Everybody in broadcasting has a Larry King story. Here's mine...In the fall of 1993, America was debating the merits of NAFTA. One of the champions of NAFTA was former Vice President Al Gore, and the biggest opponent was Ross Perot. Larry King scored the coup of having the two men on his show to debate the issue on national television.
I scored the coup of getting Larry King to appear on the John Landecker show the day before the debate. He happened to be in Chicago promoting a book, and I booked him to appear in our studio--which I thought was a pretty big deal at the time.
When Larry arrived, I got a call from the front desk of the radio station. I immediately ran out to get him--and when he saw me, he handed me his overcoat and said "cream, no sugar." (Or something like that. I can't remember the exact coffee order--I just remember it was made without even saying hello.)
I brought him right into the studio, and took my usual place--sitting next to John. The interview was off to a pretty good start when I saw the face of our general manager through the glass in the newsroom. He looked incredibly ticked off, which truth be told, was his usual demeanor. He wiggled his finger toward me.
I thought I shouldn't get up and leave in the middle of the conversation because I was sitting between John and Larry, so I signaled with one finger that I would be there in a minute. I was going to wait until the commercial break.
Twenty seconds later, he came into the studio itself--which he had never done while the microphones were on, and gave me the same finger wiggle. This time both Larry and John saw him do it, and they were struggling to stay on topic. I had no choice but to get up, and when I got near him, he grabbed me by the shirt and pulled me into the hallway.
"What the f*** are you doing?" he screamed after the door closed behind us.
"What do you mean?" I asked, truly having no idea what he was talking about.
"Larry King?" he spat.
"Yeah, tomorrow night he's got..."
"I don't give a f*** if he's got Jesus F***** Christ on his show tomorrow night. It's after 8:30. We should be playing music right now."
I couldn't believe my ears. I looked at him, shook my head sadly, and walked back into the studio. I knew this dispute wasn't over, but I also knew John needed me in the studio, and this was too big of a deal to be wasting my time in the hallway explaining why. I figured it could be handled after the show. I didn't know our general manager well enough at the time to realize that wasn't going to be an option. (Keep in mind we had only been at the station for a few months when this occurred.)
Sure enough, Harvey wasn't going to just let this drop. This time he waited until the commercial break to come into the studio, but he walked in again. He was obviously pissed off.
"Rick, can I talk to you in the hallway again," he said through gritted teeth. He was trying his best to sound like he wasn't mad, but he was notoriously bad at doing so.
"Harvey," I said. "Have you met Larry King? You guys have something in common. You're both from Brooklyn."
"What part of Brooklyn?" Larry asked.
That started the conversation between these two guys--who were about the same age and from the same neighborhood, and within moments there were smiles all around--Harvey and Larry were laughing and reminiscing. When the commercial break was ending, John practically had to shoo Harvey out of the studio.
"You still need to talk to me in the hallway?" I asked.
Harvey waved me off. "Nah," he said. "We'll talk about it another time."
We never did.
That next night on CNN, Larry King got one of the biggest audiences of all time (a cable television record at the time), and made the front page of every newspaper in the country. Because we had a preview of that historic night on our little local Chicago radio station the day before, excerpts of our interview were quoted in both Chicago newspapers.
But we probably should have been playing "Build me up Buttercup" for the one thousandth time.