Friday, December 20, 2013

Forgotten Hits Remembers Larry Lujack

We lost one of the all time greats this week when Superjock Larry Lujack passed away.   

Here in Chicago, the coverage hasn't stopped ... EVERYBODY listened to this guy ... he had a HUGE impact on our lives growing up in The Windy City.  

We had never heard another jock quite like him ... Larry Lujack was the first REAL person on the radio ... without the script, without the phoney voice ... he said what he felt.  (I'll never forget one show when he and Tommy Edwards were back together on Real Oldies and some story came up about Mother Teresa and some big fund raiser that she did ... at the end of which Lujack said something to the effect of THAT'S the kind of important impact he wishes HE could make ... something MAJOR that affects the lives of SO many people ... "whereas we just sit here on the air and tell people to call 1-800-MATTRESS."  THAT, in a nutshell, was Larry Lujack.)  

Shortly after Frannie first moved here from Texas, Lujack came out of retirement and took the job on The Beat ... and I couldn't have been happier and more excited to hear him back on the air.  I remember telling her about the HUGE impact he had on radio here in Chicago ... and how she just HAD to listen to him.  She did ... and she couldn't stand him!  She couldn't understand the appeal ... but she LOVED '70's Soul (some of you old-timers may remember when Frannie would write our Forgotten Soul Hits feature) ... so she kept listening.  Within two weeks she was hooked.  "I didn't think I could like him ... but I do!  We just never had anyone who sounded like that back in Texas."  

Truth is there wasn't anybody who sounded like Lujack at all before he came on the scene ... there were hundreds of imitators after who incorporated that "looseness" into their radio schtick ... he broke down some of the earliest barriers in radio.  (That was what was so ironic about the big radio brawl between Larry and Steve Dahl ... Dahl's career would have NEVER taken off to the degree that it did were in not for Lujack knocking down some of those walls earlier on.)   

Here is what some of what our readers had to say after hearing the sad, sad news ...  

He was the hardest working radio person I ever met.  He was really one-of-a-kind. There wasn’t really anybody like him before that. He was himself ... he was honest, he was cynical. He had a great sense of humor.  I've lost a best friend, one whose ability to make me laugh extended well beyond our radio careers.
The chemistry, the whole relationship that we had between each other — we'd just usually wind up laughing whenever we talked.  We genuinely liked each other, and he just broke me up all the time.

Tommy Edwards  

One of the all-time greats ... always authentically himself on the air ... and always fun to listen to.   Rest in peace, Uncle Lar.   
Dick Bartley   

I think you covered things well.
Very few people knew the "real" Larry. I was not one of them. Even when he called me at home, it was Superjock talking to Evening DJ / Music Director. We never really connected as two human beings. My loss. Tommy Edwards, John Rook, Tom Murphy -- they were close to him and can tell you incredible tales about his warmth, generosity and caring. But don't be surprised if they don't. Because Larry didn't seem to want that kind of thing getting out. He wanted his charity to be anonymous. I don't know how religious Larry was, but he certainly took seriously the biblical admonition that "when you do a charitable deed, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, that your charitable deed may be in secret." (Matthew 6)
The world clearly loved the public "Superjock." They won't love him any more (or less) if they know every last bit of his private life, too.
My college friend, Scott Paulson (now a reporter for the Chicago Examiner) related at my urging this story of how Larry encouraged him as a college DJ:

When I was on North Central College radio WONC-FM, one Sunday night he called and said he enjoyed the show. I spent most of the brief conversation doubting that he was really "Superjock." I thought it was one of my college buddy's pulling a prank on me. The next day, out of curiosity, I called WLS, and I asked the person who answered if I could speak to Larry. I was asked who I was, and I gave my name. After a short wait, Lujack got on the phone and said, "And I don’t believe this is Scott Paulson!"
One thing I will say about what you wrote: 

When Larry confronted Dahl and chased him from his own show, then very calmly finished that show --
that was the finest moment in Chicago radio history (okay, maybe #2 to the Hindenburg disaster). I think Larry had enough of jocks who built their careers imitating his cynicism without adding the underlying compassion he used as its foundation. These smug cowards hid behind their microphones, sniping at every real or imagined target, safe in their ivory-covered studios. When Dahl was confronted face-to-face with one of his targets -- he ran. Bullies usually do. No, it wasn't "pretty." But it was real, it was unique and it was great radio. And pure Lujack.
Other than leaving his wife, Jude, behind, I'm sure Larry was content with his fate, secure in the knowledge of how he'd lived his life. We might never have heard him on-the-air ever again, but the news was sad because now it's an absolute. He will not be forgotten.
-- Ron Smith


