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CBS' Osgood finds his happy medium: radio

Charles Osgood sees America every morning, all four times zones at once: The sleepyhead in California, the guy who's shaving in Denver, the couple eating breakfast in Iowa.

You, in the car, stuck in Malfunction Junction on I-4, Charles Osgood sees you too.

Although he's confined to a CBS cocoon, Osgood says, he can see everyone because he works in America's most visual medium. Not TV. Radio.

"I always say "I'll see you on the radio," said the veteran CBS newsman Monday at a conference of television and radio promoters at Walt Disney World. "My broadcast booth may be small, but I can still see everything. Radio is more intimate."

In a funny, but poignant, luncheon speech, Osgood reflected on his career in TV and radio. A reporter for 25 years with CBS News, including work on CBS This Morning and CBS Sunday Morning, Osgood transferred to the radio division last year to devote himself to his whimsical commentaries, "The Osgood Files," which are aired four times a day and heard by an estimated 3.5-billion people across the country. In the Tampa Bay area, he on WHNZ-570 AM news radio.

A master of both mediums, Osgood said he prefers radio because it allows a listener's imagination to see much more than any camera could.

The lasting power of radio lies in the word _ the story-telling _ which Osgood has made famous. Often his commentaries are poems, a problematic art form since they have to be tailored for breaking news.

"Deadline poets you don't often meet," said Osgood, winner of two Peabody awards, broadcast journalism's highest honor. To update his "little performance, my act," Osgood said he was inspired by Bill Clinton to play a musical instrument.

"I worried it might not be appropriate for a serious journalist to play a musical instrument," Osgood said deadpan. "Then I said, "Oh well' and did it anyway."

He tried the harmonica first, but realizing "the verbal content would be very slim" since he couldn't talk, he settled on the banjo. Now, he warbles the news with a few notes.

Switching to radio fulltime also allowed him to explore lucrative radio commercials, which can't be performed by CBS reporters.

But Osgood, 60, said his real reason to retreat to radio was that there were just too many Charlies around CBS.

"With my hair a little grayer and my waist a little bigger, people kept asking me if I was Charles Kuralt," he said. He was greatly comforted when he found out that Kuralt has the same problem.

"I said, "Oh, people ask if you're me?'

" Osgood recalls asking Kuralt with pride.

"No," Kuralt said. "They always ask if I'm the guy who says the silly little poems on the radio."

That did it. Now, except for an occasional guest shot on Kuralt's Sunday Morning, Charles Osgood moved his poems, banjo and bowties to radio, for good.

The better to see you with, my dears.

The 37th annual PROMAX conference ends Wednesday when the groups hands out acheivement Awards to talk host Sally Jessy Raphael and former NBC Entertainment Chairman Brandon Tartikoff.