The Old School

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.

15 thoughts on “The Old School

  1. “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).”

    To fit the star trek “rule of three” template, replace “Mike Campbell” with “Surak of Vulcan.”

  2. Driving a truck around town was the greatest during the Vogel years. Nearly the whole lineup throughout the day was radio gold.

  3. Being a bit older than you, I remember well Bob Aronson’s “Viewpoint” talk show on WDAY. He was excellent.

  4. AllenS, Yates was and is a leftist nutcase, but Bob’s Radio Basics was quite engaging. He rarely let his mental illness bleed through during the show. His producer Kenny was very annoying, though.

  5. I remember listening to Bob Yates back when he was at KSTP, and at the time he was married to Kevyn Burger (she was then doing tv shows, iirc). She just had their first or second child and he said (I’m paraphrasing) “I can hardly wait for the kid to stop nursing so I could get back on those nipples.” ON THE RADIO! OVER THE AIR WAVES! She later divorced him for some unknown reason, and I can’t imagine why. He was fired from just about every radio station he worked at. He would complain about the owners telling him to watch his step. He would say he had his First Amendment rights. Not seeming to realize that he worked FOR them. Unreal.

  6. Nice tribute MBerg.

    My favorite Larry King quote: “I never learned anything while talking.” His legacy is that we all need to listen more. And yes — the suspenders…

    Maybe we’ll hear Larry’s interview with God.
    But first a commercial break…

  7. Drive time every flippin day was the Don Vogel Show. Missed him terribly when he went back to Chicago, and was overjoyed when he came back here. The “Round Mound Of Sound”, one-of-a-kind in every sense of the word.

    One who’s interviews and interview styles that I enjoyed was Tom Snyder. Although he started his career in radio he’s better known for TV. I think in many ways he was similar in free-lance style to King, Snyder was more likely to get you laughing though.

  8. Did you ever work with Bob Yates? What a kook

    He started as a weekend news guy at KSTP while I was there. He made weekend news fun – just hilarious to work with. And having Kevyn drop by certainly brightend up this single guy’s day, back then (she was one of the nicest people ever, and probably still is). Bob left to go to KJJO (today’s “Jack FM”) as the morning guy, and was there when I got diced in 1987. He came back to KS not long after.

    I later interviewed to be Bob’s boss, in 1991. I came in second.

  9. He was fired from just about every radio station he worked at.

    We all were, back then. That was how you changed jobs in the biz. I went through eight stations between age 15 and 28. I only quit two under my own power. I never got fired for cause.

    He would complain about the owners telling him to watch his step. He would say he had his First Amendment rights.

    That was mostly theater. Everyone who hired him knew exactly what they were getting. If he got fired, it was for ratings.

    Oh, not every joke went over well. His management at KJJO got upset when he said “It’s so humid out, I feel like a cucumber in a women’s prison”. That got him a stern talking-to, I’m told.

  10. I remember Bob’s stint at KTLK in the late 90s. One day he was gone and we never knew why. Perhaps he wasn’t conservative enough? Can’t remember who his co host was.

  11. If you like King’s style, get a load of Michael Berry. There is no better interviewer – simply does not exist.

  12. I had two cousins back in those days who were car salesmen, and they were fired from every dealership in the Twin Cities and suburbs. They were no different than Bob Yates. Good times.

  13. Mitch, loved your days at KSTP. The Don Vogel Show was great

    The first thing I think of when Larry King is mentioned is “Garlique”. Part of those late 80’s and nineties talk radio were commercials for products that you didn’t hear or see elsewhere. Larry King was married and divorced many times. Is that because he stunk like garlic?

    Loved listening to Yates. Sure he was a lefty, but he had great bits. Still loved the days when he had “Keith sings” bumper music.

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