`On the Road With Charles Kuralt' captures spirit of America. Show honors everyday people, age-old virtues

Twenty Years on the Road With Charles Kuralt CBS, Wednesday, 8-9 p.m. Executive producer: Perry Wolff. Producers: Charles Kuralt and Bernard Birnbaum. For 20 years Charles Kuralt has been a chronicler of what he insists upon calling ``the insignificant.''

``I have attempted to keep significance and relevance entirely out of all the stories I send back,'' he says as he roams the back roads of America in his white CBS motor home, searching out ``little'' people with ``little'' stories.

``If I come upon a real news story,'' he says, ``I call some real reporter to come cover it.''

Well, I have news for Mr. Kuralt, as if he didn't already know it: ``Twenty Years on the Road With Charles Kuralt'' is one of the most significant and relevant news documentary program of this year or any other year on American television.

In this collection of the best of ``On the Road,'' it becomes clear that Kuralt, more than almost any newsman outside of Bill Moyers, has a compassionate grasp of the true spirit of America. And that spirit isn't reflected in Watergate or Irangate but more likely in the garden gate.

Or in the story of a man who keeps a garageful of bicycles that he lends to neighborhood children who can't afford their own; or Mississippi sharecroppers who have managed to send all nine of their children to college; or an egg-holding champion; or a man who powers his car on corncobs; or the town of North Platte, Neb., whose stopover canteen fed millions of WWII troop trains; or a Michigan Supreme Court justice who retired to a remote beaver pond to fish for trout ``not because I regard fishing as being so teribly important, but because I suspect that so many of the other concerns of men are equally unimportant and not nearly so much fun.'' Very few of Kuralt's vignettes focus on big cities - it is obvious his heart is in the highlands, the lowlands, the farmlands, the prairies. Especially the small towns.

Shelton, Nebraska was obviously one of his favorites. And Doug Duncan, the local newspaper editor, one of his favorite people. Doug wrote, ``You know you're in a small town when you dial a wrong number and talk for 15 minutes anyway.''

If there is a tessage in ``On the Road'' aside from all the proud and unblushingly articulated homilies, so delightfully old-fashioned that they seem positively new-fangled, it is this:

Says Kuralt: ``The strength of the country doesn't come from New York and Los Angeles and Chicago only; it also comes from Shelton, Nebraska, population 1,040.''

Insignificant? Irrelevant? By some standards, perhaps. But significant and relevant by any standard that takes into consideration the legitimate non-materialistic ambitions of people with a balanced perspective toward life.

Kuralt clearly admires the age-old virtues of family, loyalty, neighborliness, love, and respect for other human beings. But mixed in with that admiration is a celebration of individuality, even downright eccentricity.

Watch ``Twenty Years on the Road With Charles Kuralt. It's not only a ``feel good'' show. It's a ``feel right'' show.

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