Lars Larson’s Journey Through Radio & Television
Larson said he was out of radio for less than a year and learned there was more freedom working in radio.
Nearly thirty percent of the world’s goods are manufactured in China. If you flipped veteran News/Talker Lars Larson over and checked his nether regions for a stamp, you’d find one that reads, Made in China.
“I was born in the good part of China. In Taiwan,” Larson explained. “This is the Democratic, self-determining China. It has its own leaders, stands up to mainland China, all that good stuff.” Larson still has a soft spot in his heart for Taiwan. His parents were both in the Navy, and they traveled quite a bit.
After both of Lars Larson’s parents left the Navy, his father went to school on the G.I. Bill and studied forestry. At one point, the family lived in Inglewood, California, when he was a kid. Larson said the area was then known for old ladies and sedate streets. “It’s not a place you want to drive through today,” he said. “I do remember playing in the yard, watching the Culligan man drive up.”
He’s only been what he calls racially profiled once in his life, and it was in Inglewood. Larson was visiting Los Angeles on business, doing some promotions for the Unicef Telethon with Lou Rawls, and rented a car. He thought it would be nice to take a drive and find his grandmother’s old house. He was a kid when he was last in that area and didn’t know the address. Instead, he was going to ‘feel’ his way around.
“It was the middle of the day, and I was searching for her house,” Larson said. “A cop lit me up and pulled me over. He drove alongside me, rolled down his window, and said, “What are you doing here?”
Larson innocently explained to the officer how he was looking for his grandmother’s house. “The cop looked at me like I was the dumbest person in the world,” Larson said.
“It’s really not safe for you to be driving around here,” a bewildered officer told Larson. Larson finally got the message and drove straight for the highway. What he lacked in street smarts was compensated by a strong survival instinct.
The family lived in Missoula, Montana, and Mount Rainier National Park. “It’s great to live there as an adult,” Larson said. “But when you’re a kid, you’re essentially bear-bait.”
(Thanks for the tip. *Don’t move to Mount Rainier with the kids.)
His father worked for the National Park Service had its upsides. The living conditions weren’t one of them.
“Do you remember the Quonset huts on the Gomer Pyle show?” Larson asked. “A tin shack with a door? That’s what we lived in. Very shaky housing, but then again, that was part of the deal. It was a wonderful experience.”
The family also lived in Northern California. “When you hear people talk about Northern California, you might think of San Francisco,” Larson said. “Well, we lived twenty miles from the Oregon border. That’s Northern California.”
Larson’s mother was killed in a car crash when he was young. His father kept on, as fathers with kids must. He got a job as a State Park ranger in Tillamook, Oregon, known mostly for its cheese production.
The 10-year-old Lars wanted to be a space scientist, an astronaut. “I really didn’t have the math skills,” he said. “I’m okay at math, just not good enough. I was good at speech and debate. I had four solid years of each in high school.”
His listeners today are probably glad the man had questionable ciphering skills. “I thought about law school, but I’m glad I didn’t go in that direction.”
In Tillamook, Larson met a man who took over the local radio station, KTIL. That man’s name was Larsen. “It wasn’t spelled like my name, not the way God intended it,” Larson jokes. “For the rest of my life, I had to explain I didn’t get my first radio job out of nepotism. That Larsen was no relation at all.”
The radio guy Larsen invited several high school students to intern at the station because they were good at speech; the young Larson was one of them. “When the internship was over, he let the other kids go but asked me to work with him. It was a 10 to midnight shift, and I was only 15-years-old.” Larson said. This was even before 8-track carts were around. Guglielmo Marconi was barely cold in his grave. “We used reel-to-reels,” Larson recalled. “It was awful.”
He was on the air for the last two hours of the day. “They shut down at midnight to save money,” Larson said. “These days, that’s rare. The only day I ever deliberately skipped school was to go and take the third-class license test to work at the station.”
Primarily not required today, people on the air back then needed to have the ability to take readings off the transmitter, and sign off on the transmitter log.
“I had to have that third-class license on the wall,” Larson said.
Aside from his 10 to midnight shift at KTIL, the unofficial Mighty 1590, as they called it, Larson said he’d fill in for the news anchors when they were off. “We were full-service,” Larson said. “We had a morning news program, top of the hour news, bottom of the hour weather. There wasn’t much car traffic on the roads where we were, so that wasn’t much of an issue.”
The station carried high school football and basketball games, as well as Oregon State games. “If the Trail Blazers were on, we’d bump the other and then pick up the high school or college game in progress when it was over.”
