01/03/2002 at 01:00 AM EST
PEOPLE asks in its latest cover story: What did NBC's $65 million woman, Katie Couric, have to say about her newfound status as the world's highest-paid TV news personality? Not a thing. "All I heard was dead air," her agent, Alan Berger, tells the magazine. No, the small-town-kid-made-good hadn't passed out. Her cell line had simply died. But when Couric, 45, called back to talk over the contract -- which allows her to stay with "Today" for the next 4 1/2 years and gives her free rein to explore other possibilities within NBC -- there was no mistaking her reaction. "She was thrilled and excited and overwhelmed," says Berger. For the record, though, PEOPLE says the famously frugal star still has not gone on any shopping sprees. "Katie will spend her money on the same thing she's been spending it on for the last 10 years," says a pal with a laugh. "Nothing. She puts it in the bank." Yet when she gave the go-ahead on the deal with NBC, she achieved the goal she has said was most important to her when she first got into journalism as a desk assistant for ABC's Washington, D.C., bureau some 20 years ago: Not riches, but respect. Says Michael Gartner, the former NBC News president who hired Couric: "She has what my 99-year-old father calls an 'affidavit face.' You look at her and believe her. People see something in her they relate to and trust."