Larry King Is Dead, Long Live The King

Probably the world knows by now that broadcasting legend Larry King has died at 87. He was not necessarily a journalist, per se, even if news was often broken on his show. He was a massive media presence, and a good one. Unlike so many others, he did not get in the way of his guests and interviewees letting themselves be themselves, for better or worse.

CNN is doing some larger biography, and it is worth watching for a little bit. But King brought together Rabin, Hussein and Arafat on a TV show. You don’t see that every day. Then there was all the OJ Simpson charges and trial coverage. There are a lot of people still in the public view today that came out of that. Some rightfully, some not as much so.

As a parting thought, some love for Ted Turner. He took King off of late night talk radio, that I sometimes listened to on a timed clock radio while falling asleep, before his CNN TV gig, to grow the fledgling CNN. Ted Turner innovated so much it is almost silly. Elon Musk will never, even in his dreams, accomplish as much as the great Ted Turner.

Do you have any memories?

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34 replies
  1. dude says:

    I was not a regular watcher or listener of King, but I faintly recall he interviewed Donald Trump. They talked about his “negotiating style” and he asked Trump to demonstrate it. Show me how you do it.

    I recall distinctly Trump enacting a hypothetical deal negotiation. He ended his dramatic faux dialogue using the indignant tone of ‘how dare you insult me with your ridiculous proposal’, and then he leaned forward toward Larry across the desk to say, “…and by the way, your breath ain’t making it!”

    “So that’s how it’s done. That’s how you do it?”

    “Yeah. You gotta be strong and ….blah,blah,blah….”

    So yes, he let the guests display their true selves.

    • BobCon says:

      When they’re done right, long form interviews are so much more illuminating than the typical news format of a 3-5 minute segment.

      Short segments let subjects stick to talking points and filibuster. I think King was a mixed bag in terms of his skills, but by simply leaving the mic on he could give a lot of people enough rope to hang on. And he also could give gifted talkers the space to prove themselves which wouldn’t be obvious in a quick sitdown.

      The dumb thing about the usual TV and NPR news brief segment interviews is that they are driven by cost cutting impulses — it’s cheaper to do these than pay reporters to follow stories. But they aren’t any cheaper than long form interview shows, and can be more expensive since they require a lot of people to chase down interviewees.

      However the long form interviews put a higher premium on the producer who books the guest and preps the host, and the host themselves. Short form segments are much more plug and play in terms of people. News networks just don’t want to put the work into developing the kind of knowledge and capability behind successful longer interview programs.

  2. Raven Eye says:

    Driving across country in the night (more than once)…Hunting for an AM station so Larry King could help me stay awake.

    • bmaz says:

      Lol, that is exactly how I came to know his gig. Driving at hilariously high speed between Boulder and Phoenix, and vice versa, in the middle of the night. The AM atmospheric bounce was seriously great..

      • Raven Eye says:

        The car I had in those days (1973 – 1981) was a 4-door 1971 Dodge (Mitsubishi) Colt. The entire trunk lid was the AM antenna (insulated mounting parts). At night, it was the bomb.

        • bmaz says:

          It is kind of funny in this day and age I guess, but I could be blasting through literally the middle of nowhere and still pick up the AM bounce. And it was great. People talk about “flyover country” now. There were not even flights over some of these parts back then.

          • scribe says:

            My last car, with just the antenna, could pick up Boston and NYC and Pittsburgh and Philly sitting in a driveway outside Detroit. Clear channel AM radio and the skywave at night. Not to mention Canadian stations.

            My current car, the geniuses at the design offices decided to make the heating elements in the rear window into the radio antenna. So, when I discovered I could get literally NO AM radio (FM I can get) – no late night sitting in the car to hear the ballgames, no news traffic and weather on the 1s, 2s, 3s, 8s, whatever – I went to find out how to go about checking out and maybe fixing this. There are chat rooms and even YouTubes.

            The first thing in the 37-step instructions was “Disconnect the battery and wait 45 minutes for the capacitors to discharge, lest you set off the rear seat side airbags when you remove the cover to follow out the cabling.”