He said he loved his time at KTIL. “I learned everything there. A lot of people at the station were young, in their 20s. They tried to make you laugh during your newscast, set your news copy on fire.”
Wow. Those really were the good old days of radio.
Larson said like many small radio stations did, they would read obituaries on the air. “There were forms that people filled out,” he said. “Basically, it was a form where you filled in information. It read something like, ‘Friends will be sad to learn the passing of ________ after a long battle with _________. People would just fill in the blanks, and we had a stack of them to read.”
Here are these young radio kids telling a community of 4,000 people who passed away. “It’s one thing to make somebody laugh during a newscast,” Larson said. “It’s quite another to try and make them laugh during an obituary. But they tried.” Boy, did they try.
“One night, I was reading an obituary,” Larson began, “and we had a very large Swiss community in Tillamook. So, I began, “Friends will be sorry to hear of the passing of Oscar Mayer. That’s when I lost it. You can lose your composure during the weather, but not there.”
Larson attended the University of Oregon in Eugene but quit after a year to work in radio and television.
“I took some more classes at Gonzaga,” Larson said. “I plugged away at it for a while, but it just wasn’t working for me. I got a job offer in Spokane at KXL in March of 1980. I was there for nearly four years when I got into television.”
Larson said he was out of radio for less than a year and learned there was more freedom working in radio.
“For one thing, technologically, television is overly complicated just by its nature,” Larson said. “I bet that idiot Brian Stelter at CNN has about 25 people behind him putting that show together. On the radio, it’s just you and maybe one other person.”
Have we touched a nerve with Stelter?
“He’s such a political partisan,” Larson explained. “Nothing he says is supported by facts. Having been an investigative reporter myself, I took it very seriously. What I’m doing now is largely entertainment, but I am also a journalist.”
Larson said when he was a television managing editor, it was his duty to make sure the news wasn’t slanted or unsubstantiated. “My job was to take opinions out of the stories,” he said. “If a reporter came to me with something that was not attributed, I let them know it was their opinion.”
As a former news anchor, there were people who questioned how he could deliver the news on television, and at the same time, give his opinionated views on the same topic on the radio.
Larson provided an informative illustration of this apparent conflict. “There’s an Irish cop,” he began, “and he’s sent to protect an abortion clinic. He may not agree with abortion, and it’s his job to hold people back who agrees with to facilitate the young women. It’s not his job as a cop to shut this place down. He’s supposed to do his job. There are people in that situation all over the world, working in a field they might not totally agree with.”
Larson says he recalls Walter Cronkite delivering a daily commentary throughout most of his career. This was aside from the news he’d just delivered to the nation. “I don’t think he was unbiased on the news, but he did a commentary,” Larson said. “You can trust someone to give the news without bias, but he still has a radio show to do.”
We’re all caught in the crosshairs of news and propaganda today from both sides of the issue.
“When you read an old-school magazine, you could identify when a piece was well-written,” Larson said. “You’re thinking, ‘Huh. I wonder who this guy is who wrote this?’ You could read their bio at the bottom of the piece and see they support the NRA or they’re with the Civil Liberties Union. You see where they’re coming from.”
He hosts his daily program from noon-3 p.m.with his Northwest show on 570 KVI, taking calls and talking about life in the Pacific Northwest. He has earned more than 70 awards from the Associated Press, Society of Professional journalists, and the National Press Club. Larson has also chalked up an Emmy and a Peabody for his reporting and documentaries.
I could almost hear Larson’s blood pressure rising through the telephone when he talked about the fledgling Disinformation Governance Board, designed to stop disinformation from spreading on the Internet.
“Tell me that’s not right out of 1984, The Ministry of Truth,” Larson said. The ministry is a fictional department in George Orwell’s dystopian novel 1984.
“This is all Orwellian stuff. It’s whitewashing, gaslighting in its highest order. This is being conducted under the auspices of Homeland Security, the people who are supposed to be catching terrorists and other dangerous people. Suddenly, their job has become monitoring American speech for disinformation.”
If you have not read 1984 as of yet, I get the feeling you might be picking it up soon.
Jim Cryns writes features for Barrett News Media. He has spent time in radio as a reporter for WTMJ, and has served as an author and former writer for the Milwaukee Brewers. To touch base or pick up a copy of his new book: Talk To Me – Profiles on News Talkers and Media Leaders From Top 50 Markets, log on to Amazon or shoot Jim an email at email@example.com.
