Larry King’s First Broadcast Isn’t What You’d Expect
Larry King, the popular news personality and former CNN anchor, died at age 87 on Jan. 23, 2021. Most people know him as the suspender-wearing host of Larry King Live on CNN from 1985 until 2010. He often made headlines with his off-the-cuff interviews of world leaders, celebrities, and other public figures. After 25 years on the cable news network, King hosted Larry King Now on Hulu and he co-founded his own production company, Ora TV, in 2012, according to Variety.
While King’s TV broadcasting career is well-known to many people, you may be surprised to learn that he first hit the airwaves and rose to fame on an entirely different medium that wasn’t television. Read on to find out more about the first years of King’s career — and the unexpected way the Brooklyn, N.Y., got his start in South Florida.
Larry King started out in Miami radio in the 1950s
Born in Brooklyn, N.Y. in 1933, Larry King spent most of his childhood idolizing radio personalities like Walter Winchell and Arthur Godfrey, according to the Radio Hall of Fame, where he was inducted in 1989. Years later, the small Miami radio station WAHR hired 23-year-old King to sweep its floors and do whatever else needed to be done in 1956.
In an interview with Esquire (digitized by PBS’ Blank on Blank), King talked about how he finally got on the air. “The station manager calls me and says ‘The all-night guy is sick, would you like to fill in tonight?’ Sure, no problem!” King recalled.
But that first broadcast was filled with rookie mistakes. King told Esquire (via Blank on Blank) that he received a phone call from a woman who wanted to seduce him during the overnight shift. Young King found a way to get away from WAHR for a half-hour: he played all of Harry Belafonte’s Belafonte at Carnegie Hall album on air, while he left to see the woman.
The plan was going perfectly… until King heard the record get stuck repeating the same lyrics over and over again on-air while he was at the woman’s house. He rushed back to WAHR, but by then, tons of listeners were calling in to complain.
Even after those hijinks, King found his groove in radio soon after.
Larry King expanded his career to TV and newspapers
The rest of King’s radio broadcasts in Miami seemed to go smoother — and even made him famous. According to the Radio Hall of Fame, he received a regular on-air spot in 1957, when one of the disc jockeys quit at WAHR, the small Miami radio station.
A year later in 1958, King worked the “morning drive-time” (aka radio primetime) program for another Miami station, WKAT. A local restaurant, Pumpernik’s, soon hired him to do a show at their eatery. According to the Miami Herald, King sat in one of the booths and interviewed whoever showed up — and, one day, legendary singer Bobby Darin walked in. That became King’s first celebrity interview.
Radio opened up many other opportunities for King. In 1962, he hosted a local TV show and did color commentary for the Miami Dolphins football team, per the Miami Herald. Additionally, the Miami Herald hired him to write a column.
King’s star kept on rising until he ultimately landed on CNN in 1985, but he never forgot his radio roots. In a 2017 interview, he told the Miami Herald, “I love TV and radio and love to read print. Fascinated by it all.” And King himself was always a fascinating figure for listeners and viewers alike in all of his interviews.
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