Broadcast legend Larry King died today at the age of 87. He was known as the suspenders-sporting everyman whose broadcast interviews with world leaders, movie stars, and ordinary Americans helped define American conversation for nearly 50 years. He was a constant part of late-nights for me on the radio, and I was so pleased to land on his program when his guest was David Gergen during the years President Reagan was dominating our politics.
The voice and tone of King had long amused me with his varied topics and guests. But it was his professional skills behind a microphone that drew me in my late teens and early adult years as a student trying better to learn more about effective broadcasting. I fell asleep to King so often and took notes in the dim light of the radio dial about ways I could become better in the studio. When I moved from an apartment in Wausau I left a rather cocky note that ‘the next Larry King had lived here’.
Needless to say, there is only one Larry King, and my ambitions in radio far outpaced my skills. But what he meant to me in my younger years, and how he inspired me to dream, and number of hours of listening can not be taken away.
I was a caller into King’s Mutual Radio talk show one evening in the mid-80’s–while I was also on the air doing a separate broadcast from the WDOR radio studio in Sturgeon Bay. While spinning the discs and give ‘time and temp’ I was also monitoring King’s program. Multi-tasking in broadcasting is something that becomes second nature after a while. (There were times when I was listening to two separate baseball games our station was broadcasting with one carried on our AM station, the other game over the FM station. I dropped in the commercials for each and at times even provided an update on the FM game for the AM audience!) So clearly monitoring King while doing my job on-air was not difficult at all.
Finally, King’s producer on the phone said I would be the next caller. I was feeding the Mutual Radio program through one of the studio’s reel-to-reel tape machines so my national moment with King could be recorded. (When was the last you were reading about reel-to-reel tapes?)
The world of technology from the tape machines in that radio studio to my current home studio never fails to alert me how far the broadcasting world has changed. I created this 41-second audio/video of the King phone call this morning. (Pictured below Larry King is that youthful broadcaster!)
It is a long way from my listening to Larry King with cheap headphones as a teenager in Hancock, Wisconsin. King walked a long road of changes in radio broadcasting and I have often wondered what a truly delightful interview it would have been for King to wing his way over the decades with stories about how broadcasting techniques evolved in his lifetime. Obviously, the need for lively and stimulating conversation remains the same since the airwaves were harnessed. It is just the methods used to get the broadcasts from a broadcaster to a receiver that has changed so remarkably.
And King, with a radio audience coast-to-coast, could make it seem he was talking to one individual on a personal basis. Readers have no idea how hard that is to truly achieve. That is what made him so meaningful to me. What I could relate to was his curiosity about people and how he had actual conversations as opposed to the work that reporters do to get down to the main point lickety-split.
“I don’t pretend to know it all,” he said in a 1995 Associated Press interview. “Not, `What about Geneva or Cuba?′ I ask, `Mr. President, what don’t you like about this job?′ Or `What’s the biggest mistake you made?′ That’s fascinating.”
It was that style that caught my attention as a teenager and what made Larry King a radio legend.