Monday, November 02, 2015

DJ Larry King Beats a Bad Rap

Most  people know Larry King for his long running program on CNN, Larry King Live, which aired from 1985 through 2010, a 25 year run. His new program Politicking with Larry King on RT is not as well know but delivers his take on the news with much or the same personality and production. But Larry King is 81-years-old. His career dates back to an era when all the big media talent came from radio. So it comes as no surprise that Mr. King was a radio man.

That image to the upper left is from a 1980— 5 years before he debuted on CNN.  The apocryphal story is that King started in radio as a teenager as a janitor at Miami Beach radio station 1490 WAHR-AM. Then  in 1957 a disc jockey failed to show up for a shift King was permitted to fill-in. He did well enough he got the morning slot and some news shift work. It was there he changed his name from Zeiger to King to sound "less ethnic."

He started doing interviews on a mid-morning show for WIOD-AM live at Pumpernik's Restaurant also in Miami Beach. Here he did man-on-the-street interviews which accidentally once included pop singer Bobby Darrin. By 1960 he was in Television reporting on WPST-TV Channel 10. His interview subjects got bigger which only increased his local fame. It was in 1970 he began moonlighting as a a color commentator for the Miami Dolphins which only introduced his voice to another segment of Florida radio listeners.  Then in 1971 things went all Christopher Walken.

In 1971 he was arrested after being accused of grand larceny by a former business partner.  King was 38 at the time. But it wasn't as dramatic as it sounds. He hadn't stolen the money exactly... he was unable to pay back money a debt he owed to his boss, Louis Wolfson. There were rumors that King had been a courier cashing checks to launder Wolfson's cash before transferring it to Jim Garrison. Under this theory King had pocketed some of the money. This was never proven. In the end he just pled no contest to one count of passing bad checks the rest of the charges had already passed the statute of limitations. But the damage was done. King was fired by both WIOD-AM and television station WTVJ-TV, and lost his weekly column at the Miami Beach Sun newspaper.

King years rebuilding his career. He was a color announcer at KWKH from 1974–75 on KWKH and eventually, he was rehired by WIOD in Miami a tale which I find baffling on all fronts. He kept his head down and in 1978, King scored a syndicated gig with Mutual Broadcasting. He replaced the "Long John" Nebel who had just passed. His success on Mutual won him his gig with CNN in 1985, but he held onto that radio program until 1994— a radio man to the core.