Larry King has never been your usual radio talk show host. From his Crystal City 12th floor studio with a distant view of the Capitol dome, King interviews the famous and near-famous, his bear growl of a voice beamed nationwide on 174 stations.

But unlike many in his business, King doesn't pay any lip service to reading a guest's book or bio material before an interview -- he says he likes to be on euqal footing with his audience. And he keeps a list of guests who will show up on a moment's notice at midnight if someone suddenly cancels. Among them: writer Nora Ephron, comedy writer Bob Orben, NBC newsman Richard Valeriani, congressmen Stephen Solarz (D-N.Y.) and Dante Fascell (D-Fla.).

His format -- a guest from midnight until about 3 a.m., the an open mike for another 2 1/2 hours -- is a hit. King earns about $100,000 a year presiding over the most successful talk show in the biz, boasting an audience of 10 million. And neither he nor the Mutual Broadcasting Network provide toll-free lines for listeners who light up the phone console each night in suburban Virginia; those callers from Oregon and Florida and California and 81 of the top 100 radio markets in America call King on their own dimes.

How did a Brooklyn kid who never quite made it to college become the favorite of early morning Americans? Lippincott has asked King to write a book about just that, as well as an insider's look at the famous who have shared his show. The ambitious working title: Larry King's America.