Bill Kurtis

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Bill Kurtis
Bill Kurtis 2014.jpg
Kurtis in 2014
Born William Horton Kuretich
(1940-09-21) September 21, 1940 (age 76)
Pensacola, Florida
Residence Mettawa, Illinois
Nationality American
Alma mater University of Kansas (B.S.),
Washburn University School of Law (J.D.)
Occupation television journalist, Spokesperson, and producer
Employer WBBM-TV,
AT&T Mobility
Notable credit(s) WBBM-TV, The CBS Morning News, CBS Early Morning News, Investigative Reports, American Justice, and Cold Case Files
Home town Chicago, Illinois
Political party Democratic Party
Board member of Kurtis Productions
Spouse(s) Helen Kurtis (1963–1977; her death)
Partner(s) Donna La Pietra
Children By Helen:
1 son (deceased),
1 daughter
Relatives Frank Kurtis (cousin)
Family Jean Schodorf (sister)

Bill Kurtis (born William Horton Kuretich; September 21, 1940) is an American television journalist, producer, narrator, and news anchor. He was also the host of a number of A&E crime and news documentary shows, including Investigative Reports, American Justice, and Cold Case Files. Previously, he anchored The CBS Morning News, and was the longtime anchor at WBBM-TV, the CBS-owned and -operated TV station in Chicago. Kurtis is currently the scorekeeper/announcer for NPR’s news quiz show Wait Wait... Don't Tell Me!, as well as serving as the host of Through the Decades, a documentary-style news magazine seen on CBS/Weigel Broadcasting's digital multicast network, Decades.

Early life[edit]

Kurtis was born in Pensacola, Florida, to Wilma Mary Horton (1911–2002) and William A. Kuretich (Croatian: Kuretić), of Croatian origin (1914–2001), a U.S. Marine Corps brigadier general and decorated veteran of World War II. His father’s military career included extensive travel for his family.[1] Upon his retirement, the family settled in Independence, Kansas.

His sister is former Kansas state Senate Majority Whip Jean Schodorf, of Wichita, Kansas.

At age 16, Kurtis began working as an announcer for KIND-AM, a radio station in Independence. He graduated from Independence High School in 1958, the University of Kansas with a Bachelor of Science degree in journalism in 1962 and he earned a Juris Doctor degree from Washburn University School of Law in 1966. While in law school he worked part time at WIBW-TV in Topeka, Kansas. After passing the Kansas bar examination and accepting a job with a Wichita law firm, Kurtis discussed his options with Harry Colmery and Bob McClure of Colmery and Russell and decided not to pursue a career in law.


Television career[edit]

On the evening of June 8, 1966, Kurtis left a bar review class at Washburn to fill in for a friend at WIBW-TV to anchor the 6 o'clock news. Severe weather was approaching Topeka, so Kurtis stayed to update some weather reports. At 7:00 p.m., while on the air, a tornado was sighted by WIBW cameraman Ed Rutherford southwest of the city. Within 15 seconds another sighting came in: “It’s wiped out an apartment complex.” Kurtis's warning “For God’s sake, take cover” became synonymous with the 1966 Topeka tornado that left 16 dead and injured hundreds more.[2] Kurtis and the WIBW broadcast team remained on the air for 24 straight hours to cover the initial tornado and its aftermath. Being the only television station in town and one of the few radio stations not damaged by the tornado, WIBW became a communications hub for emergency operations. The experience changed Kurtis’s career path from law to broadcast news.[1] Within three months, after seeing his work covering the tornado[citation needed], WBBM-TV in Chicago hired Kurtis and set the stage for a 30-year career with CBS.

The year 1966 in Chicago was the beginning of a tumultuous four years, and as a reporter and anchor Kurtis was in the middle of historic events. He covered the neighborhood fires that followed the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and again when Robert Kennedy was shot. The protests against the Vietnam War dominated the 1968 Democratic National Convention in Chicago, which Kurtis covered.[3][1] In 1969, Kurtis produced a documentary about Iva Toguri, “Tokyo Rose,” the first interview after her conviction for treason in 1949. His reporting, along with Ron Yates of the Chicago Tribune, helped persuade President Gerald Ford to pardon her in 1977.[citation needed] His law degree came into play when he covered the Chicago Seven conspiracy trial in 1969, which led to a job with CBS News in Los Angeles as correspondent. One of his first assignments was covering the Charles Manson murder trial for 10 months. He also covered the murder trials of Angela Davis and Juan Corona and the Pentagon Papers trial of Daniel Ellsberg.