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The Only Path Forward For News Radio is Strong Personalities
Radio’s competitive advantage remains its people. And when it comes to personality, no format owns that right now more so than News/Talk
If radio wants to keep up, personality has to be the way. The format of choice is irrelevant, but personality has to be the biggest asset for the format and station.
It’s something I’ve written about before in this column, but when it gets reinforced by iHeart CEO Bob Pittman, it’s worth mentioning again.
In a great conversation with Talkers’ Michael Harrison, Pittman pointed out that “25% of iHeart’s stations do not play music”, and that more and more shows on the company’s music stations are “actually talk shows that play little or no music at all.”
Then came the best line of the conversation, when Pittman said, “Even on our music stations, you find us moving much more towards heavier personalities, because as we begin to say, If somebody just wanted music, they’ve got a lot of places to go. We’re probably not their best option, if they just want to dig through music. If they want somebody to keep them company, and hang out with them, and be their friend, and be an informed friend, and connect with them, there’s no better place. So we’re very committed to it.”
That’s it right there.
Radio’s competitive advantage is being a friend (ideally local), while using personality-driven content to develop that relationship with the listener to then drive listening occasions.
As has been discussed and addressed for years, music radio simply can’t compete with Spotify, Amazon Music, etc. if your goal is to listen to your music at the exact time that you want it.
Radio’s competitive advantage remains its people. And when it comes to personality, no format owns that right now more so than news/talk, where the strongest opinions and deepest connections often exist. That’s backed up by the Time Spent Listening for the format, which leads the way in many markets.
In many ways, news/talk is the best — and most exciting — place to be right now in the business, and none of that has to do with what is shaping up to be a fascinating 2024 election cycle. But rather because the industry’s biggest advantage to maintaining and growing its audience is its personalities, so if you’re already in the talk format, you’re ahead of the game. And then if you’re good, you’re a highly valuable asset.
As Pittman also noted in his conversation with Harrison, “For the first time ever, the radio business is bigger than the TV business, in terms of audience from 18 to 49 [year olds].”
National coastal media won’t write about that, because too many of them aren’t everyday American consumers. However, the data doesn’t lie. Radio is beating TV in a key demo and the leaders in the industry know that personality-driven content is their key to future success. That’s a great combination for those of us working in the business.
Granted, as we all know, it’s not all roses and sunshine. These are still tough times with continuing competition in the ad space and a soft 2023 shaping up.
However, the show must go on.
And as radio strategically prepares itself for not just the rest of this year, but the next five to ten years, there are plenty of goals that need to be achieved, but if growing and developing personalities is at the top of the list, that’s a win for the industry and an even bigger win for the news/talk format.
Pete Mundo is the morning show host and program director for KCMO in Kansas City. Previously, he was a fill-in host nationally on FOX News Radio and CBS Sports Radio, while anchoring for WFAN, WCBS News Radio 880, and Bloomberg Radio. Pete was also the sports and news director for Omni Media Group at K-1O1/Z-92 in Woodward, Oklahoma. He’s also the owner of the Big 12-focused digital media outlet Heartland College Sports. To interact, find him on Twitter @PeteMundo.
If CNN is For Sale, Here Are 5 Potential Buyers
CNN can’t survive as a “both sides” network, as a Fox News lite, or as a leftist network. It needs to be the network that upholds the truth. These companies would align with that method of thinking.
It’s hard to run a cable news network like CNN these days. Just look at NewsNation. It was founded on the principle of being the first centrist cable news network to come into existence in years. But over the past couple of months, the network has peddled by coming from a slightly right-of-center angle with headlines. They’ve tried to steal left-of-center viewers from CNN with the hiring of Chris Cuomo. And now they’re literally going wall-to-wall with coverage of UFOs. I’m not even making that up.
In a world where a big chunk of its denizens believes the truth is a maybe while the other half doesn’t pay attention to the news unless it is bite-sized, does it still make sense to own a cable news network? Given the turmoil Warner Bros. Discovery CEO David Zazlav has faced lately with CNN it may not be for him.
The company was forced to let go of CNN CEO Chris Licht this week after a scathing profile from The Atlantic that went behind the scenes into how Licht operated the network post-Jeff Zucker. It was a circus, to say the least. After reading the profile though, you still come away feeling bad for Licht while considering the fact that there is a hand that might have been puppeteering him along the way that was used to having control over everyone.