I listened to that whole Steve Dahl / Larry Lujack thing live on the air as it unfolded ... now THAT'S "Shock Radio"!!!  (The excerpt above is the aftermath ... sent in by FH Reader Clark Besch.  Missing is the initial confrontation ... by this point, Steve and Garry had already walked out of the studio, leaving Lujack to fend for himself ... or broadcast dead air!)
I don't think there's every been anything else quite like it ... and certainly not at the magnitude of these two gigantic radio legends.  But honestly, even listening to it again, it's embarrassing ... for BOTH of them.  By this point, Lujack's best radio days were behind him ... and it kind of felt like some young punk kid beating the crap out of an old man.  Larry stood his ground.  (Dahl had basically been accusing him of being a corporate kiss ass for quite some time now, implying that he was a shadow of his former self and had become, instead, a "company man", which for some crazy reason by today's standards is considered to be a derogatory term.  The fact of the matter is, Lujack HAD lost some of his edge ... but he was no dummy.  Larry Lujack and WLS Radio had been VERY good to each other over the years ... and Good Ol' Uncle Lar knew better ... at this stage of his career ... than to bite the hand that fed him.)  But the whole concept of poking fun at the station, management and "the man" originated with Lujack twenty-something years earlier.  Dahl may have been the "flavor of the month" at this point in time but I lost a tremendous amount of respect for him after this incident ... both as a broadcaster AND as a person. A landmark moment to be sure ... monumental ... but NOT a radio highlight in my book.  (kk)   

Super Jock ... R.I.P.
Larry was cantankerous and could be very mean spirited, but all that aside, the guy was the most unique jock I've ever heard.  I first met Larry when he came to  town in 1967 or '8 at - of all things - a promotional party for Tommy Boyce and Bobby Hart.
Unlike his traditional western garb, Lujack was dressed in a very lifeless black suit with a black tie. He looked more like an undertaker than a radio personality.
The man who landed Larry the mega buck, 6 million dollar package, was the late Saul Foos. Saul was also the guy who brought me from Indianapolis to Chicago in 1980 when I joined NBC 5. Later, of course, Saul ran afoul of the law on a multi million dollar scam and did time before he passed away several years ago.
I just don't know how the hell a guy with Larry's spirit and energy could have retired so early and spent all those years out west staring at sage brush. His genius will never be replicated.
Lujack, Biondi and Dahl are, in my opinion, the three most engaging dj's Chicago has ever had. All had different styles but all knew and know how to connect with the audience.
Chet Coppock
Host: Chicago Blackhawks Heritage Series
Host: Notre Dame Football, WLS 

During my years in the Midwest – 1966 to 1973 -- Larry Lujack ruled as the most influential DJ in Chicagoland radio.   Larry was considered the ultimate role model by countless budding broadcasters at the time – myself included – as evidenced by the Lujack-like edge in my voice in radio airchecks of that period.   The trouble was no one but Lujack himself could really maximize the potential inherent in his distinctly one-of-a-kind world-weary, cynical style and brand of wry satire.  We TRIED, of course, but it never really worked for us anywhere as well as it did for the man accurately billed as “Superjock.”    In fact, it took years after that for me to work the Lujack edge out of my radio voice and develop my own individual on-air persona.   Lujack hung on for me, though, in other ways.  If you look carefully at the schoolroom sketch in our comedy variety TV series “Cavalcade,” you’ll spot one poster I hung on the wall – and it’s promoting Larry Lujack! 
While I never got to meet the guy, my archives contain both one lengthy 1972 Lujack WLS aircheck and a shorter 1976 one of him on WCFL.   I moved from the Midwest before Larry began his infamous Animals Stories bits, which were later collected and released on four LPs (three of which I have copies of).  I must admit, though, that I did not like most of the Animal Stories, which I felt were more cruel than funny, but did love all his other bits and the riveting way Lujack’s personality kept you tuned to the radio, hour after hour.  Larry made you feel in sync with the times and everyone else in his vast listening audience – two skills sadly missing from most all of radio today.   In his own curmudgeonly way, Larry Lujack enriched our lives in ways today’s personality-free time-and-temperature jocks can only dream of.  
Gary Theroux    

