating Hall was “better than CBS,” he reminded the audience that “it’s not equipment that teaches you. The most important equipment is not in a box, but what goes on in your own brain and your own heart.”
A Mentor to Fordham Students and Alumni
That lesson is one he conveyed to generations of Fordham graduates, including Emmy Award-winning producer Sara Kugel, FCRH ’11, who started working at Sunday Morning as a broadcast associate in 2012.
“I grew up watching Sunday Morning, and that was just a routine we had in our household. It was the only show my family really watched together,” she recalled, noting that she was “very much drawn” to Osgood’s warmth, gravitas, and intelligence.
“I wasn’t sure if I wanted to go into journalism then, but … once I started looking at Fordham, the fact that WFUV existed on campus, and that it had produced Charles Osgood? You can’t get it better. There’s nothing more inspiring than that.”
Over the years, the two bonded over their shared Fordham connection. Kugel recalls listening to a WFUV livestream of a Fordham football game with him one Saturday afternoon. “Of all the people I’ve met, I would say I found him to be very authentic,” she said. “Who he was on camera, really, it matched who he was in person.”
CBS New York’s Alice Gainer, FCRH ’04, echoed that sentiment. Following her Tuesday evening segment on Osgood’s life and legacy, the award-winning anchor and reporter shared some personal thoughts about Osgood with viewers, noting that in 2013, she “had the privilege of sitting on a journalism panel with him, since we’re both Fordham and WFUV alums.”
“What stood out to me was just how sharp he was—everything about him was so distinctive: his voice, his style. You know, you turn on the TV now, you see a lot of the same. He truly stood out. He leaves quite a legacy. And I have to point out, I’m sitting there thinking, ‘What am I doing on a panel with Charles Osgood?’ But he didn’t treat me that way. He treated me like a peer, and that meant so much. And he, you know, he’s still inspiring so many journalists to this day.”
A Fordham Family
The Fordham connection extended to his family. His wife, Jean Crofton, graduated from Fordham College at Lincoln Center in 2002, and two of their sons, Kenneth Winston Wood, FCLC ’98, and Jamie Wood, FCLC ’05, are Fordham alumni.
Fordham was “the first place where he was given a voice and the ability to tell stories on a platform when there were not as many platforms to be able to captivate an audience,” Jamie Wood said. “I think he always felt a great deal of gratitude and indebtedness to the Fordham community for creating the conditions that allowed that to happen.”
Wood added that his father’s disposition and personality on TV and radio reflected his personality at home.
“There was not really much of a performance element to it just because it’s just who he was,” he said. “He was the single most optimistic person that I’ve ever known. I think that he had an ability to see the inherent goodness of anyone and led with any storytelling or any interaction with that baseline assumption, that there’s fundamental good in every person that he is talking to, that he’s engaging in some way, and I think that that’s one of the things that made him beloved and endeared by so many.”
A Life Filled with Music and Community
While Osgood was known most widely for his talking and writing, many will also remember him as an enthusiastic singer, musician, and composer—who not only loved to perform for friends and family but who wrote the lyrics to two songs that achieved some level of wider success, “Gallant Men” and “Black is Beautiful.”
“I will always treasure being on set when Charlie would play the piano and sing,” Kugel said. “Witnessing Charles Osgood play ‘I’ll be Home for Christmas’ on the Sunday Morning set was pure magic. Only a few people would be in the studio during those tapings, but it seemed there wasn’t a dry eye in the room. We all knew we had witnessed something very special. It felt like heaven.”
In his final radio segment, broadcast on December 29, 2017, Osgood gave a brief history of Robert Burns’ familiar poem “Auld Lang Syne” and recited a version of his own, over the sound of pensive bagpipes, as a farewell to his listeners:
“The memories of days gone by—old times, old friends, and all—
faces, voices of the past our minds can still recall.
They live still in your memory, as they still live in mine,
as we lift a cup this Sunday eve for Auld Lang Syne.”
Osgood is survived by his wife, Jean Crofton; their five children, Kathleen Wood Griffis, Kenneth Winston Wood, Anne-E. Wood, Emily J. Wood, and Jamie Wood; two siblings; and six grandchildren.
“My dad above all loved other people’s company,” Jamie Wood said. “It wasn’t being a public figure, it wasn’t being a journalist. He just loved being around community, and so thank you for welcoming him into your homes and into your radios to be able to … share stories, to share the better parts of humanity. And he will see you on the radio.”
—Ryan Stellabotte contributed to this story.