Charles Kuralt

Charles Bishop Kuralt (September 10, 1934 July 4, 1997) was an American journalist. He is most widely known for his long career with CBS, first for his "On the Road" segments on The CBS Evening News with Walter Cronkite, and later as the first anchor of CBS News Sunday Morning, a position he held for fifteen years.[1]

Charles Kuralt
Charles Bishop Kuralt

(1934-09-10)September 10, 1934
DiedJuly 4, 1997(1997-07-04) (aged 62)
Resting placeOld Chapel Hill Cemetery
Alma materUniversity of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
OccupationJournalist, correspondent, news anchor
Years active1957–1997
Sory Guthery
(m. 1954; div. 1960)

Suzanne "Petie" Baird (m. 19621997)

Kuralt's "On the Road" segments were recognized twice with personal Peabody Awards. The first, awarded in 1968, cited those segments as heartwarming and "nostalgic vignettes"; in 1975, the award was for his work as a U.S. "bicentennial historian"; his work "capture[d] the individuality of the people, the dynamic growth inherent in the area, and ... the rich heritage of this great nation."[2] He shared in a third Peabody awarded to CBS News Sunday Morning.

Early life and career

Kuralt was born in Wilmington, North Carolina. As a boy, he won a children's sports writing contest for a local newspaper by writing about a dog that got loose on the field during a baseball game. Charles' father, Wallace H. Kuralt. Sr., moved his family to Charlotte in 1945, when he became Director of Public Welfare in Mecklenburg County, North Carolina.[3] Their house[4][5][6] off Sharon Road, then 10 miles south of the city, was the only structure in the area. During the years he lived in that house, Kuralt became one of the youngest radio announcers in the country. Later, at Charlotte's Central High School, Kuralt was voted "Most Likely to Succeed."[4] In 1948, he was named one of four National Voice of Democracy winners at age 14, where he won a $500 scholarship.

After graduation from Central High School in 1951, he attended the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, where he became editor of The Daily Tar Heel and joined St. Anthony Hall. While there, he appeared in a starring role in a radio program called American Adventure: A Study of Man in The New World in the episode titled "Hearth Fire", which aired on August 4, 1955. It is a telling of the advent of TVA's building lakes written by John Ehle and directed by John Clayton.

After graduating from UNC, Kuralt worked as a reporter for the Charlotte News in his home state, where he wrote "Charles Kuralt's People," a column that won him an Ernie Pyle Award. He moved to CBS in 1957 as a writer, where he became well known as the host of the Eyewitness to History series. He traveled around the world as a journalist for the network, including stints as CBS's Chief Latin American Correspondent and then as Chief West Coast Correspondent.[7]

In 1967, Kuralt and a CBS camera crew accompanied Ralph Plaisted in his attempt to reach the North Pole by snowmobile, which resulted in the documentary To the Top of the World and his book of the same name.

"On the Road"

Kuralt was said to have tired of what he considered the excessive rivalry between reporters on the hard news beats:

"I didn't like the competitiveness or the deadline pressure," he told the Academy of Television Arts & Sciences, upon his induction into their Hall of Fame. "I was sure that Dick Valeriani of NBC was sneaking around behind my back and of course, he was! getting stories that would make me look bad the next day. Even though I covered news for a long time, I was always hoping I could get back to something like my little column on the Charlotte News."[8]

When he finally persuaded CBS to let him try out just such an idea for three months, it turned into a quarter-century project. "On the Road" became a regular feature on The CBS Evening News with Walter Cronkite in 1967.[9] Kuralt hit the road in a motor home (he wore out six before he was through) with a small crew and avoided the interstates in favor of the nation's back roads in search of America's people and their doings. He said, "Interstate highways allow you to drive coast to coast, without seeing anything".[10]

According to Thomas Steinbeck, the older son of John Steinbeck, the inspiration for "On the Road" was Steinbeck's Travels with Charley (whose title was initially considered as the name of Kuralt's feature). During his career, he won three Peabody awards and ten Emmy awards for journalism. He also won a George Polk Award in 1980 for National Television Reporting.

CBS Sunday Morning anchor

On January 28, 1979, CBS launched CBS News Sunday Morning with Kuralt as host. On October 27, 1980, he was added as host of the weekday broadcasts of CBS' Morning show as well, joined with Diane Sawyer as weekday co-host on September 28, 1981. Kuralt left the weekday broadcasts in March 1982, but continued to anchor the popular Sunday morning program until April 3, 1994, when he retired after 15 years as host and was succeeded by Charles Osgood.

Retirement and death

At age 60, Kuralt surprised many by retiring from CBS News. At the time, he was the longest tenured on-air personality in the News Division. However, he hinted that his retirement might not be complete. In 1995, he narrated the TLC documentary The Revolutionary War, and in early 1997, he signed on to host a syndicated, thrice-weekly, ninety-second broadcast, "An American Moment," presenting what CNN called "slices of Americana." Then, Kuralt also agreed to host a CBS cable broadcast show, I Remember, designed as a weekly, hour-long review of significant news from the three previous decades.

