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Tuesday, Feb. 20, 2024

Lovable Larry Ryan

Larry Ryan Behind Mic

The legendary Larry Ryan has enjoyed an almost 60 year career in radio.

The good times, the big time and on the horizon

Everyone has a story.

Each edition, Tony Taglavore takes to lunch a local person — someone well-known, influential or successful — and asks, “What’s Your Story?”

It was the opportunity of a lifetime. In 1987 or 1988 (“I really can’t remember”), after years of being [the] voice in Shreveport-Bossier radio, Larry Ryan got THE call.

Chicago. Big bucks. Three-year contract. “I won’t tell you how much, but it was more than double what I was making at KEEL. It was wonderful.”

But as Larry quickly found out, money isn’t everything.

“I hated Chicago.” “My first day was on a Monday in March. I walked outside with just a light jacket on. It was snowing. The streets were icing. I was holding onto a rope to get down the sidewalk, because you could slip and fall. Why am I here? I don’t have any warm clothes. Nothing.”

Then, there was the country music station for Larry, who did a morning drive. US 99 was “country” in format only.

“The first time I went on vacation, I took two weeks. I had a farm out by Lake Bistineau. When I got back, one of the people asked me on the air, ‘What did you do on vacation?’ I said, ‘I bush hogged nearly all of my property.’ The program director, God love him, got me into his office after the show and said, ‘We don’t talk about killing pigs.’ I said, ‘What?’ ‘We don’t talk about killing hogs.’ ‘Bush hogging? You don’t know what bush hogging is?’ ‘We don’t kill pigs.’ I walked away. I walked by the manager and said, ‘That guy’s an idiot.’”

“Loveable” Larry Ryan told me his story highlighted by an almost 60-year radio career over breakfast at Strawn’s Eat Shop Too in Shreveport. Larry has lived a long (85 years) life, which hasn’t always been at the top of the charts.

“We (Larry and his late wife, Suzy) were invested in a bank. I won’t say which one. It went bankrupt. We lost our butt. That’s one of the reasons why I went to Chicago. We got Suzy on the board of directors, so we thought we were safe and doing good. One day, they said, ‘Oh, we’re bankrupt.’”

Before Larry found his love for radio, he dreamed of being an athlete.

Larry played high school football until he got hurt in his senior year. He never picked up the pigskin again. Larry tried college basketball, but let’s just say he didn’t fit in with the rest of the team.

“I stole the ball from him (the star player) and went down court. He came from behind me, crushed me, and put me into a wall. It was fine, until I stole it from him the next time. Instead of going up for a layup, I stopped and threw the ball up. He went over the top of me and broke a leg. So, they threw me off the team for being nasty.”

Then there was Larry’s tryout with major league baseball’s Milwaukee Brewers. He had been practicing with his mother, who worked three jobs but always found time for her son.

“I had no front teeth because when I thought I was going to play baseball, she was hitting fungoes in the backyard... She hit me a grounder; it took a bad hop and knocked out my two front teeth. (The guy in Milwaukee) looked at me and asked, ‘How old are you, old man?’

Larry only lasted one year at Iowa State Teachers’ College (now Northern Iowa University). But that’s where and when he got his first taste of being onair. And his first taste of being fired.

“I did three shows, and they told me I couldn’t do it anymore because I was too wild.”

With college not quite being for Larry, he joined the Air Force. Larry was a radar operator, “but I spent more time doing other things.” That included hosting a radio program on some of the bases where he was stationed. Soon after Larry’s service ended, he went to a couple of broadcasting schools. Then began the long, winding road, which eventually led to Shreveport.

“Radio people are Gypsies. They go from one town to another station to another station.”

Little Rock, Arkansas. Waterloo, Iowa. Cedar Rapids, Iowa. Austin, Texas. Mobile, Alabama. Hopewell, Virginia.

“If you had an opportunity to make 35 more dollars a month, (you took it.).”

But Larry bounced around for reasons other than money.

“In Little Rock, they fired me after three months. I butchered some commercials they wanted me to read live.

I couldn’t say ‘Admiral Portable TV.’ They said, ‘If you can’t do that, you can’t be a booth announcer. You’re gone.’”

“In Waterloo, I did Bozo (the Clown) for a week. That’s the most abused I’ve ever been in my life by little kids. They pinched my nose. They peed on me. Oh God, it was terrible.”

On the way to Shreveport, Larry told his girlfriend (and future wife) that he was headed south. “She said, ‘If you don’t take me, you can kiss it goodbye.’ I said, ‘Pack your s___ and let’s go.’ I rented a trailer. We put a couch, a TV, and a bed that she had in the back of a trailer and we left. We’ve been here ever since 1964.”

Except for when Larry left for what he thought was that lifetime opportunity.

“From Chicago, I would fly back down here every other weekend, and Suzy would fly up to see me every other weekend.”

When Larry chose not to renew his contract, he left the Windy City. After a six-month layover in Milwaukee, Larry settled back at KEEL. Of course, he got fired but was rehired two weeks later. Larry eventually went to work for another station, of which he had part ownership, for seven years. But, not surprisingly, Larry found his way back to KEEL.

He left the station for good in 1996 and went to what is now KLKL-FM 95.7 “The River.” Larry buys the air time, then sells commercials to clients. But even a local legend isn’t immune to a shaky economy.

“All these businesses are closing down. I live on Mom and Pop stores because I know them. I can talk about them. I can have fun with them. But a lot of them are closing. Look at all the restaurants and all the little stores that are closing. It’s driving me crazy. I hate that.”

We talked for an hour, and I knew Larry who had been up since 3:30 a.m. to go on the air at 6, indeed had to be tired.

“I love naps.” So, I asked Larry my final question.

As always, “What is it about your life that can be influential to others?”

“Even though I’m on the radio and I do weird things to others, don’t pretend to be something you’re not. If you’re not the best, then you can be second, or fifth, or ninth, or 165th best. In this business, there are a lot of phony people. You have to sort them out. You don’t want to be one of them. You can judge yourself by other people.”

Larry says in a year, he will probably turn off the microphone a final time. A year-and-a-half ago, “I had throat cancer and they operated on me,” as Larry points to a small scar. “It’s affected my throat some. I don’t have quite the depth and resonance I had before . . . . That is something that got my attention.”

But until the on-air light goes out, Larry’s voice will continue being the first voice many of us hear each weekday morning.

“I’ve done good. I’ve done good. I’ve been nationally recognized, which really doesn’t mean that much other than ego. That has never been part of my being. I had fun, and people said, ‘You’re doing good.’”


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