Zazlav comes from a part of cable where it is necessary to operate like a dictatorship because the formula has proven to work with Discovery Channel, HGTV, Food Network, etc…and because the shows that air on these networks create their own warped reality to spit out for thirsty reality consumers who want it the way it is served.
It’s impossible to have this kind of culture in cable news where the personalities aren’t really the star of the network — the news and facts are and they can’t be warped to fit all interested parties. They just have to be true whether it benefits one side or the other. The truth is the truth.
There are new ways to tell stories and there’s new technology you can use to tell those stories but at the end of the day, telling stories also has the same formula as it always has and can’t be changed.
Remarkably, Don Lemon comes away from Licht’s profile looking the most intelligent when he says that many critics of CNN like Zazlav are committed to Monday morning quarterbacking. CNN went a little too hard on various things happening in the Trump administration too many times, but at the end of the day, it was the job of journalists to hold politicians accountable to the truth just like it has been since the founding of television news.
This lack of realization on Zazlav’s part shows that CNN probably doesn’t belong in the same company as Warner Bros. Discovery. The cultures of Discovery and CNN clearly don’t align. Axios has already reported that because of the low ad market, cord-cutting, slumping ratings, and the run-up to the election having not started yet, WBD doesn’t plan on selling CNN any time soon. It also should be noted that CNN still makes almost $800 million a year for WBD so it is not the big loss of an asset that many in the media would make you think it is.
At the same time, unless Zazlav decides to change his mindset, he needs to sell before this situation becomes unmanageable. CNN can’t survive as a “both sides” network, as a Fox News lite, or as a leftist network. It needs to be the network that upholds democracy and the truth. These companies would align with that method of thinking.
The Mickey Mouse Club owns the news organization that already has the most trust among conservatives on television besides Fox News (ABC News), so they would help legitimize CNN’s mission of garnering more conservatives.
CNN’s library of content would bolster its digital platforms and provide an avenue to create new documentaries and films. ABC News’ own extracurricular projects would be on a platform that has consistent reach with the audience they’re seeking and wouldn’t get lost in the clouds like it currently does on Hulu.
National Geographic could move its content to CNN and HLN and help Disney get rid of one less cable network (NatGeo Channel) that doesn’t generate revenue.
CNN already has the largest news organization in the world. Their addition would bring NBC over the top. NBC’s ability to promote news offerings on Peacock would get some much-needed help as well since CNN has the number one digital news website in the United States.
Peacock would also be able to add CNN’s library to its app giving viewers who crave live news and sports another reason to subscribe to the app.
Regulatory issues may prevail due to past rulings by the federal government but this may have a chance to go through if the government believes the internet and streaming and the fragmentation of television has created enough competition for a CNN/MSNBC combo to not be too powerful.
The Emerson Collective
In a stroke of sheer awkwardness, could the owners of The Atlantic be contenders? Laurene Powell Jobs has constantly spoken about how much she believes journalism affects the balance of our society.
CNN, despite its ratings drag, still plays a vital role in shaping what we talk about as a society. Jobs’ causes like social justice reform, immigration reform, and the environment might get more attention from the general populous on a platform like CNN
The Washington Post or New York Times
Both entities were hand-in-hand with CNN reporting on the latest developments involving the Trump administration and both also faced public backlash about what they deemed as important with a Trump admin vs. a regular administration.
They all share the same mission and journalism ethos and, in the case of WaPo, have a very wealthy backer who could fund a potential deal.
The media mogul has become more deeply involved with the industry than he ever was before. He has a stake in the sports RSNs that are currently failing, he owns The Weather Channel — the most trusted name in news right now which is a remarkable feat to achieve in an era where so many deny climate change and he’s in the market to buy more.
CNN being black-owned could quell the accusations of the network becoming white-washed. A partnership with The Weather Channel bolsters coverage of climate change for the cable network.
And for Byron Allen, CNN gives him a seat on the table when it comes to power and influence in the worlds of Wall Street and Congress.
Jessie Karangu is a weekly columnist for BNM, and graduate of the University of Maryland with a bachelor’s degree in journalism. He was born and raised in Baltimore, Maryland but comes from Kenyan roots. Jessie has had a passion for news and sports media and the world of television since he was a child. His career has included stints with USA Today, Tegna, Sinclair Broadcast Group and Sightline Media. He also previously wrote a weekly column for our sports media brand, Barrett Sports Media. Jessie can be found on Twitter @JMKTVShow.
