Two bands I’ve never much cared for are Pink Floyd and the Grateful Dead. Part of it was punky contrarianism; they were both very popular when I was in high school. Naturally, I had to zag away from the zigging crowd.
And yet if I had to pick three guitarists whose style mine most resembles, they’d be David Gilmour and Jerry Garcia (along with Mike Campbell).
I’d never have called myself a huge fan. And yet here I am – someone who wound up learning the guitar from their examples.
We’ll come back to that.
Talk radio and cable TV legend Larry King died over the weekend. He was 87.
“For 63 years and across the platforms of radio, television and digital media, Larry’s many thousands of interviews, awards, and global acclaim stand as a testament to his unique and lasting talent as a broadcaster,” read the statement [from his production company]
“Larry always viewed his interview subjects as the true stars of his programs, and himself as merely an unbiased conduit between the guest and audience,” it continued. “Whether he was interviewing a U.S. president, foreign leader, celebrity, scandal-ridden personage, or an everyman, Larry liked to ask short, direct, and uncomplicated questions. He believed concise questions usually provided the best answers, and he was not wrong in that belief.”
King predated “talk radio” as we have known it since the repeal of the “Fairness Doctrine” by a solid decade and change. He was one of a generation of talkers – Joe Pyne, Tom Leykis, Morton Downey Jr., Bob Grant, and for that matter Don Vogel and Geoff Charles – who definitely had political views, but had to wrap them in enough information and entertainment to not get their stations, and eventually affiliates, licenses challenged with the FCC.
We didn’t have a lot of talk radio in North Dakota when I was growing up.
There was the occasional “talk show”, of course. The boss at my first station did a half-hour interview with some local figure or another, every afternoon during the station’s evening news block. WDAY in Fargo had a morning talk show – “Live Line”, or some such innocuity – that was more or less the same, on weekday mornings. Mostly, they were done to fulfill a station’s “Public Service” requirement – the vague rule that they had to do something to “serve the public” with their federal broadcast license.
I was coming back from a Who concert in Minneapolis in 1982, ridingi shotgun through the night back to Fargo with a friend and fellow Who fan and much better night driver than I, when I first heard Larry King, and a whole different way of doing radio – talking about whatever grabbed the host’s fancy and making it…
…well, “interesting”, yes – but more importantly, injecting his personality into the subject. It was a conversation, more or less – but it was Larry King’s conversation.
I wasn’t bowled over.
Three years later – almost to the day, in fact – I moved to Minneapolis. And via an improbable series of events, I encountered modern talk radio, accidentally getting a job at KSTP-AM when “talk radio” still called itself “News/Talk” in an attempt to try to mix journalistic legitimacy with the chatter.
The station carried King – but I had other things going on in the evening. I didn’t listen much.
Along the way, as I was doing the ongoing pitch for my own talk show, I read one of King’s columns in USA Today. And it had some advice for would-be interviewers that’s stuck with me for the past 34 years.
Never prep for interviews.
It sounds lazy – and I’d be lying if I haven’t used it to rationalize a little endemic laziness. And it’s not right for every interview; if you’re talking with someone about a particularly fraught issue – something where defamation charges could be on the line, for example – then getting the key facts, and your approach to presenting them, straight is very much in order.
But for most interviews? Knowing nothing about the subject or the content, King said, forced you to approach the subject in exactly the same depth as most of your audience has to – from the absolute ground level up.
Of course, the craft comes from moving from that elementary level to one where you can have a meaningful, interesting conversation, quickly enough to make for good radio.
It didn’t always work – over 63 years, what does? But the example he provided – starting an interview small and working up to something you could (often as not) sink your teeth into – was pretty earthshaking for someone who aspired to try to do the same.
So, utterly counterintuitively, while I would never have called myself a huge Larry King fan, he (along with Don Vogel) probably influenced me more than anyone else in the business.