I just got home from work to find out that Uncle Lar, Larry Lujack, has passed away.  I had no idea he was sick or not well.  It was a total shock to me.  To me he IS LEGEND!  The greatest disc jockey EVER!!  Only Ron Riley comes close, IMO.  Lujack evolved thru his career and I will miss him greatly.  I was just listening to a 1966 aircheck from KJR a week ago on ReelRadio and it was SO cool to hear him there, when I never knew of him until 67 when he took over for Dex Card on WLS.  I loved Dex, but Lujack brought a whole new dimension to my listening.
You could criticize him or love him, he could care less.  Animal Stories, Cheap Trashy Show Biz Report, The Klunk Letter of the day, all of his "Major Address to the Nation" speaches.  He wore cowboy boots to work, he loved wildlife and the outdoors much more than humans usually. 
My current Chicago legendary fave DJ, Nick Digilio, can always be counted on for tributes to Chicago radio legends.  He did one for Jerry G Bishop the night he died and last night he put together one in tribute to Uncle Lar.  Two hours featuring visits from Steve King (former 1970 WLS mate of Supe) and Larry's newswoman in the 80's, Catherine Johns!  Two different eras of WLS Lujack radio to go with (IMO) the other three distinctive periods of Chicago Lujack mystical times.  The others, WCFL part 1 (1967), WLS 60's days and #3 WCFL part 2 (1970's).  You could always break them down into morning and afternoon drive times, too. Superjock evolved like no other. 
Nick's podcast of the tribute can be heard here:

Chicago news print legend, Robert Feder tells his version here:
My girlfriend doesn't even get mad or roll her eyes anymore when I come upstairs singing the "Rock of Chicago" jingle "Larry Lujack Superjock  (fanfare) WLS!".  She knows it just comes with the territory.  She knows the "Ba-da-la-did-didy-da" that I used to trumpet on my radio show in the 80's was stolen from all of Lujack's "Major Addresses to the Nation".  It was interesting to find Rush Limbaugh using it when I first heard his show back in the early 80's.  So many have been influenced by Lujack.  I pounded my hand on the board on my radio show, I wadded papers up and threw them over the air just like Larry.  SO many memories keep coming back. 
I sent in a tape of a local music friend to his show in the 80's.  It was a novelty song on cassette and a few days later in the middle of rush hour at 4:30 PM, here was Uncle lar playing it and joking about it!  He did SO many things.  He worked over those newspapers for his show, too.  He did a great job every day, even if he would say it was all crap.
He was THE GREATEST!  I will miss him.  He will ALWAYS be "SUPERJOCK!!!!"  RIP, Larry.
Clark Besch
There's a photograph in John Landecker's new book "Records Truly Is My Middle Name" that shows he and Larry in the studio lounge around 6:00 at night, just before John was scheduled to go on the air to do his show.  "Why was Larry Lujack still here at 6:00 at night after doing his show at 5:30 this morning?  Because he works very hard!"  And it showed.  His totally off-the-cuff, fly-by-the-seat-of-your-pants program was precisely planned to the finest detail ... yet it all sounded so real and uninspired.  He truly was nothing short of amazing.  I miss him.  (kk)
A couple of my "thoughts" on Lujack that I sent out to friends, or as Supe would put it "Clark Besch's Major Address to the NATION":
Remember early on at WLS?  Remember when he first was on WLS in 1967 and he tried using the handle of "Lawrence of Chicago"??  I guess he got to thinking better quickly! 
As an avid fan of Dex Card, I was flabbergasted and hurt when I found that Larry had replaced Dex Card on July 1, 1967.  After my interview with Gene Taylor, I understood why it happened, but at the time, I could not believe it!  It was the start of revolving doors between WLS and 'CFL of which you were also caught. 
The Silver Dollar Survey was this EPIC thing in my life.  Dex made it so "authentic and authoritative" (altho we know it was not so much) and when Lujack took over, it became the "Hit Parade" and he would say "it's number 8 on the survey" with NO fanfare whatsoever.  That irritated me, but Lujack just won me over so easily with his humor and special announcements and the interaction between him and listeners and engineers and such on the air!
Here s is what you might remember from June / July 1967 as the surveys guys traded stations!  Few will remember having taken place!  Dex doing the WCFL Capsule Countdown and WLS Silver Dollar Survey and Lujack suddenly doing the WLS Hit Parade all in one month!  Crazy times indeed.  Gene Taylor told me he did not care if station employees got mad about Lujack.  He gave Lujack free reign in many areas he would not allow others.