He was hospitalized and died of complications from systemic lupus erythematosus at the age of 62 at New York–Presbyterian Hospital.[1]

One of Kuralt's books was titled North Carolina Is My Home. Kuralt's younger brother Wallace, who died in December 2003, was also well-known in his home state, having been the owner of The Intimate Bookshop on Franklin Street in Chapel Hill for many years. In addition, a portion of land along the Roanoke, Tar, Neuse, Cape Fear Ecosystem, so named for the rivers that flow into the Albemarle, Currituck, and Pamlico Sounds, has been named for Kuralt, honoring his having given as much time to nature and wildlife as to people in his "On the Road" and Sunday Morning stories.

By request in his will, Kuralt was buried on the UNC grounds in Old Chapel Hill Cemetery.[11] The university uses a Kuralt speech in its television commercials, and it displays many of his awards and a re-creation of his office in its Journalism School.


Posthumous controversy

Two years after his death, Kuralt's decades-long companionship with a Montana woman named Patricia Shannon was made public. Kuralt apparently had a second, "shadow" family with Shannon while his wife lived in New York City and his daughters from a previous marriage lived on the eastern seaboard. Shannon asserted that the house in Montana had been willed to her, a position upheld by the Montana Supreme Court.[14][15][16][17] According to court testimony, Kuralt had met Shannon while doing a story on Pat Baker Park[18] in Reno, Nevada, which Shannon had promoted and volunteered to build in 1968. The park was in a low-income area of Reno that had no parks until Shannon promoted her plan. Kuralt mentions Pat Shannon and the building of the parkbut not the nature of their relationship togetherin his autobiography.[19][20][21][22]


  1. Joe Sexton (July 5, 1997). "Charles Kuralt, 62, Is Dead. Chronicler of the Country". The New York Times.
  2. "The Peabody Awards". Archived from the original on 11 June 2010. Retrieved 11 October 2010.
  3. Helms, Ann Doss and Tomlinson, Tommy (26 September 2011). "Wallace Kuralt's era of sterilization: Mecklenburg's impoverished had few, if any, rights in the '50s and '60s as he oversaw one of the most aggressive efforts to sterilize certain populations". Charlotte Observer. Archived from the original on 19 March 2012. Retrieved 10 December 2011.
  4. "Charles Kuralt Called it Home". SouthPark Magazine. 2011-02-09.
  5. "Photos: Inside boyhood home of Charles Kuralt". Archived from the original on 18 October 2013. Retrieved 31 July 2017.CS1 maint: BOT: original-url status unknown (link)
  6. "Charles Kuralt's Boyhood Home". SouthPark Magazine. 2011-02-09. Archived from the original on 2012-09-18.
  7. "Charles Kuralt Biography - Academy of Achievement". Archived from the original on 2010-12-12. Retrieved 2010-10-11.
  8. "Charles Kuralt Interview - page 3 / 5 - Academy of Achievement". 2008-02-28. Archived from the original on 2010-12-12. Retrieved 2010-10-11.
  9. Stevenson, Seth (2009-10-27). "The quaint pleasures of "On the Road With Charles Kuralt," now on DVD. - By Seth Stevenson - Slate Magazine". Retrieved 2010-10-11.
  10. "John Steinbeck vs Charles Kuralt - Highway History - FHWA". Retrieved 2010-10-11.
  11. Eric Peterson, "Charles Kuralt", Ramble
  12. "Paul White Award". Radio Television Digital News Association. Retrieved 2014-05-27.
  13. Arizona State University. "Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication". Retrieved November 23, 2016.
  14. "In re Estate of Kuralt, 2000 MT 359, 15 P.3d 931". Findlaw. Retrieved 31 July 2017.
  15. "In Re Estate of Kuralt, 2003 MT 92, 68 P.3d 662". Findlaw. Retrieved 31 July 2017.
  16. "In Re Estate of Kuralt, 1999 MT 111, 981 P.2d 771". Findlaw. Retrieved 31 July 2017.
  17. Press, The Associated. "Kuralt's Montana estate, not mistress, must pay taxes, court says". Retrieved 31 July 2017.
  18. 39°32'50.1"N 119°47'41.9"W
  19. "CNN Transcript - Larry King Live: Charles Kuralt's Longtime Companion Speaks Out". February 14, 2001. Retrieved 2010-10-11.
  20. Williams, Paige (1 June 1998). "A DOUBLE LIFE ON THE ROAD". The Washington Post. Retrieved 31 July 2017.
  21. Anez, Bob. "Charles Kuralt's secret life". Retrieved 11 October 2010.
  22. Grizzle, Ralph (2 July 2001). "Remember good side of Kuralt". USA Today. Retrieved 11 October 2010.
Media offices
Preceded by
CBS News Sunday Morning anchor
January 28, 1979–April 3, 1994
Succeeded by
Charles Osgood
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