In 1973, Kurtis returned to Chicago to co-anchor with Walter Jacobson at WBBM-TV. In 1978, his investigative focus unit broke the Agent Orange story, U.S. veterans who were sprayed by the defoliant in Vietnam. After a dramatic screening of the documentary in Washington, D.C., the Veterans Administration issued guidelines to diagnose and compensate those veterans affected by Agent Orange. Kurtis returned to Vietnam in 1980 to cover the Vietnamese side of the story and, while there, discovered some 15,000 Vietnamese children conceived and left behind by Americans when the U.S. pulled out in 1975. A story Kurtis wrote for The New York Times Magazine was instrumental in obtaining special status for the children to enter the United States, where they live today.[citation needed]

In 1982, Kurtis joined Diane Sawyer on The CBS Morning News, the network broadcast from New York City. The two were also on the CBS Early Morning News, which aired an hour earlier on most CBS stations. He also anchored three CBS Reports: The Plane That Fell from the Sky, The Golden Leaf, and The Gift of Life.

He returned to WBBM-TV in 1985. In 1986, Kurtis hosted a four-part science series on PBS called The Miracle Planet as well as a four-part series in 1987 on the CIA. He formed his own documentary production company, Kurtis Productions, in 1988, the same year he produced "Return to Chernobyl" for the PBS series Nova, and became the first American television reporter to enter the site of the world's worst nuclear disaster. Kurtis narrated nearly 1,000 documentaries, and Kurtis Productions produced nearly 500 for series like The New Explorers on PBS; Investigative Reports and Cold Case Files for the A&E Television Network; and Investigating History for the History Channel. He also hosted American Justice, produced by Towers Productions. For CNBC, the company has produced nearly 100 episodes of American Greed.

In 1994, Kurtis obtained a videotape showing Richard Speck, convicted of murdering eight student nurses in Chicago in 1966, having jailhouse sex and using drugs within the maximum security facility known as Stateville in Joliet, Illinois. He aired a report on WBBM-TV, Chicago, and produced a documentary for A&E Network that shocked the nation. It resulted in the most sweeping changes to the Illinois penal system in its history.[citation needed][dubious ]

Kurtis has received two Peabody Awards, numerous Emmy Awards, awards from the Overseas Press Club, and a duPont and has been inducted into the Illinois and Kansas Halls of Fame. In 1998, he was awarded the University of Kansas William Allen White citation.

He is the narrator of a multimedia book by Joe Garner, We Interrupt This Broadcast, with a foreword by Walter Cronkite and epilogue by Brian Williams. Kurtis has authored three books, On Assignment (1984), Death Penalty on Trial (2004), and Prairie Table Cookbook (2008).

Since June 2015, just as the Decades network officially launched, Kurtis serves as the lead host of Through the Decades, a daily news magazine that covers historical events from that particular day since the advent of television. Kurtis' co-hosts are reporters Kerry Sayers and Ellee Pai Hong.

Film work[edit]

Kurtis narrated the 2010 documentary film Carbon Nation by Peter Byck and was the narrator in the 2004 film starring Will Ferrell, Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy and its sequel Anchorman 2: The Legend Continues (2013).

On July 8, 2013, Kurtis was named the Voice of Illinois Tourism.[4]

Tallgrass Beef Company[edit]

In 2005, Kurtis founded Tallgrass Beef Company, which raises and distributes grass-fed, hormone-free organic beef. Some of the beef sold comes from cattle raised on Kurtis's ranch in Sedan, Kansas.


Kurtis and his sister, Jean Schodorf, inherited the historic site of the Little House on the Prairie as designated by the State of Kansas. It is now a not-for-profit museum with their grandmother’s one-room schoolhouse, a tiny post office from Wayside, Kansas, a homesteader’s farmhouse, and attendant farm buildings. Kurtis's father was a cousin of Frank Kurtis in the Indianapolis 500 Hall of Fame.

A 1972 report by Bill Kurtis while a correspondent for CBS News, Los Angeles, was used as the introduction to Dr. Dre’s album, "Straight Outta Compton".

On several occasions starting in 2009, Kurtis appeared on NPR's news quiz show Wait Wait... Don't Tell Me!, filling in for regular announcer Carl Kasell. He replaced Kasell on a permanent basis on May 24, 2014. Kurtis also contributed a spoken-word introduction to The Dandy Warhols' 2005 album Odditorium or Warlords of Mars. The Shrine of Christ’s Passion, an interactive half-mile winding pathway of 40 life-size bronze statues depicting the Stations of the Cross that opened in June 2008, features a description of each scene and a short meditation recorded by Kurtis. [5]

Military service[edit]

Kurtis served as an enlisted man in the United States Marine Corps Reserve (Topeka, Kansas 1962–1966). He was commissioned a Lieutenant (j.g.) in the United States Navy Reserve (Chicago, Ill. 1966—1969).[6]

Writing credits[edit]

Pop culture[edit]

In an episode of the TV series South Park, the boys play a game called "Investigative Reports with Bill Kurtis" in which a player must decide to deny a scandal or cover it up.


External links[edit]