He gave me a tape of Lujack on the air the last day Gene worked at WLS.  I have not found it for over a decade, but it was one of his "special announcement" things where he basically complimented Gene on his taste of choosing him for WLS, but also belittled him for other things jokingly.  Gene played it for me and told me that Larry later handed him this reel (holding it up to show me) and said "Keep this for your next job interview.  It might help ... or maybe not." 
And who could forget the infamous Lujack battle with Steve Dahl following Thanksgiving Day, 1985. 
Goodbye to the WLS Golf Tour Commissioner.
The WLS Hit Parade was all John Rook's doing ... he still uses the moniker today as President of The Hit Parade Hall Of Fame.  Rook and Lujack were exceptionally tight ... their careers (and the success there of) were tied together through some very deep bonds.  I have yet to hear anything from John regarding Larry's passing ... nor do I see anything on his website about it.  My guess is he's still pretty upset.  They stayed in touch all these years later ... and when John was ready to launch Hit Parade Radio, the first guy he called to man the morning shift was Ol' Uncle Lar.  (It would have been great to hear Larry Lujack on a daily basis again ... but it just wasn't to be.)  They met up again a few years ago at the Radio Broadcasting Hall Of Fame Induction Ceremony where Lujack was enshrined.  I don't know how many people Larry Lujack was really close to ... from what I've heard, not a lot ... but he and John Rook had the utmost respect for one another ... and that relationship lasted close to fifty years.  (kk)

I'm sorry to hear of his passing. I always considered him to be the greatest, too. He made radio fun to listen to.
I first became aware of Uncle Lar when I was going to Brown Institute in Minneapolis for broadcasting. One of the guys in my class had a "Greatest Show On Earth" cassette and Lujack was one of the featured jocks. He was a legend back then because he was the first and only DJ at the time to make $1 million per year. He was always entertaining to listen to.  
He will be missed.
D Ludden

Some of you either worked with him or listened to him.  A legend.
Chris Astle  

Very sad.  Joey Reynolds and I were talking about Larry not long ago and I mentioned it was hard to believe I haven’t seen Larry in probably 25 years.  What a performer. 
-- Dale Parsons
Hana, Hawaii  96713

That really is sad news.  Larry was hired in 1967 to do the WLS East of Midnight show after Don Phillips left the big 89.  He eventually was taken off the all night gig when Dex Card gave up the WLS Silver Dollar Survey (the 2 - 6 p.m. shift). Larry's Klunk Letter of the Day was a major feature of his afternoon shifts starting in late 1969.
Super Jock Larry Lujak is one of those radio performers (like the late Bob Calvert of WGH) who truly were larger than life.
Alex B.   

I grew up with Larry and WLS and WCFL in the days of “Personality Radio”. Stopped by the station on the 6th floor in the old Stone Container building in Chicago and watched Larry on air many times. Always a great experience. Also met him at a sock hop at a local high school where the Cryan Shames were playing. I never forget that he had just left the concert after his MC duties when we got into the car and heard him on the air. That’s when I first realized that the jocks used to pre-record Sunday shows.  I also had the pleasant experience of having several of my “Klunk Letters” read on the air. He was also so kind as to write me a recommendation letter to my high school counselor recommending that I take some multi-media courses at the time to help me in my endeavor to become a jock (never happened but everyone’s dream!). I was shocked last night when I heard the news about the same time that you did. At least all of the major TV and radio shows in Chicago are giving him his proper due today with excellent stories and tributes! Quite frankly I lost a big part of my life when I heard the news last night -  there will never be a time again like we experienced with Larry.
I’ve also attached some surveys from both WLS & WCFL that featured Larry.
John Bilas

