ALTON — Larry Nickel grew up in his Alton home watching professional wrestlers like Hulk Hogan and Mick Foley.
Now, he interviews them.
Nickel, 39, has been a weekly wrestling correspondent on CBS Sports 920 AM’s The Morning After, a St. Louis sports talk radio program, for more than two years. Through his affiliation with the program, the Alton native has had the opportunity to interview past and present wrestling stars since he joined the show on a weekly basis in August 2011. And it all started with a phone call.
“Larry called in to our show to correct us on a wrestling fact we had messed up,” host Tim McKernan said. “We mess up about 20 things per show, but when it came to professional wrestling, Larry knew we were wrong and called in to the show to set the record straight.”
From that telephone call Nickel became a fixture and fan favorite of the program — his Tuesday morning WWE wrestling recap is one of the show’s most popular segments of the week — and his role with the show has grown as a result. Last year, Nickel wrote daily columns for McKernan’s website, insideSTL.com, on wrestling and other local sports topics. Recently he also became the star of his own sponsored weekly question-and-answer segment called “Ask Lawrence.”
Nickel said the past few years have been beyond anything he could have imagined.
“It’s been a roller coaster ride,” he said.
Nickel has watched wrestling since he was a child, listing Hogan and “Stone Cold” Steve Austin as a few of his favorites growing up. So it was an extra special treat when Nickel had the opportunity to interview Hogan last year through Hogan’s affiliation with Total Nonstop Action (TNA) Wrestling. Nickel also has interviewed current wrestlers Seamus, Ryback, Daniel Bryan and the Bella Twins — a personal favorite, Nickel said — as a result of his affiliation with the radio program.
McKernan, who lists Nickel as one of his favorite people he’s met since he started doing the show in 2004, said his personality makes it easy to root for Nickel.
“He’s clearly the kindest and most genuine person you’ll meet,” McKernan said. “We love having him on the show, and we love that the fact he’s on the show has led to opportunities to interview some of the biggest names in wrestling, like Hulk Hogan. It’s a thrill for him, but it’s a thrill for us as well to see what’s happened for someone who is such a good person.”
But Nickel doesn’t plan to rest on his past accomplishments. The Lewis and Clark Community College student said his goal is to transfer to Southern Illinois University Edwardsville and pursue a degree in broadcast journalism. From there, Nickel said he would like to eventually have his own radio show devoted to wrestling talk.
Nickel credits McKernan and the program for his successes thus far.
“It’s been a very good experience,” Nickel said. “I’m glad they gave me this opportunity because I’m being heard not only in the St. Louis metropolitan area but all over the country.”
Despite the relative fame he’s achieved among the station’s listeners and fans, Nickel remains pretty low-key on the Lewis and Clark campus. But that’s not the case at wrestling events, McKernan said.
Perhaps one day Nickel will be the one taking interview requests from fledgling wrestling reporters.
“His star is rising with the wrestling community,” McKernan said. “Every time the WWE is in town, they call us to make sure Larry gets an interview with one of their stars. And when he walks around Scottrade (Center), people see him and scream out his name. They love him just like we do.”
Nathan Grimm may be reached at 618-463-2515 or Twitter @GrimmTelegraph.