His last years on television were not as spectacular as they were in the 1980's and '90's...but Larry King, who did his last regular show on CNN last week, made a major impact on both talk radio and cable, and even network, TV news.
Throughout his years in both radio and TV, King was often criticized because of his mostly laid-back style, and a perceived lack of probing style in his interviews. And yet, a lot of those interviews made news, especially when cable news was becoming more of a novelty.
But his beginnings were in talk radio, back when talk radio was mostly confined to larger cities. He made his mark in Miami before joining the now-defunct Mutual Radio Network in 1978 to do a national, overnight (midnight to 6AM) phone-in show.
Mutual had made a couple of unsuccessful attempts at overnight talk before hiring King. King's show took off, picking up more than 200 stations by the time it was on in two years.
In 1979, when Iranian students took dozens of people hostage in Tehran, it was the main-and only-topic of discussion on King's radio show, perhaps heightening the interest the news media already had in the story. This was long before we heard of hosts like Rush Limbaugh, whose shows routinely are dominated by a single topic today.
King's show was popular enough for CNN to hire him to do "Larry King Live" in 1985. The TV show dominated the cable prime-time ratings for years. Until 1994, he did the CNN show while continuing to do his radio talk show, even after he suffered a heart attack in 1987. It was in 1992 when it became water-cooler talk; when Ross Perot announced in a King interview that he would be interested in running for President.
"Larry King Live" has been surpassed by other cable news/talk shows in the ratings in the past decade. The majority of them, however, owe their very existence to the popularity of the original. And national talk radio, as we know it, might not be what it is (for better or for worse) without the success of a show that was on the air when much of America was asleep.
King bid America a "fond adieu" December 16, after 25 years. My farewell to him is with a phrase he used for years to end all of his shows: "1-4-3 and arriveiderc"!
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