What Chris Licht Got Right, and Wrong, During His CNN Tenure
Chris Licht faced an impossible mission of improving ratings without Donald Trump and with a staff he alienated.
The departure of Chris Licht from CNN was abrupt but expected after a string of missteps. His criticism of his predecessor Jeff Zucker spilled into criticisms of the network’s coverage of Donald Trump and the Covid pandemic, which undercut his staff. Journalists who stood up to conspiracy theories and election falsehoods from the very top felt betrayed.
I’ve known Chris for 30 years, when he served as an associate producer at a KNBC/CNBC for a daily half-hour program centered on the O.J. Simpson trial. Later, we were colleagues at NBC and kept in touch while he was at CBS and I was at ABC. He is whip-smart, congenial, worked well with big talents like Joe Scarborough, Charlie Rose, and Gayle King, and, until now, had a stellar track record.
And in his latest and biggest post — despite being put in an impossible position — did some things right, which I will highlight in a moment.
But first that impossible position. His new bosses at Warner Bros. Discovery wanted a restructuring and high ratings. They insisted on less calling out of misinformation and more “both sidesism”. So Licht had to derail the CNN train and then try to lift it back on the ratings track. No small job. Especially in a news climate that is in decline.
All the cable networks — who depended upon Donald Trump’s unpredictable, often treasonous and dangerous style — have suffered ratings decline. Fox numbers are down and so is MSNBC. The viewing public no longer has to tune in every minute of the day to see what the President is going to do or say. Life has largely returned to normal for most people.
So CNN, which could once depend upon airing and then fact-checking Trump’s latest absurdity, had to find new content.
Licht’s decision to emphasize down-the-middle news gathering seemed like a solid response to life without a bombastic — some say irrational — President.
Just cover the news, at which CNN is great. It’s the first place to turn during a mass shooting, a war, or natural disaster. But those are inconsistent events and cannot be depended upon for steady ratings. That’s the environment Licht stepped into.
He reacted with some good moves. His midday CNN News Central program, 3 hours of straight news, positions itself well to cover breaking news. It’s followed by Jake Tapper and Wolf Blitzer, also emphasizing news coverage.
However, unfortunately, the list of mistakes is a lot longer. Starting with Don Lemon. His “whole thing” in primetime was to be provocative and with a strong progressive bent. Licht attempted to turn Lemon into what he is not, an easy-to-watch, not opinionated host in the morning. A broadcast that was supposed to keynote the Licht agenda blew up in months. Lemon had an opinion on everything and could not get along with his co-hosts, which in morning TV is critical. The all-important chemistry was not there.
His meeting with Republican politicians on Capitol Hill to invite them back to CNN sent a message that they would no longer be challenged for disinformation. And Licht balanced the commentary panels on CNN with GOP election deniers who shouted over questions they could not answer, in turn sticking to talking points. A move that did little to attract viewers from Fox, and instead drove away legacy CNN viewers accustomed to progressive analysis and Republicans who respected opposite opinions.
Next, his attempt to normalize Donald Trump with a CNN Town Hall, somehow expecting the old rules of decorum would work became a disaster. Trump has to be covered. 30% of the electorate supports him, as do nearly 50% of Republicans. But a live Trump supporter audience overwhelmed Kaitlan Collins who was drenched by a firehouse of lies and deception.
And finally, there was Licht’s decision to make his criticisms of staff and their former coverage public in The Atlantic. A profile that made his gym trainer appear to be his top adviser.
To sum up: Chris Licht faced an impossible mission of improving ratings without Donald Trump and with a staff he alienated.
It was an opportunity wasted and a good man self-defeated.
Jim Avila serves as a weekly columnist for Barrett News Media. An Award-winning journalist with four decades of reporting and anchoring experience, Jim has served as Senior National Correspondent, 20/20 Correspondent, and White House Correspondent for ABC News. Prior to his time with ABC, he spent a decade with NBC News, and worked locally in Los Angeles and Chicago for KNBC, and WBBM. He can be found on Twitter @JimAvilaABC.
May 7, 2022 at 8:00 am
Interesting Jim that you dismissed on this puff piece about Lars that on his talk show he promotes Trump’s Big Lie that the election of Joe Biden was rigged. Lars also doesn’t think that Trump’s attempted effort to overthrown the government is a big deal, that’s the “entertainment” part of his talk show I guess. Also, it’s ironic when Lars called Brian Stelter “such a political partisan” reporter and “nothing he says is supported by facts.” Both of those statements perfectly describe Lars.