The man behind the suspenders: Larry King speaks to FIU

Larry King spoke at Biscayne Bay Campus about the future of journalism and his career in broadcasting.

Larry King spoke at Biscayne Bay Campus about the future of journalism and his career in broadcasting. Sana Ullah//The Beacon

Selima Hussain//Staff Writer

Behind the infamous suspenders, thick rimmed spectacles and legendary television/radio personality that is Larry King, lies a comical, down-to-earth man who enjoys the simple things in life — like peanut butter and jelly sandwiches.

“You have to be insane not to like peanut butter,” said King. “If you give me a peanut butter and jelly sandwich on fresh white bread, crunchy peanut butter, strawberry jelly and a tall glass of cold chocolate milk, I’m happy.”

Larry King, a highly acclaimed journalist who has conducted over 60,000 interviews throughout his radio and television career on “Larry King Live,” came to Biscayne Bay Campus on Thursday, March 28, to discuss the future of journalism and the beginning of his broadcasting career in Miami.

The Student Government Council at BBC was the main organizer of the event, in addition to the School of Journalism and Mass Communication and the Office of Vice Provost.

“Whenever we plan lectures we try to bring people that will interest the student body,” said Pablo Haspel, president of SGC-BBC. “We thought that King would be a great addition to the lecture series, and students found him to be personable and engaging.”

King grew up in Brooklyn, N.Y., and came to Miami to pursue his dream of becoming a broadcaster — something he had wanted since he was nine.

“I started here in 1957 at a small radio station. One of my kids went to North Miami High School. I started here, wrote for the Miami Herald and the Miami News. I was very much a part of Miami,” said King in an interview prior to the event.

After a nerve-wracking but successful debut on radio in May of 1957, King’s career began to skyrocket. In 1985, King’s success on radio led him to host his own global talk show on CNN, “Larry King Live,” in which he interviewed celebrities, comedians, actors, actresses, musicians, police officers, politicians and world leaders.

King has interviewed people such as Oprah Winfrey, Frank Sinatra, Jon Stewart and President Barack Obama. The one person he has not interviewed, that he wished he could have, is Fidel Castro.

“He fascinates me,” said King. “Forget politics. He led a country for 50 years. I don’t know anyone who’s led a country for 50 years. He was a revolutionary and, whether we agree with his politics or not, we were a country that was born in revolution.”

King’s ability to make such diverse guests feel welcome and comfortable is a gift and something that seems to come to him instinctively.

“I can tune out the world when I’m interviewing someone. It’s very unusual. I can get bad news, but when the light comes on, I never think of home, I’m never distracted. I don’t think of yesterday’s show, I don’t think of tomorrow’s show, I think about now,” said King.

The nonconfrontational and laid-back style of interviewing that King has mastered is something that many people have grown to admire, particularly students studying journalism. However, although King has been involved in journalism throughout his entire life, he doesn’t consider it “work.”

“You know who works? Bus drivers work. Astronauts work… Street cleaners work. Cops work. Journalists? C’mon. You sit down. They pay you. You cover an event, you ask questions, then you get to tell people about it. It’s gotta be the world’s greatest job,” said King.

King’s love for journalism and talking to people has led him to incredible achievements and awards, including the George Foster Peabody Award for Excellence in Broadcasting and the News and Documentary Emmy Award for Outstanding Interview/Interviewer.

King advises students that succeeding in journalism is something that requires skill, heart and perseverance.

“If you have talent, you will make it if you really want to make it. You can’t give up. You’ll get turned down. When I came here, I knocked on doors of radio stations and they told me to leave,” King said. “But I wanted it so much. You have to have the tools, but [like] Woody Allen said, showing up is 80 percent of it.”

When asked whether or not he thinks Facebook, Twitter, and other social networks are helping or hindering the current state of journalism, King has two minds.

“I think it’s a mixed bag. There’s a lot of good in all the information we have, but the bad is there’s a lot of misinformation. Bad information. Wrong information. But you can’t stop the tide,” King said.

“I liked it better when the information was more accurate than it is today. But, it is what it is. I love my daily newspapers. I like the feel of a newspaper. I like newspaper ink on my fingers. I’d be lost without The New York Times,” said King.

Although King’s reign on CNN with “Larry King Live” ended in 2010, he is staying current with “Larry King Now,” his talk show web series. King is also active on Twitter and Facebook.

If anyone is wondering whether or not his Twitter account is really Larry King, there is no need to question the blue check mark.

“My Twitter account is mine,” said King. “I dictate everything that’s said, but I don’t type it in myself.”

While King’s 25 years on CNN are over, there is much to look forward to with “Larry King Now,” and King is content.

“I raised children, I go to movies, I go to theatre, I go to ball games and I try to stay young. I have children, and that will keep you young. I have a full life,” said King.