News veteran, Larry Kane has been a highly-respected journalist, anchor and commentator for over 50 years. In conjunction with the release of Ron Howard’s documentary The Beatles: Eight Days a Week-The Touring Years in which he talks about his time on tour with them, Kane spoke to us from his home in Philadelphia.
Kane started his broadcast career at the ridiculously young age of 16 so we asked if that was planned, or something he just fell into?
“It was one moment in time. I was employed by a radio station in Miami – well, when I say employed, I mean they gave us cookies and Elvis records! – to report high school football. So at the end of the year they invited all us high-school reporters to the station. I saw this man sitting in a booth, reading the news. And at that moment I said ‘This is what I want to do.’ So I hung around the station long enough that eventually they had to pay me. By the time I was ready to go to college, I was already working full-time in radio.”
As a young reporter Kane had the extraordinary coup of breaking the Bay of Pigs invasion.
“That was a defining moment for me,” he said. “I’d done a lot of news stories by then, even though I was only 18 years old. But I had a lot of friends in the Cuban exile community. One night they invited me down to a place called The Homestead, which was a shooting-range. There were all of my friends shooting at targets, while people in khaki uniforms were advising them what to do. And I found out that they were planning something, but I didn’t report it, as it was under a code of secrecy. Then I was told the night before, that they were heading to Cuba: in fact, I was invited to go with them, but my mother would have killed me on the spot! So instead I went on the air that night, right about the time they would have arrived at the Bay of Pigs, and reported that they had launched an invasion of Cuba: a pretty startling exclusive for a person my age. In fact, when I went to report it, my station thought I had lost my mind, but it turned out to be real!”
With The Beatles announcing a tour of the United States in 1964, reporters were clamouring for an interview with them, including Kane, who was, by then, 21 and the news director of WFUN in Miami. He was surprised to receive an invitation to travel with them through their whole tour of the United States: surprised, but not happy. Kane makes it clear, in the film, that he did not want to go when there were so many other news stories going on, including the assassination of JFK, the Vietnam War and Mohamed Ali fighting three blocks away from the station.
“I thought it was ridiculous for me to travel with the band. And although I liked their music, I figured that they were going to be around for a couple of months and then that would be that! They’d be gone along with the hoola-hoop and other trends. But they eventually convinced me I had to go, and I went with a certain amount of scepticism.”
We see in the film, Kane talking about his father’s words of advice, the night before he left on the tour: Watch your back. These men are a menace to society.
“I think that was just the typical, generational divide, that you get everywhere around the world,” he explained. “I mean, when I listen to some of my grandchildren’s music now, I don’t get it! But I didn’t want to go anyway, so I walked in there with a chip on my shoulder. I was particularly upset when I first met John Lennon, because he looked me up and down from head-to-toe and said ‘Who are you, and what planet do you come from? You look like a nerd from the 1950s.’ And responded with It’s better than the way you look: you look like a slob.’ And then we started to have a conversation.
“The secret to my getting along with them was that I didn’t ask the sorts of questions that the older reporters were asking. They were sceptics who were asking questions like ‘what did you eat for breakfast?’ or ‘is your hair real?’. Silly questions that were meant to ridicule them. Whereas I asked them questions about the stories of the day. About a week and a half into the tour, I realised that this was something special: that I was reporting on a huge, generational and cultural change. I even started to receive letters from fans such as:
Dear Mr Kane, thank-you for your reports. Will you please tell John that I will meet him at the Sears Tower in Chicago at 10 am on X date, so we can talk about our future together?
“This was an amazing phenomenon. What you need to remember, is that in the 1950s it would have been almost impossible to imagine young women and girls expressing themselves in public like that. It would have been regarded as a scandal.”
As a news-reporter, Kane was able to pick up the issues around the tour that were about much more than pop culture.
“Here were four people who had a genuine desire to change the world. The decision they made about the Gator Bowl in Jacksonville [to refuse to play to a segregated audience] was a seminal moment in the American civil rights movement.”
Through his amazing career, Kane has interviewed every American President from Lyndon Johnson onwards.
“One that really surprised me was Jimmy Carter. Carter was in a tough re-election fight against Ronal Reagan and, three days before the election I did a live interview with him. He knew he was going to lose and I could tell that he was very depressed. But in the middle of the interview, when we took a commercial break, he leaned over to me and said ‘Hey Larry, when the interview is over, can you stay a few minutes and tell me what The Beatles were really like?’”
The Beatles: Eight Days a Week opens in cinemas from 16 September 2016. See the trailer below.
Interviewed by Tracey Korsten