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Legend of Larry King: His career triumphs and missteps

By Eve Mosongo | February 10th 2021

Eighteen days ago, the world lost Larry King to Covid-19. King was a master communicator and TV show host, leading to a great media career in media that spanned 63 years. In an industry that often favours the youthful, his talk show, Larry King Live was the most-watched TV show on CNN with over a million viewers tuning in every night. He covered the most prolific interviews on heads of states, billionaires, philanthropists, entrepreneurs, royalty, sportsmen and women and industry game-changers.

 Here are a few lessons we can learn from his career.

 No task is small when it comes to growing your career. As an unknown kid from Brooklyn, in the 1950s, Larry King began his career cleaning the floors at WAHR (now WMBM) radio station in Miami. When a DJ quit in 1957, he jumped on the air and conducted his first interview. Lesson? Find an entrance and work your butt off. Follow instructions. work weekends when asked. And, don’t give up.

Prioritise your personal life. Devote time to your family. Make them priority. In his lifetime, King tied the knot eight times. He was a workaholic who also picked up smoking – this led to a major heart attack and a quintuple bypass surgery in 1987. Once, when asked in an interview, he said that he regretted having let work come first in everything else most of his life. And he, regretfully, was never a good father. If he could have had the chance for a do-over, King said he would have devoted more time to his family.

 Never stay down. Even in his eighties, King always wondered what else he could do. He chose a very competitive industry.  There’s cutthroat competition in radio and television in America… and the money (advertising and sponsorship) goes hand in hand with ratings. In 2016, during an interview with ORA TV, an online digital entertainment network that he cofounded, Larry mentioned: “You’re going to get knocked down; you’re going to get rejected; you’re going to get fired, but never give up.”

 Manage your money. Pay attention to your finances from the onset of your career. Had King done so, he wouldn’t have mismanaged his money and ended up in jail. In 1971, he was arrested after being accused of grand larceny and pleaded no contest to one count of passing a bad cheque. In the ORA TV interview, King revealed that, “Had I paid better attention to my finances in life earlier, I could have been known nationally sooner.”

 Grab every opportunity that comes your way. King welcomed all opportunities that came his way. After getting his start in radio as a local DJ, King launched his own radio show inside a restaurant. Additionally, he took up a weekend gig on local TV. He wrote newspaper articles and booked speaking engagements, too. The local success he gained led to his first ever national radio show, The Larry King Show in 1978, which soon expanded to 500 stations. This led to recognition by the Cable News Network (CNN) and, as they say the rest is history.  King also wrote over 70 books, with bestsellers such as How to Talk to Anyone, Anytime, Anywhere under his cap. When he launched ORA TV in 2016, he became host to shows such as Larry King Now and Politicking with Larry King.

 Stay grounded. You might have a successful career that affords you all the glitz and glamour that you ever dreamed of, however, never forget your roots. King always remained grounded. Never once did he go through any pretentious malarkey such as ‘I am seated here with my old friend Frank Sinatra’ when interviewing some of the most famous people in the world. He called it ‘baloney and pretentious’.

 Be present. One of the most important skills you need to learn is performing under pressure. One of King’s mottos about being present was: forget about yesterday’s interview. Forget about tomorrow’s as that is yet to come. If his interview today about workers striking due to low wages and tomorrow’s is royalty, he isn’t thinking about the upcoming interview with the royal.

 Be yourself. From the early stages in his career, King felt at home in the studio. He knew he could add value and make a difference in the industry.  Talking to fellow aspiring communicators, King always advised them to be themselves. If you have the skill and commitment to stick to your career for the long haul, you will make it, as long as you are authentic.

 Stick to what you know. True, Larry King said yes to every opportunity that came his way. But, what propelled him forward was his ability to sticking to what he knew.  He was a communicator who used different channels to relay his message, but he relied on those around him – technicians, editors, producers and publicists – so that he could perform. Stick to what you know and delegate the rest.

 Let your instincts guide you. Due to his love of sports, King once planned to become a sports announcer. However, in 1958, midway an interview with Bobby Darin, an American musician, something clicked and he knew that he would be shortchanging himself by sticking to sports announcements. The feeling persisted minutes into his first CNN broadcast in 1985. He turned down a better offer and remained at CNN. His advice when you find yourself in such a situation? “No matter what industry you’re in, if you’re happy, don’t leave. Don’t do something just for money, and trust your instincts.”

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