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David Letterman has spent more time than anyone hosting late-night talk shows on major TV networks, making the Ball State alumnus into one of the most successful media personalities in the country. But his broadcasting career began with a Ball State radio program that lasted a week.

Letterman, born in Indianapolis to Harry Joseph and Dorothy Letterman (Dorothy Mengering), graduated from Ball State in 1969.

Since then, he has had a career filled with multiple Emmy Awards, as well as a Peabody Award for his production company. In 2002, TV Guide ranked The Late Show as the seventh-greatest TV show of all time. Letterman himself landed as the 45th greatest TV star of all time, in a separate ranking by the publication.


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Early Career

After Letterman's short stint at WBST, his wry, self-deprecating humor drew audience members to the upstart student organization.

The antics carried over into his first TV job after graduation, when he took a position as a weatherman in Indianapolis. Legends continue today of a time when, on air, he congratulated a tropical storm for upgrading to a hurricane.

He held media jobs in Indianapolis for a few years until he moved to Los Angeles to focus on comedy. He wrote for sitcoms until he got his break by appearing on The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson. Carson became a mentor to Letterman, inviting the aspiring comedian to guest host the popular late-night show.

TV Debut

Letterman got his own morning talk show in 1980. It was short-lived but gained critics’ favor. The success was enough to convince NBC to give him a show after Carson’s each night, and Late Night with David Letterman was born.

He stayed at NBC until 1993, when he moved to CBS to host The Late Show with David Letterman.

He also began the production company Worldwide Pants that year. On top of The Late Show, the firm produces The Late Late Show with Craig Ferguson, among other programs. Worldwide Pants’ biggest success was sitcom Everybody Loves Raymond.

Letterman retired in May 2015.

Giving Back

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Letterman’s influence remains visible around Ball State.

Campus radio station WCRD began in 1986 after he funded construction. The last three letters in the station’s call letters stand for “Cardinal Radio Dave.”

Letterman also created an annual scholarship that went to three Ball State telecommunications students. 

His support of the university and its students prompted Ball State to name its communication building after him. In September 2007, a crowd of thousands gathered in front of the David Letterman Communications and Media Building as the late-night comedian joined Ball State officials to dedicate the building.

Letterman responded to the recognition with yet another gift. While here, he donated funding, which resulted in a lecture and workshop series attracting business and media leaders as well-known as Ted Koppel, Angela Ahrendts, and Oprah Winfrey. And Letterman himself has joined them a few times.

Letterman returns to campus to collaborate with students.  His most recent project is “Clear Reception with David Letterman,” a documentary about the art of glass.  The result of a yearlong immersive learning project, the film chronicles Dave’s foray into glass artistry with the making of a special piece inspired by his everyday life.  The documentary was produced in collaboration with Ball State students in the Department of Media, Center for Emerging Media Design & Development, and Schools of Art and Music. The film also features artists from the Marilyn K. Glick Center for Glass, who teach Dave about the evolution of a grain of sand to a beautiful piece of glass art. Ball State School of Music students composed and performed the original score for the film.