Lujack's "Klunk Letter Of The Day" usually came from a disgruntled listener, upset with something Larry had said the day before. (The segment typically closed with Lujack crumpling up the letter on the air and then throwing it into the trash can.)  But one letter held a very special place in the hearts of two legendary WLS jocks.
Early on, in the hopes of pursuing a broadcasting career, a very young, teenage Bob Sirott wrote a fan letter to his idol Larry Lujack.  For whatever reason, Larry saved it.  Many years later when the two jocks found themselves both working for WLS, Lujack would dig the letter out and read it on the air from time to time, reminding Bob of his undying adoration for Larry's work.  It was all done in fun ... and it's MY belief that Lujack did it out of respect for the GREAT radio that Bob Sirott was giving us at the time ... FUN radio, filled with personality ... the very foundation on which WLS was built.  Sadly, we haven't seen much of that these last couple of decades ... but there really was a time when we listened as much for the jock on the air as we did for the music.  (This is what programmers miss today ... let's face it ... you can find this music literally ANYWHERE now ... it's available at your fingertips for immediate disposal from virtually HUNDREDS of sources.  You need to give us a reason to listen to YOUR broadcasting of this same material over anyone else's.  That very simple, basic concept has been lost by the programming and consulting heads today.)  kk

Nice job, Kent, helping us remember Larry.
He was one of a kind.

Somewhere around 10 pm Wednesday night I started seeing announcements in various Facebook groups I belong to announcing that Uncle Lar' had passed away. Larry is not the first DJ of my youth to pass on, but for some reason his passing kinda hits home. As a student in broadcast school in 1971/2, I, as well as every other classmate, wanted to be Larry Lujack. Not Howard Miller, Jerry G. Bishop, Dick Biondi, Art Roberts, Wally Phillips, Ron Riley, Ron Britain, or anyone else. To me it was his sarcasm that I liked. In an industry full of butt kissers, it was apparent he didn't. I'd listen whenever my school / work schedule allowed me to. It didn't matter if it was the Klunk Letter Of The Day, Can This Marriage Be Saved, Cheap Trashy Show Biz Report and of course Animal Stories. Actually Larry was a visionary. Now they have an entire cable channel which is basically a Cheap Trashy Show Biz Report, not to mention multiple publications. Even after I got a job in radio, I listened to him on WCFL. Over the years, when I've seen other jocks interviewed, they would always say he was the best. Pretty much everything I've read today confirms it. Over the years I learned there can only be one Larry Lujack and given the state of radio today, with faceless satellite announcers, I don't know if we'll be hearing another jock who even comes close to that talent. Goodbye Lar'. It was fun.

Kent ...
Like so many other FORGOTTEN HITSTERS, I am very saddened to hear about holiday-season passing of Chicagoland "Super-Jock" LARRY LUJACK yesterday. 
Before getting involved in commercial and music production (gasp!) 40 years ago, I was a hard-core "radio freak" back in the 60's and early 70's and made endless airchecks of deejays in the L.A. area and send copies of them to other jocks I knew around the country. 
In the summer of '69, I made a trip to (my hometown of) Chicago and stayed with an uncle and aunt for about a week. I brought a Wollensak tape recorder with me so I could record airchecks while there. Of course I made it a point to record Larry. I brought the tapes back home to L.A., telescoped them and made copies for my disc-jockey friends there and other parts of the west, who really enjoyed receiving them. 
I met Larry at a N.A.B. convention in Las Vegas back in the mid-80's. We spoke for about fifteen minutes, talking mostly about our mutual radio pals. I told him about the airchecks I recorded fifteen years earlier, and he asked me for copies, which I sent him a week or two later. After getting and listening to the tapes, he called to thank me for sending them, telling me at the time that they were some of the best airchecks (of himself) he had ever heard! Even though I was 'long-gone" from radio by then, I thought it was SO cool to get a call from the Chicago Super-Jock ... and I remember that call to this very day.
He was a great ... and legendary ... disc-jockey, who really did set the bar early on for crazy morning radio shows. His passing is a big loss, to be sure. RIP Larry Lujack.
Check out this great three-part OFF THE RECORD interview of Larry by entertainment reporter ROBB WELLER that aired on WLS-TV in 1981. It's a fitting tribute to the Super-Jock. In the wake of his unfortunate passing, there's a particularly poignant minute and a half beginning at the 3:18 mark of Part One ... 

