Charity a priority for TV news anchor Larry Moore
By Kevin Kelly
Catholic Key Associate Editor
KANSAS CITY - Larry Moore is a people addict - he just can't get enough of them.
Kevin Kelly/Key photo
Larry Moore sits at the anchor desk in the KMBC studio to film a teaser for the evening newscast.
It's not enough for him to invade thousands of Kansas City-area living rooms five evenings a week as he has done for 30 years as anchor of KMBC-TV (Channel 9) news.
He's got to be around people face-to-face, as often as he can. And all kinds of people - rich, poor, and those in the middle; working stiffs, housewives, professionals.
It makes no difference to Larry Moore. He is a man so head over heels in love with Kansas City people that he can't say no, not even when he and his wife, Ruth, and any of their five children try to enjoy a quiet meal together in a restaurant. As a matter of fact, the Moore family has long forgotten what a quiet meal in a restaurant is like.
"You get used to it," he told The Catholic Key. "The people who come up to you and talk, or ask for an autograph are really your customers. I can't say, 'I don't have time for you,' because they might not have time for me at 10 o'clock."
Besides, he said, people are his job.
"If you don't like the sight of blood, you shouldn't be a surgeon," Moore said. "If you don't like people, you shouldn't be in TV news."
Nor, apparently, should you take a day off. When he isn't at the station, Moore is a fixture at charity events - scores of them every year in and around Kansas City, especially charities that help children, and especially charities connected to his Roman Catholic faith.
Moore, a member of Visitation Parish, has given his famous face and name to a long and growing list of charities - the Dream Factory, the Rose Brooks Center, the American Cancer Society, the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation, Ozanam, the National Lost Child Network, Harvesters Community Food Network, Kansas City Community Gardens, the Diocesan Central City School Fund, Catholic Charities, Conception Seminary College, St. Teresa's Academy, Rockhurst High School and University, Avila College, the American Royal, the St. Patrick's Day Parade and a host of others.
Blame the Sisters of Loretto for that, said Moore.
He grew up in the tiny (population, 1,700) northeast Missouri town of Edina, big enough to have a strong Catholic parish (St. Joseph) and a Catholic grade school, staffed by Loretto sisters.
The lesson of community responsibility to others was learned quickly - and not forgotten decades later, he said.
"My eighth grade teacher told us, 'Some of you might make it big. And if any of you ever make it big, you know it's not just you who made you big. You have a responsibility to return that to God and to others,'" he said.
Larry Moore has perhaps the most recognizable face in Kansas City. He can look at the Nielsen ratings and realize that more people trust him with the news than they trust any one person, perhaps in the city's history.
He could revel in his fame and count the money it has earned him, or he could tap into it to help others.
"There is a Christian responsibility," he said. "If you have a high profile, and you can leverage that to help people, then you have a Christian responsibility to do that."
And like the Sisters of Loretto taught him, he knows it wasn't only his talent and hard work that allowed him to "make it big."
Fresh out of Edina High School which didn't even have a journalism class, Moore decided to take a crack at the highly competitive University of Missouri School of Journalism and become a newspaper reporter. After his college graduation, he was working for United Press International when he met the MU's legendary journalism dean, Dale Spencer, at a regional UPI directors' meeting.
"I was a good print reporter. I could write fast," he said. "But Dale Spencer told me I should go back to school and get into radio and TV because that was going to get big."
Moore earned a master's degree in TV news at Missouri, then reported for work at his first TV job at KMBC-TV.
"Labor Day, 1968," he said. "I'll never forget that first story. They sent me out to parks for a story on how Kansas Citians were celebrating the holiday. Remember we didn't have Worlds of Fun, or Kauffman Stadium, or any of those places where a lot of people would go."
After filing his story, Moore did a stint on the Jerry Lewis Telethon for the Muscular Dystrophy Association. "That was really a big deal even then," he said.
Within four years, Moore earned a promotion as anchorman, and his star continued to rise. In 1979, the networks came calling.
That year, he accepted a job as anchor at a network-owned affiliate in San Francisco, the nation's fifth largest television market. Within a few years, he moved up again to a network-owned station in Chicago, the third largest market.
But the Moore family was homesick, he said. When their fifth child, Jessie, was born in 1983, it was time to come home. "We were also getting a lot of pressure from the grandparents," he recalled with a smile.
Besides, he said, he had already satisfied whatever curiosity he had about how high his career could go.
"News is covered the same way in San Francisco, Chicago, New York or Kansas City," he said. "The job requirements are exactly the same."
His return was great news for KMBC-TV. With Moore back behind the desk, teamed with Laurie Everett and a line-up of veteran reporters, KMBC soon edged back into the top spot in the ratings. In the latest Nielsens, KMBC-TV newscasts rank first in the morning, afternoon, evening and night.
