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Bill Kurtis

Bill Kurtis
Kurtis in 2014
Born William Horton Kuretich
(1940-09-21) September 21, 1940
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, CBS 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 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!


  • Early life 1
  • Career 2
    • Television career 2.1
    • Film work 2.2
    • Tallgrass Beef Company 2.3
    • Other 2.4
    • Military service 2.5
  • Writing credits 3
  • Pop culture 4
  • References 5
  • External links 6
    • Media 6.1

Early life

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. Upon his retirement, the family settled in Independence, 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 B.S. 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

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.[1] 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. Within three months, after seeing his work covering the tornado, 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, and Kurtis never left the streets. 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. 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.

In 1982, Kurtis joined Diane Sawyer on the CBS Morning News, the network broadcast from New York City. He 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.

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).

Film work

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.

Tallgrass Beef Company

In 2005, Kurtis founded a grass-fed beef company to raise and distribute a healthy beef product without artificial hormones, antibiotics, the use of grain in the feed, and feedlots. There was no market for grass-fed and grass-finished beef in 2005, but slowly the story of how cattle evolved on grass, not corn, began to catch the imagination of customers. By 2013, the grass-fed market was growing rapidly and Tallgrass Beef Company is among the leaders in the organic and natural food movement.


Kurtis and his sister, Jean Schodorf of Wichita, Kansas, 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.

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 of 2008, features a description of each scene and a short meditation recorded by Kurtis. Article in Northwest Indiana Times about the Shrine of Christ's Passion

Military service

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)

Writing credits

  • Bill Kurtis on Assignment published October 1, 1983 (out of print) by Rand McNally; ISBN 0-528-81005-7
  • The Death Penalty on Trial: Crisis in American Justice about the death penalty was published November 30, 2004 by PublicAffairs; ISBN 1-58648-169-X

Pop culture

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.


  1. ^ "The Topeka Tornado - June 8, 1966". 31 Aug 2010. Retrieved 25 Jun 2013. 

External links

  • Bill Kurtis at the Internet Movie Database
  • Tallgrass Beef Company
  • A Bill Kurtis Tribute
  • A&E American Justice
  • A&E Cold Case Files
  • Illinois Broadcasters Association


  • Interview on The BusinessMakers Show
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