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Larry King - In Memoriam

Broadcasting great Larry King died this weekend. He was 87. Under normal circumstances, we would run a past conversation to remember him by. Alas, of the many conversations we had over the year – none stuck to the tape. Instead, I decided to just share a few memories of the talk show King.

As a kid who wanted to be broadcaster since he was a toddler, just like King himself, I listened to his radio show religiously. While most know him for his CNN show, I became a fan through his Mutual Broadcast Network radio show that aired coast-to-coast from Midnight -5AM. I listened and/or taped the show almost every night.

Listening to Larry, he helped me realize radio is exactly what I wanted to do. His questions were often simple – like asking President Reagan, What is it like to be shot?

A longtime nationally syndicated radio host, from 1985 through 2010 he was a nightly fixture on CNN, where he won many honors, including two Peabody awards.

With his celebrity interviews, political debates and topical discussions, King wasn’t just an enduring on-air personality. He also set himself apart with the curiosity he brought to every interview, whether questioning the assault victim known as the Central Park jogger or billionaire industrialist Ross Perot, who in 1992 rocked the presidential contest by announcing his candidacy on King’s show.

Not only did I learn by listening to King, I also got the chance to call-in and ask questions to absolute greats - Frank Sinatra, Sammy Davis Jr., Bette Davis, Elizabeth Taylor, Mel Brooks, Helen Hayes and Jackie Gleason – little ol’ me got to ask them questions. Once after I asked Zsa Zsa Gabor what exactly she was famous for – Larry said, “Joe, that is amazing question that we all want to know the answer to.” I think he meant it.

As a fan, it was always a treat when Albert Brooks came on the show – you knew it was going to be special

King conducted an estimated 50,000 on-air interviews. In 1995 he presided over a Middle East peace summit with PLO Chairman Yasser Arafat, King Hussein of Jordan and Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin. He welcomed everyone from the Dalai Lama to Elizabeth Taylor, from Mikhail Gorbachev to Barack Obama, Bill Gates to Lady Gaga. But, a large part of the radio show was “Open Phone America” where he took calls from the average Joe.

In 1984, I was working on a paper on “what I want to be when I grew up.” Yes, it was Radio Talk Show host. I decided I wanted to interview Larry, my teacher told me I was aiming too high. But, he agreed to an interview. We talked for about a half-hour before one of his late-night broadcasts. I talked to him later when I was in college working on my final research paper on the art of the interview. He taught me so much – but, there were three things I will never forget.

  • He said to me, “Joe, you have to be yourself. You can’t be a character (this was around the Morton Downey Junior era.) If they like YOU, great. It’s wine and roses. If they DON’T like you – thems is the breaks.”
  • Larry asked me what kind of interviewer I wanted to be. Since was forever being criticized for asking softballs – he said – well, you can be a news interviewer or a feature interviewer. I said what is the difference. 
  • Finally, he offered me advice. “Joe, never lie to the audience. If there is a small fire in the studio – tell them there is a fire so they know why you are acting the way you are. If you are asked to host the MET Opera and you know nothing about it – tell them and it will explain everything. If you haven’t seen the movie – tell them you haven’t. Why lie, they are your audience – treat them with respect.

On Friday’s Roundtable – Kathie Lee Gifford said that Regis Philbin was now in the Great Talk Show in the Sky. Larry King joined him this weekend. It must be a helluva a conversation.

Joe talks to people on the radio for a living. In addition to countless impressive human "gets" - he has talked to a lot of Muppets. Joe grew up in Philadelphia, has been on the area airwaves for more than 25 years and currently lives in Washington County, NY with his wife, Kelly, and their dog, Brady. And yes, he reads every single book.
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