But that wasn't enough, Moore said. It was time to use his gifts for the community.
In 1984, Moore said he was approached with a wild idea to brighten the lives of terminally and chronically ill children.
Moore was skeptical. "I thought we'd be making promises to these kids, then nothing would happen because the money wasn't there," he said.
But he agreed and KMBC-TV became the media partner for the Dream Factory. Eighteen years later, the partnership has made special dreams, ranging from meeting an athlete or celebrity to special vacation trips, come true for 3,660 special children.
"Once the story of the Dream Factory was told, the people of Kansas City were generous," he said.
"Some of the dreams get really complicated," Moore said. "We have this little boy in a wheelchair who wants a baseball stadium in his backyard. But we built it for him. Everything was donated. The basepaths are all concrete so he can wheel from first to second to third to home. April 20 will be opening day."
The look on the face of a seriously ill child was worth more than his paycheck, Moore said.
Little did he know how quickly he would find himself in their place.
In the spring of 1991, Moore was diagnosed with an aggressive form of cancer which had invaded his sinuses.
"The chances of survival were not certain," Moore said.
Chemotherapy would rob Moore of his looks, taking away his hair and bloating his body. He could take a leave of absence from his job, or he could take his fight public.
"We made a major family decision," he said. "We decided that we could use this as an educational tool. By showing what it is like, we could help other people go through it."
Moore also learned a valuable lesson - people loved him, too.
"It was an unbelievable time," he said. "In one week, we got 2,700 letters. I still get letters 10 years later. So many people still sent us notes telling how we helped them."
Moore gives frequent motivational speeches to cancer survivor networks, telling every audience the three keys to surviving - early detection, a second opinion, and the support of family, friends and faith.
"You have to have all three," he said. "Faith is very important. I could never let myself think I couldn't make it through this. I always had a strong faith in God. Cancer is something you can't do alone."
Moore said his faith and his family wouldn't let him feel sorry for himself.
"I never did. I still don't to this day," he said. "I never got to the point of 'Why me.' I was too focused on getting through this."
And Moore stayed at his anchor desk, wearing a wig and painted eyebrows.
Not all his viewers knew what was happening, however.
During one evening newscast after a chemotherapy session, Moore was exhausted and his speech was slurred.
"One lady called the station and said, 'Do you know your anchorman has been drinking?'" he said with a big laugh.
But Moore and his family did get through it. When he did, he kicked his civic involvement into high gear. Moore said he learned the Christian paradox - the more he gave, the more he got back.
"While it looks like I am giving a lot, I am getting a lot more in return," he said "The greatest advantage to me is that it keeps me from being jaded or closed-minded."
It also pays off professionally. The contacts he makes through his charity work and civic involvement have given him a wealth of sources to contact for fast-breaking stories that KMBC-TV is often the first to report.
Kris Ketz, who has been at KMBC-TV for 19 years, said that Moore can make one phone call and get information that no other reporter in Kansas City can get.
"He won't tell you this, but he's the franchise," Ketz said.
The professional and personal honors have rained down on Moore. His newscasts are perennial winners in state, regional and national competitions.
This year, he won the first John J. Sullivan Jr. Foundation Humanitarian Award, presented by the Kansas City Irish Museum and Cultural Center, and has been a past grand marshal of the city's St. Patrick's Day Parade. He has also earned the Ambassador of Hope Award from the American Cancer Society, the Broderick Award, the Stephen K. Douglas and Dream Maker of the Year awards from the Dream Factory.
At the Dream Maker of the Year banquet last year, Bishop Raymond J. Boland offered the opening prayer:
"This evening, in your providence, we honor the dream maker of dream makers, Larry Moore," the bishop said.
"Entering our homes each evening, he and his coworkers counter their nightly diet of murder and mayhem, tornadoes and typhoons, light rail and heavy metal, with the beaming faces of youngsters realizing their longed-for dreams and testifying to the fact that there is much good to be found in the chaos of our daily living," he said.
"And like the night watchman of days gone by, he symbolically tucks us all in our beds with reassurances which echo across the rooftops from antenna to antenna or burrow into our homes by subterranean cables: 'Hear ye! Hear ye! It's 10 o'clock and all is well!'"
Last May, KMBC-TV rewarded Moore with a six-year contract. At the end of that deal, Moore will be at an age when most successful people would retire.
Moore isn't thinking about that now.
"We'll have to see how everything goes at the end of six years," he said, noting that both Peter Jennings of ABC and Dan Rather of CBS are both approaching their 70th birthdays.
Moore said he can't even imagine himself not anchoring the news.
"It's just the love of the job and the love of the news," he said. "Even if I retire, there will still have to be some type of involvement with it afterward."