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How’s Carl This Time?

22 Jan 2014

There’s good preliminary evidence to support this claim:

As the excitement builds over the course of each hour-long Wait Wait…Don’t Tell Me! episode, Carl Kasell’s exclamation of the last two syllables of the word “Chicago,” commensurately, rises in pitch.

The Backstory

Perhaps it’s just because I lived in Chicago for the first ten years of my life, but, for a long time I’ve noticed and enjoyed Carl Kasell’s high-to-low “[Chi]CA-GO” song which, for hometown shows, is sung six times per episode (by current episode-editing standards). The “[Chi]CA-GO”s come in twos (once for the production company and once as a, like, geo-locational check-in); here’s a representative example from December 7, 2013:


While my wife and I have listened to the program nearly every weekend for years (NPR member station WBUR repreZENT!), for some reason it was this past week’s show (January 18, 2014) that prompted me to ask the following two questions:

1. By how much do Carl Kasell’s “[Chi]CA-GO”s differ with regard to pitch and interval size?
2. Can I, through some minor analyses, sum together the six intervals from each program and construct a sort of general sketch of Carl’s mood/emotional disposition during a given broadcast.

Long story short

1. More than you’d think
2. Doubtful

My Process

So, I downloaded the five most recent, hometown Wait Wait…Don’t Tell Me! broadcasts, which are:

1. January 18, 2014
2. January 11, 2014
3. January 4, 2014
4. December 14, 2013
5. December 7, 2013

I then isolated the six “[chi]CA-GO”s from each, and made a note of:

1. The starting pitch of each “CA”
2. The distance, intervallically speaking, from that pitch down to the “GO”

As you can imagine, the analysis was difficult due to some of the “GO”s being super wavery/slidy (the “CA”s are surprisingly solid). That said, I just ear-balled it the best I could and, generally, tried to measure from the “CA” to the very end of the “GO” — like, wherever it ended up after Carl’s micro-Tarzan-ing.

For instance, here’s a pretty solid minor-third:

[audio:|titles=January 11_2014_#4_Minor-third_down_from_Bb]

Here it is again as a chord (the two syllables stacked one on top of the other) so you can really hear the minor-ness:

[audio:|titles=January 11_2014_#4_Minor-third_down_from_Bb]

And here’s a shakier minor-third:

[audio:|titles=January 18_2014_#4_Minor-third_down_from_Bb]

So, that said, here’s the full transcription that I came up with — the starting pitch (CA) is in parenthesis:

January 18, 2014
1st: minor-sixth (A)
2nd: dimished-fith (B)
3rd: perfect-fourth (A)
4th: minor-third (Bb)
5th: dimished-fifth (Bb)
6th: perfect-fourth (Bb)

January 11, 2014
1st: minor-sixth (Ab)
2nd: perfect-fourth (B)
3rd: perfect-fifth (Bb)
4th: minor-third (Bb)
5th: perfect-fifth (Bb)
6th: perfect-fourth (Bb)

January 4, 2014
1st: minor-sixth (A)
2nd: perfect-fifth (B)
3rd: perfect-fifth (Bb)
4th: perfect-fifth (C)
5th: dimished-fifth (Bb)
6th: perfect-fifth (C)

December 14, 2013
1st: dminished-fifth (Bb)
2nd: perfect-fourth (Bb)
3rd: diminished-fifth (A)
4th: perfect-fourth (Bb)
5th: Major-sixth (Bb)
6th: Major-third (B)

December 7, 2013
1st: perfect-fifth (A)
2nd: perfect-fourth (B)
3rd: perfect-fifth (B)
4th: perfect-fifth (C)
5th: diminished-fifth (B)
6th: minor-sixth (C)

It’s important to note that I did two full transcriptions in a row and then compared them for differences. They were MOSTLY right-on with one another.


So, what do we learn about Carl’s mood from this small sample-set? I’m not sure we learn much — and we’d have to get our hands on some serious, unbiased, post-show self-reporting from Carl to compare — but I do feel like there’s a statistical anomaly that’s worth looking into.

As I see it, four out of five of the first “[Chi]CA-GO”s from each broadcast begin on the lowest pitches Carl ever reaches (A and Ab) in any of the “[Chi]CA-GO”s and two out of five of the sixth “[Chi]CA-GO”s from each broadcast begin on the highest pitches he ever reaches (B and C).

This wouldn’t be so weird on its own, but the fact of the matter is that over the course of the program’s six “[Chi]CA-GO”s, Carl’s starting pitches slowly begin to rise. Like, check out all of those Bbs in the middle “[Chi]CA-GO”s. At the very least, we can say that there’s a decidedly upward trend toward B and C with an intermediary pitch-floor at around Bb.


I feel like it’s reasonable to believe that a similar analysis of earlier shows would yield a similar upward trend in the pitch of Carl Kasell’s “[Chi]CA-GO”s. Further research into Carl’s overall mood during a particular episode would need to be compared against an honest report, by him, of his perceived overall mood during a show.

I’d also be interested to know if it would be possible to subtly prime Carl with certain intervals and pitches for a critical period before each show in an effort to coax him into singing “[Chi]CA-GO” in a prescribed manner.

Because You Earned It

Here are all of the “[Chi]CA-GO”s back-to-back*:


And here they are all at the same time:



*Wherein we learn that the December 7, 2013 show was, apparently, mastered to be at a lower volume than the other four.

Update January 24, 2014: My best pal, Jordyn Bonds, whipped up this handy visual:

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