            I threw up my hands and almost cried.

            Granted, today’s cars are a lot safer and have all sorts of conveniences, but it’s a real joy to be able to fix them. Like I did with the previous car, where an hour, a couple wrenches and some common sense instructions allowed me to outright replace my old antenna that wouldn’t raise with a new one that would.

            And then there was that car camping trip in western Montana, where I could listen to Vin Scully call Dodgers’ games.

            Love AM.

            • bmaz says:

              I became a Dodgers fan as a kid because I could hear the KFI on a transistor radio in bed. But it only came in well if you had you hand on the antenna. So I just tucked it under my arm. and listened until fell asleep. Not really a Dodgers fan now, but once had the kids Dodgers fan kit you could buy, A pennant, some kind of button and a big glossy photo of the team. Scully and Doggett sold it to me.

              • Wayne says:

                Never had the kits kit from the Dodgers, but my mom would put me to bed in the 1960s listening to the dulcet tones of Vin Skully. Still a Dodger fan but second to the Nationals.

                As for Larry King, I used to work shiftwork with CNN on all the time. That’s about the only time I caught King but usually enjoyed his show.

          • Peterr says:

            When I lived in CA, I could pick up Blues games at night from KMOX in St. Louis, until the Blues changed radio stations that didn’t have the clear channel power at night.

            • scribe says:

              IIRC, Cardinals games are still on KMOX. Until expansion, they had a huge audience and fan base across in the entire center of the continent because of clear-channel radio at night. IIRC, it was Jack Buck and Dizzy Dean calling the games. There’s a pair for you.

              • Peterr says:

                That’s one of the reasons the Blues left KMOX – they would get their regular season games bumped for the Cardinals’ spring training exhibitions and the start of the baseball season, even when the Blues were in the playoff hunt or actual playoffs.

                I think you’re probably thinking of Jack Buck and Harry Carey. Dizzy broadcast during WWII and left in 46, Harry started in ’45, and Jack didn’t start until 1954. Jack and Harry worked together for about 15 years until Gussie Busch refused to renew Harry’s contract. Publicly, they said this was because the Marketing folks didn’t like Harry, but the St. Louis rumor mill (into which my grandparents were *very* well connected) said the real reason was that Harry was sleeping with Gussie’s daughter-in-law.

      • earlofhuntingdon says:

        A friend who went to UT Austin made that run to and from Boulder in a 500cc Triumph, under similar collegial conditions. Seattle, too. Never spent a night on the side of the road.

              • cavenewt says:

                Alexa tells me from Austin, Texas to Boulder, Colorado is 982 miles. While I’ve done 1200 miles on a bike in 24 hours, not sure I’d want to do that on a regular basis (EoH said without stopping for the night?). Having some sort of radio earpiece would be a necessity. I had to resort to Mountain Dew.

  3. Ginevra diBenci says:

    During the rise of the true-crime TV era I write about, Larry King served as a two-sided Rorschach Blot test. His insistence on being only and always himself, and his (underrated) interviewing skills meant guests revealed more than they might have intended of their true selves. And because of that, we responded by revealing more about ourselves than we might like to acknowledge.

  4. Malaclypse says:

    I, too, fell asleep many a night to the greatness of the King on late night AM radio. If memory serves correct, I think he used to end his show with the “I’m late” song from Alice in Wonderland and I would sing along as we both signed off for the night.

    I’m not much of one for sentiment, but it would be nice to be able to find someone like that again, who could entertain every night for hours, and do so without having to take a polarizing position, create some sort of division, or castigate or demean someone.

    He was a true raconteur and one of the best hosts in the history of the medium.

    • Yancy says:

      Yes, I never watched, but saw promos for the show. I couldn’t believe he signed on with them.
      I have also seen on my cable channel guide an infomercial he did. I think it was a “cure” for ED or prostate problems.
      Gotta pay the bills however you can, I guess. His monthly alimony payments had to be huge.
      Hate to speak less than wonderful of the dead. I watched him on CNN for years like the rest of you.