From our FH Buddy Larz over at Chicagoland Radio and Media:
One of the greatest radio personalities of all time, Larry Lujack passed away from cancer earlier today at the age of 73. The man nicknamed "Superjock" and "Uncle Lar" was best known for his years as the top-rated morning and afternoon DJ on WLS-AM and WCFL-AM.
Lujack, who was living in retirement in Santa Fe, New Mexico, had quietly been battling cancer of the esophagus for many months. Earlier this week, he entered hospice care, dying this evening.
He was born Larry Lee Blankenburg in rural Iowa. While in college, he took a job as an announcer for KCID-AM in Caldwell, Idaho, for kicks and extra cash. The rest, as the cliche goes, is history.
Not able to use Blankenburg as his professional name, he took the last name of Notre Dame quarterback Johnny Lujack to be his new radio name. From a small Idaho radio station, Lujack bounced around to many other markets across all parts of the country, before finally arriving in Chicago in 1967.
Lujack began his legendary Chicago career at WCFL-AM in April 1967, working nights. Four months later, WCFL-AM's chief rival, WLS-AM, stole Lujack away to be their afternoon host. His popularity grew rapidly and he eventually was promoted to mornings, where he became a local radio star.
It was on this morning shift that he began to do a radio bit that will be remembered for decades to come: "Animal Stories." The "Animal Stories" segment had Lujack reading funny small town news stories and farm reports that involved animals. He did this at first by himself, and then eventually along with fellow DJ Tommy Edwards, who would become sidekick "Lil' Snot Nose Tommy" to his gruff persona of "Uncle Lar'," at least for these segments.
Lujack was also known for his bits "Klunk Letter of the Day" and "Cheap Trashy Show Biz Report."
In July 1972, WCFL-AM was able to steal Lujack back from WLS-AM, placing him in afternoons. He stayed with the station through its end of being a Top 40 and for a while longer, playing "Beautiful Music." No longer happy at WCFL-AM, Lujack rejoined WLS-AM as soon as he was able to in September 1976. He also returned to his familiar morning role and once again became a radio superstar. For many years, his AM radio morning show was simulcast on WLS-FM. No longer enjoying the grueling morning hours, Lujack moved to afternoons in 1985. Between the tragic accidental death of one of his sons, a changing radio environment, and declining ratings, Lujack was no longer enjoying radio as he once was. He retired from WLS-AM and radio in general in August 1987.
He lived in Chicago for another ten years before deciding to move to a quiet ranch in New Mexico with his wife Jude (Judith). This was done to be far away from the noise of Chicagoland and allow him to golf all year long -- a passion of his.

He came out of retirement twice since leaving Chicago. Both times he did his shows remotely from a studio nearby his home in the southwest. The first time was for a short-lived radio show for WUBT-FM in 2000. That job lasted less than eight months. His second time was for WRLL-AM, starting in September 2003. He stayed with that Oldies station until its end in August 2006.
He had plenty of offers to work, but had no desire to do so. The last time he was heard on the air working as a DJ was in May 2008 when he appeared for the WLS-AM "Rewind" reunion weekend.
His years on the air did more than just entertain large amount of listeners. Larry Lujack went on to become one of the most influential radio hosts of all time, helping to inspire a great many people to get into the radio business.
Among the honors Lujack has received include his induction into Illinois Broadcasters Association's Hall of Fame in 2002, induction into the the National Radio Hall of Fame in 2004, and induction into the National Association of Broadcasters Hall of Fame in 2008.
In his 1975 autobiography "Superjock," Lujack ended the book by writing the following words, which showcased his unique, sarcastic sense of humor:
"And now ... get ready to cry. Don't be ashamed if your eyes moisten and you start to weep openly.
Years from now, when you speak of this (and your will), be kind. I hope each and every one of you lives happily ever after, and may all your Christmases be white. Take my overwhelming love and shove it up your heart. Bless your heart and all your other vital organs." 

You'll find some great Larry Lujack airchecks here: Click here: Larry Lujack, legendary Chicago disc jockey, Superjock, WLS, WCFL     

And be sure to check this out ...  

Hey Kent,
This Saturday (12/21) at, two full length air checks with Larry Lujack. Starts at noon ET. Gary.