Knowing what he wanted to do at the age of 10, Larry Moore has been a TV journalist since 1968, helping take a “pretty bad” KMBC to the top of the ratings in Kansas City. And that’s where he and the station have stayed since, weathering a host of technological changes and innovations that have come since.
General managers and news directors always hope they’ll find the anchors or reporters who have that hard-to-figure something that creates a special long-term bond with their communities. Those people bring continuity to the station, giving it a hometown feel that can make one news outlet seem more in touch than all the others. In this periodic series, TVNewsCheck is profiling these Local Legends and the great stories they have to tell. For earlier installments, click here.
Larry Moore was 10 years old growing up in Kirksville, Mo., when in 1951 a devastating flood ravished Kansas City. His parents already had a television, so Moore could watch the remarkable live coverage of the flood on WDAF, just the second station in Missouri.
The station had carted a studio camera to the roof of the building and went live with anchorman Randall Jessee narrating reports of the swollen Kaw River for hours. Moore was hooked.
“I turned to my grandfather and said, ‘I’d like to do that someday,’ ” recalls Moore. Seventeen years later, after stints at newspapers, United Press International and a graduate degree in journalism from the University of Missouri, Moore joined KMBC Kansas City, the ABC affiliate that was restarting its moribund news operation in 1968. “It was pretty bad,” he laughs.
By 1972, he was the anchor, and KMBC was on its way to dominance in the what is now the nation’s 31st largest Nielsen market. Except for a short period in the early 1980s when Moore worked in Chicago and San Francisco, he’s been the man to beat ever since, anchoring the 5, 6 and 10 p.m. newscasts.
KMBC, now owned by Hearst Television, continues to be the station its local competitors try to beat. Last year, in fact, its 10 p.m. newscast had the highest ratings of any ABC affiliate in the nation. (It was strongly challenged at 10 o’clock by Meredith’s CBS affiliate, KCTV in February’s ratings sweeps.)
Moore is a large part of the reason for KMBC’s success. “When I go around town on personal errands, sometimes I tell people I work in TV,” says Sarah Smith, the station’s general manager who arrived not long ago from Omaha. “And, you know, people say: ‘I don’t watch TV.’ But then when tell them you work for KMBC, they all say” ‘Oh, we like Larry Moore.’ ”
Moore’s popularity endures, even as local news has been totally transformed from the days he began.
“When I came to work here, a news story had to occur before 3 o’clock in the afternoon for it to appear with color film, on the 10 o’clock news,” he says. “Well, today, we can go to live video with a moment’s notice. That’s a pretty remarkable change. When you think it took that many hours to process the film, edit the film, glue it together and then get it on the air.”
He remembers that when the station sent him overseas for special stories, “a minute [of satellite time] cost like $10,000. Now it’s almost free, for all practical purposes.”
It’s as if he’s always been there. He’s covered major floods in 1977 and 1993, the 1981 Hyatt Skywalk disaster that killed 114, and the Royals World Series victory in 1985. (Moore had dreams of becoming a major league pitcher.) He’s won just about every major local, state and regional television journalism award there is.
He admits he’s thinking more and more about retiring, which he calls “the R-word,” and offers that he’s warming to the idea of, at the very least, cutting back his schedule. Yet, Moore is no fossil and he’s proud he’s kept pace with the sometimes dizzying changes in the business.
“How do you stay current in a business that changes a lot? The word is adaptability,” Moore says. “You have to learn to adapt or you have to go do something else. It’s as simple as that. I think that’s probably been the key word that’s helped me more than anything else. That’s the best advice I have for young people getting into this industry. Don’t consider that what you know today is going to serve you in five or 10 years.”
For example, he points out, “We’re using IPads for our scripts. No paper. Just think what an adaptation that has been going from paper that you can mark so clearly with big black [underlines]. With the iPad, you just scroll up and over for a page. I learned that from my six-year-old grandson. He’s very good at it. Of course, he doesn’t know what a typewriter is.”
One thing that hasn’t changed as much is the pace of the news. KMBC has always crammed a lot into its newscasts, and Moore takes some credit for that. “I’m more involved [in the day-to-day newscast] because of something I basically put together over the years. We call it the ‘10 Concept.’ Bottom line, we don’t waste your time. Lots of stories, lots of video. We give ‘em a lot. The ‘10 Concept’ is that we never have one image up on the screen for more than 10 seconds.”
He acknowledges that’s a concept that news consultants from Frank Magid espoused in the early 1970s, but that KMBC never let go of.
“Even the [news] packages are something like 1:20. Today, with the attention span of viewers being so short, that works just as well as it did 20 or 25 years ago.”
Like the popular, long-time anchors in many cities, Kansas City viewers by now know some of the personal sides of Moore’s life. He’s an avid gardener, who has written a book about it. He’s the co-founder of the Dream Factory Greater Kansas City, which grants wishes and gives gifts to chronically ill children.
When he was diagnosed with non-Hodgkins lymphoma in 1991, Moore covered his illness on the air for the year he battled to it. “I worked my treatment in such a way that I didn’t have to take time off — both chemotherapy and radiation. It was a long year,” he recalls. A non-newsroom acquaintance says Moore has helped several KMBC staffers whose relatives also had to confront cancer concerns.
On the station’s website, he answers viewers’ questions about everything from seeking a second opinion on cancer diagnoses to growing a good, juicy tomato.
But he also stays rooted in the newsroom. Moore worries that the speed of the news cycle coupled with smaller news staffs means those reporters who had once had part of a day to prepare a story now sometimes have “four or five minutes, that’s it.”
The immediacy of news threatens the accuracy. “That’s the thing that concerns me, but it’s a fact of the industry today and we have to live with it and do the best we can. The troubling part is the downsizing and the cutting back. You always worry about the quality. You worry about missing the story.”
And he also worries — but just a little — about local news. “Everybody’s trying to make money off these websites and someday they’re going to find a way and then television news will fall apart even a little more,” Moore says. “But there are still a substantial number of people watching TV. It’s still the best way to reach an audience.”
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