  5. Toro5100 says:

    In the summer of 1982, my co-workers and I shared a memorable night in Rochester MN night listening to Larry King’s radio show when he had the infamously arrogant jerk and Secretary of Interior, James Watt on as a guest. I was in my second year of canvassing that helped support the work of a network of community orgs. that were organizing and working on the family farm foreclosure crisis. Our small group of Canvassers was down from Minneapolis on a week-long expedition in Rochester, sleeping on the floor at a high school friends apartment. After a good night of canvassing, back at the apartment, sharing beers and stories from the nights adventures- we caught word that Watt was going to be a guest on King’s show. A wonderful, fearless woman named Pat grabbed the phone dialed in, waited  forever and actually got on to ask Watt “if his baldness could be the result of acid rain?” on live radio all across America. The crowd went nuts and we went on to finish up a great week with one canvasser setting a national nightly fundraising record. It even got a mention in the Washington Post. Watt lasted about another year in office, resigning in disgrace after making a horrific comment about the composition of a coal advisory committee.    

  6. ducktree says:

    About Elon Musk’s entrepreneurial reach and grasp: every time I see him, I recall Scaramucci’s graphic opinion of Steve Bannon. He’s not there for the altruism or philanthropy. ymmv

  7. Skilly says:

    Larry King was the source of one of my first vital lessons in life. The lesson: how to compromise to get along with others.
    The circumstances: As a college freshman I was placed at random as one of three in a dormitory room built for two. Sharing the closets and spaces was relatively easy. The challenge came at night. One of my roommates, the antisemitic/racist one, required Larry King on radio to go to sleep. I, on the other hand, could not sleep while it was on. He would set the timer for an hour every weekday night. As I had 8 am classes every day, it meant at least an actual hour of lost sleep every night. After a few weeks we decided on an every other night solution. It seems like a simple solution but getting my roommate to agree was no easy task.
    There were many other ideology based battles that year. I can report that for a Jew, living with an anti-Semite was an epic challenge in learning to get along, for both of us, to be sure.
    The take away is that I learned two things: no amount of reason or logic can overcome an irrational philosophy. “one can not reason with the unreasonable.” The second was that Larry King was annoying on different levels.

    • MB says:

      Why would an “anti-semitic racist” need to listen to Larry King (who was never a red-meat slinger)? Why didn’t he listen to Rush Limbaugh instead? Limbaugh was going strong by 1987, right after the repeal of the Fairness Doctrine by the FCC.

      • Skilly says:

        I was lucky that this was before the age of Rush. My roommate would likely have been into Rush, but Rush was on during the day time, to my knowledge. As for listening to Larry, I do not think he listened to Larry, he just liked his noise to go to sleep.

  8. rattlemullet says:

    I am late to tag in here. Ted Turner, a large figure in American history to say the least. I have always admired his environmental stance he took with his large land holdings out west. I fish around his Montana properties as an avid fly fishermen as a young man. Even when caught fishing on his property by his ranch hands they allowed me to continue to fish. Must have been because even back in the late 70’s I fished with barbless hooks. Other Montana ranchers gave me no leniency when I erred and crossed into their property. I was quickly escorted off and understood in no uncertain terms I was not welcome.

    His creation of the 24 hour news cycle profoundly shaped how news was view and used by the consumer. However in my opinion his 24 hour news cycle led to what morphed into tragedy for entertainment which has greatly degraded journalism as a whole. Fox has taken that 24 hour cycle to lie pretty much 24 hours a day because of the mantle of free speech, driving perhaps the final nail into the journalism coffin.

    When all the early excitement in the early 90’s of a world wide internet was being dreamed of he told them before you have a world wide internet remember half the world does not have electricity.

  9. Eureka says:

    Anna.Nicole.Smith. (et al.)

    Tons of other memories, regular watcher and I miss his show; but and also before one dismisses the significance of guests like Smith & associates, if you saw those shows you knew this era was upon us.

    In that regard it’s as fitting as it is unfortunate that King signed off affiliated with RT.

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