My Memories of Larry King

Introduction

After opening the Mail app on my iPhone this past Saturday the first email to greet me was from a good friend of mine who informed me that Larry King had passed away. I immediately opened Google News to read more about what had happened. I knew that he had been admitted to the hospital several weeks ago with Covid-19 and I was very concerned. While his situation had improved complications from the coronavirus would still claim his life.

Most kids grew up with movie stars or musicians as their celebrity heroes. While I would eventually learn to enjoy music I didn’t listen to a large amount of it as a kid. Even during my early teen years I still wasn’t what you might call a major music listener. Instead, I enjoyed not only TV and radio drama but I had a fascination with talk radio. When I was growing up Philadelphia had an FM station that was primarily a talk radio format, with the exception of a couple of big band and Frank Sinatra music shows hosted by Sid Marc. While nearly all of Philly’s FM radio stations were comprised of various music formats WWDB, 96.5 on the FM dial, (yes, radios had dials in those days) not only had talk shows but they were almost always local. I not only remember the majority of the show hosts but even when most of them were scheduled. Wynn Moore, Frank Ford, John Shawyer, Jerry Williams, Irv Homer … I felt like I knew all of them. I made recordings containing clips from some of these shows from 1979 which I still have, some of which I’ve digitized. You can read about the history of this radio station from the Philly Radio Archives Web site.

My First Memories of Larry King

WWDB primarily consisted of local, Philly-based talk show hosts. This was before we had all of the nationally syndicated talk shows that many talk stations carry today. The one exception was the Larry King show, which aired on the Mutual radio network beginning in January of 1978. I used to fall asleep with the radio on and, more often than not, my dial was set to WWDB. Very often I’d briefly wake up in the middle of the night hearing announcer Fred Lowry remind me that I was listening to the Larry King show. He would recite the call-in numbers for the show. In the early days of the show there were actually four separate numbers for each of the U.S. time zones, excluding Alaska and Hawaii. I still remember all four of those numbers, all beginning with the 703 area code. 685-2180, 685-2190 (for Eastern and Central), 685-2177 for the Mountain Time Zone and 685-2185 for the Pacific time zone. Eventually, this would be reduced to just one phone number which, if my memory is correct, was 685-2177. The show aired from midnight until 5:30 AM. Larry’s guest usually occupied the show’s first three hours, with an interview from 12:00 to 1:30, followed by ninety minutes of phone calls. While Larry was a great interviewer on CNN I felt that viewers of CNN’s “Larry King Live” never fully appreciated what an amazing interviewer he was as not anybody could interview someone without phone calls for 90 minutes. Most talk show hosts never did this. Most probably still don’t.

At 3:00 AM Larry had what was called Open Phone America where he took calls from people covering any subject they wanted to talk about. Some of the callers were silly and Larry had his share of crazy prank calls. There were a few collections of these calls which people created and Larry would sometimes play them during the Open Phone America segment.

First Interview With an Extraterrestrial

Well, not a real extraterrestrial but Larry told us that he was. Every once in a while Larry had a special guest n aed Gork, who was president of the planet Fringas. Larry gave us the impression that he was able to somehow connect to Fringas and speak with its president. The back story was that Fringas was 31 days ahead of or own planet, allowing Gork to somehow view everything that would happen on Earth in the next 31 days. After Gork would make his predictions callers would speak with him and ask about how things would go for them. Gork’s responses were always silly and very entertaining.

Gork was voiced by Herb Cohen who was one of Larry’s best friends. Herb is known for being a master negotiator and wrote several books on the subject. Herb voiced the character by speaking into a device which heavily distorted his voice, increasing the pitch and adding some vibrato to it. For those who are familiar with the British science fiction TV show “Doctor Who” Gork sounded like a very friendly, playful Dalek with a heavy New York accent. Not surprisingly, Herb’s actual voice also has a heavy New York accent.

I recorded two entire programs with the Gork character, one from June of 1980 and a later program from 1983. Unfortunately, I no longer have these precious recordings. In the late 1980s a local UHF TV station in the Philly area began broadcasting classic episodes of the original Star Trek series. I wanted to record the audio of as many episodes as I could collect. Rather than spending a small amount of money to purchase new cassette tapes I decided that I no longer needed the tapes from what was a nice Larry King collection and erased all of them in favor of Star Trek episodes. It is sad and rather ironic that in the year 2021 I have access to legal copies of all of the Star Trek programs and can freely stream them anytime I want to hear them with the audio quality being far better than anything I could have gotten from those old, 4-track tapes. However, old episodes of the Larry King show, particularly the rare and precious recordings that I once had, are unavailable.

My One on One Phone Conversation With Larry King

You read that headline correctly. Sometime in the mid-1980s I had a brief conversation with Larry King on the phone. It was not a call to any of his live shows, however.

Larry was scheduled to broadcast one of his live shows remotely from a local hotel in the Philly area. I wanted so badly to see him live but I concluded that there was no way that my dad would have been willing to drive to the hotel to be a part of an audience for a talk show that was scheduled to begin at midnight. To be fair to my dad I never actually asked if he might have been willing to do it. In fact, upon reflecting on all of this I really think he might have been willing to do it as he also knew who Larry King was and he might have actually enjoyed having a father and son trip to see the Larry King show. It is regrettable that I did not think to even ask him. However, I did the next best thing.

