David Letterman Started His Broadcasting Career as a Radio Newscaster

David LettermanToday I found out David Letterman started out his broadcasting career as a radio newscaster.  This was at the WBST radio station, which, at the time, was a college run 10 watt radio station and is now an Indiana public radio station.  After being fired from that radio station for making fun of classical music, he helped found another campus radio station, WAGO AM 570, which is today WCRD FM 91.3.

After graduating college, Letterman took another radio job as a radio talk show host on AM WNTS and more famously as a weatherman on the TV station WLWI in Indianapolis, which is now WTHR.  His trademarks as a weatherman included: frequently making up cities and reporting made up high and low temperatures and congratulating tropical storms when they were upgraded to hurricanes.

After doing numerous small-time local TV shows in Indiana, he moved to L.A. in 1975, where he pursued a career in standup comedy and comedy writing.  His big break came in 1977 when he did a pilot for a game show called “The Riddlers” that was ultimately not picked up.  However, workers at The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson saw his performance and he soon became a regular on The Tonight Show, eventually even assuming the role as a regular guest host starting in 1978.

Finally, in 1980, he was given his own show on NBC, which was a morning comedy show, called The David Letterman Show, which he won two Emmy Awards for, but was canceled only four months later due to extremely poor ratings.  Later, in 1982, NBC tried him at a different time slot, following Johnny Carson’s Tonight Show, with a similar style show that ultimately proved a success.

Bonus Facts:

  • When Johnny Carson retired in 1992, most people, including Carson himself, thought that Letterman would take over The Tonight Show, a job which Jay Leno would eventually win, prompting Letterman to leave NBC and go to CBS with CBS doubling his NBC salary to $14 million a year.
  • The total cost of bringing Letterman to CBS ended up being nearly $140 million, including renovating the set; buying the rights to negotiate with Letterman; Letterman’s salary; and other such expenditures.
  • Johnny Carson is the only late night TV host to have had a longer running hosting career than David Letterman.
  • To date, Letterman has received 67 Emmy Award nominations (winning 12 Emmy Awards), which is a record for an individual.
  • Along with hosting his show, Letterman also owns Worldwide Pants Incorporated, which is a company that produces various TV shows such as The Late Show with Craig Ferguson; Everybody Loves Raymond; Ed; Strangers with Candy (the prequel film to Comedy Central’s TV series); and many others.
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  • Letterman was funny when he had the NBC show but apparently NBC retained all the comedy as ‘intellectual property’ when he left. His CBS show isn’t funny and his new-found humor is mostly mean spirited.

  • Letterman and Leno were the last two late-nighters worth watching as far as I’m concerned.