Van Harden Pays Tribute to the Late Larry Cotlar

Yesterday came the news that our good friend Larry Cotlar was a casualty to the horrendous flash flooding in Des Moines Saturday night. Larry was in his vehicle near Merle Hay Mall on Twana Drive. He apparently was attempting to get through some water and got stuck in it.  He got out and was swept away. His body was found several hours later.

Like so many other things in life, it seems these things just are not supposed to happen. Nobody likes shocking news.  This was indeed shocking. My phone rang off the hook yesterday morning and my e-mail box filled up from people that knew Larry and I had been good friends for a long time. 

Larry and I knew each other from the 70’s when I was on KRNT and he was on KCBC in Des Moines. In the wave of the disco phase, KCBC called themselves KC 14 and had the nerve to play all disco music, which was a big hit for about a week and a half. Then they switched to album rock, which was also quite a gamble for an AM station.  KCBC has been long gone for a long time, but I remember Larry and me talking about his days of playing that album rock.  He especially liked “Bad to the Bone,” by George Thorogood.

The next thing I remember about Larry was his getting hired by WHO Radio to do sports with Jim Zabel and Mike Newell.  He was a pretty good sports talk show host, too. Then in 1986, when I was hired by WHO to do a new morning show called, “Van and Patti in the Morning,” management selected Larry to be our morning news anchor.  The format of that morning show is virtually unchanged today, which is miraculous in the radio world today. Patti left.  Connie Murad took over for 6 years.  Then Bonnie Lucas came in and has been doing it for well over 20 years. 

We had so much fun with Larry on and off the air. To this day people still remind me of a bit we did with Larry on Friday mornings, called “Great Guests.” After his 7:15 sportscast we would gloat on the air about what an amazing week it had been on the show, yet it would be nothing compared to the guests we would have in the next week.  I would say, “These aren’t just GOOD guests!  These are……” and there would be a pause and we’d all yell out, “GREAT GUESTS!”  Then I would read a list of made up names that sounded like those of famous people and explain who they were.  It was so stupid it was good!  People loved it.  At first I wrote them all. Then Larry asked me if I minded if he took a crack at writing some sports great guests. He did and they were probably better that the ones I wrote.

When I became Program Director I had Larry doing all sorts of things. He did lots of state tournament basketball games.  So many that he would almost always lose his voice near the end of the week. He hosted “Sound Off,” the show that follows Iowa Hawkeye football games.  People either love you or hate you when you do that, and he found both.

Then he was offered a job as a sports call-in host at a national sports network which broadcast out of Las Vegas.  We hated to see him go but off he went. He was very good at that and was there for a number of years, until he returned to Des Moines, which he always loved. 

WHO picked up the old KSO 1460 frequency. I was the Program Director for that as well and we flipped it to a sports format and called it KXnO. Larry was of immense help with that and hosted a show.  A Des Moines Register columnist wrote an article about what idiots we were because there were already 2 other sports stations on in Des Moines. When he asked me about it I told him, “That’s right. And one will survive.” It did.  KXnO.  

Larry called me one day and said he was writing a book about his sports connections and escapades. He knew I had written a book and wanted advice.  He finished his book appropriately called, “The Biggest Rolodex in Sports.”  He gave me a copy.  I read it, called him and said, “Larry, this is not just a GOOD book. This is a GREAT book!”  He howled.

So, there are many business related, professional stories for sure.  But the thing I’ll miss the most about Larry is his friendship.  He’d gone through a lot. I’ve been through a lot. I guess we all go through a lot. But we shared it with one another and really cared. Sorry we never got to say our final good byes in person Larry, but you know my heart is saying it here!


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