Since I remembered the name of the hotel Larry would be broadcasting from I assumed that he would be staying there. As it turns out my assumption was correct.

As we had no Internet I called the local Directory Assistance number and asked the operator if she could look up the telephone number for that particular hotel, whose name now escapes me. The operator found the number and I was now armed and ready to talk with my radio talk show hero.

I called the hotel and an actual human being answered the phone. This was before the days when all companies used automated attendants and IVR systems. As calmly and as professionally as I could I asked, “Would you connect me to Larry King’s room, please?”

“One moment,” she replied.

She asked no follow-up questions, such as, “Is Mr. King expecting you” or “who may I say is calling?” My answers to such questions could have possibly derailed my plan. But she asked no such questions. She just put me on hold and twenty seconds later Larry King himself answered the phone. Honest to goodness, it was that easy.

I wish I remembered more of that brief conversation that I had with Larry. In fact, I wished I had thought ahead and recorded it. Sadly, I did not. You’ll just have to take my word for it that what I’m writing really happened because it did.

I asked if he was busy and in a somewhat gruff voice he said, “I’m eating my dinner.”

Another kid might have been deterred or felt intimidated and might have apologized and then promptly hung up the phone. Not me. I was finally on the phone talking with one of my radio super heroes and there was no way I was going to terminate the conversation that easily.

Fortunately, even though his dinner was rudely interrupted by a starstruck, nerdy kid who didn’t even have the decency to even make an appointment Larry indulged me for what was probably a five-minute interview, with Larry the one being interviewed, for a change.

He did ask why I couldn’t come to see the show and I explained that I didn’t think I’d be able to get a ride to the hotel, which he seemed to understand. I can’t remember most of what I asked him except for why he named his daughter Chaia. I was born Jewish and I knew that Chaia was a Hebrew name and one which certainly was not a common one in the United States. He was gracious and allowed me to ask him a few questions after which I ended the conversation. That is an event in my life which I will never forget.

Other Memorable Shows

While most talk show hosts took a vacation on Christmas Eve and New Year’s Eve Larry was an exception. His Christmas and New Year’s shows were very special. They were very laid back with Larry often playing Christmas-themed musical selections he liked as well as having his daughter Chaia as a guest. Even though Larry knew Chaia better than any of his listeners he could still talk with her and ask her all sorts of questions making those conversations as interesting as when he interviewed famous celebrities. To me, Chaia was a bit of a celebrity. She was Larry King’s daughter, after all, but I could relate to her as she was just a few years younger than me and we both liked the group Foreigner. I won’t say that I had a crush on her but I sometimes had innocent teenage fantasies about what would have been like to have been friends with her, with the daughter of Larry King! Sadly, the world lost Chaia as well, who died last year due to lung cancer.

Larry often recorded true and very funny misadventures which took place during his childhood as well as his early adult years and he would often play them on occasion during the Open Phone America segments. At one point I think I had recorded all of them. I played them so many times that I think I remember them all and could probably relate them very accurately, although not in the same unique style that he had when sharing them. Sadly, I also chose to erase those precious and rare recordings and am hoping that another devoted fan somewhere might still have them and possibly be willing to share them.

Some of these stories are documented in his two autobiographies. The first book, simply called “Larry King” was printed around 1983 and is very hard to find now. In the U.S. NLS actually has the book in their catalog with the prefix RD in its card number, meaning that it is a set of phonograph records. This means that you’d need one of their older record players if you still want to hear it. The book was never converted onto cassette tape or in digital format. I remember listening to it on the now defunct radio reading service which used to serve the Philly area.

His newer autobiography, “My Remarkable Journey” is much more current and is, not surprisingly, much easier to acquire. It’s available from BARD, Bookshare and on Audible. I recommend the Audible version as it is narrated by Larry along with portions from other family members and friends such as Chaia, his brother Marty as well as Herb Cohen. Surprisingly, this autobiography is not currently available on the Kindle store as of this writing. Warning: the book does contain some strong language.

Larry King Discussion List

I have created a discussion group for fans of Larry King’s various programs. In addition to being able to discuss Larry’s shows, including memories of those programs, I would like to use this group to share recordings of Larry’s programs where doing so is legal and permitted, with emphasis on his earlier radio shows which are no longer available. To subscribe, send an email to

LarryKing-Fans+subscribe@groups.io

Final Thoughts

Larry left us on January 23 due to complications from Covid-19. He was 87. He conducted what has been estimated as much as 50,000 interviews throughout his career. Interviewing people was a natural talent due to Larry’s curiosity, something which Larry felt could not be taught. I felt as though I grew up with the man as I moved from preadolescence into my teenage years. It is difficult to put into words the impact he had on me as a kid and even as an adult. The world has lost an incredible talent and was greatly enriched by his presence. Larry King, rest in peace.

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