Thursday, December 19, 2013

Larry Lujack 1940 - 2013

I first got the news a few minutes before ten o'clock last night ... we had lost a radio legend ... Superjock Larry Lujack had died.
Lujack revolutionized radio ... his impact could be heard over the next few decades as jocks became more out-spoken ... his dry wit and deep, baritone delivery delighted millions of listeners here in Chicago for decades as he bounced back and forth between WCFL and WLS, the two AM Top 40 Powerhouse Radio Stations in town.  The station that had Lujack on board held the edge every time.
He first landed in Chicago (by way of Idaho) as the overnight jock at WCFL in April of 1967.  He was known as the crazy new guy who liked to broadcast his show with all the lights turned off in the studio.  He was somewhat manic ... and listeners wondered if he was a lunatic or a genius.  (Turns out he was probably a little of both!)
WLS felt Lujack's talents were being wasted during the hours when virtually nobody was listening ... and lured him over to The Big 89 just four months later.  He was first installed as the afternoon drive jock before moving to mornings.  He was an immediate hit.  He would often take on both management and the listeners on the air, developing regular features like the "Klunk Letter Of The Day" and "The Cheap Trashy Show-Biz Report" and the IMMENSLEY popular "Animal Stories".
Lujack wrote (by his own admission) a God-Awful book called "Superjock", the name given to him by the media as he became the highest paid disc jockey in America.  (There was a lot of fuss at the time that "some disc jockey in Chicago" was making more money than The President Of The United States ... and Lujack would often shut down a listener who perhaps disagreed with him by offering to compare W2 forms at the end of the year.)  He even released a God-Awful single called "The Diary Of A Mad Streaker", which went absolutely nowhere ... and deservedly so.  His "Addresses To The Nation" were both hysterical and on point ... he was the consummate radio entertainer.
Yes, he played the hits ... he even did WCFL's Top 40 Countdown Show when he returned to the station in 1972 ... but he didn't really have much affection for the current hits of the day ... especially having to play them in such heavy, repeat rotation ... and often said so on the air.  When he was OFF the air, he preferred country music ... or the early '50's rock and roll which he was bred on ... the launch of Real Oldies really was the perfect fit for Lujack's M.O. ... and Ron Smith tells us that Larry would often call him at night, telling him that "you've got to add THIS record" to the computer the next day ... which he would then sometimes play two or three times in a row!
The Animal Stories teaming with Tommy Edwards happened by pure accident ... Edwards followed Lujack's morning show at WLS and would often come on the air ten minutes early to talk with Larry.  Soon the bit was moved to that time of the day so that Ol' Uncle Lar could share real stories about real animals incidents with his brand new sidekick, Little Snot-Nosed Tommy.  (Sometimes he even rewarded Tommy with "a shiny new dime" on the air if he got an animal trivia question correct!  Boy, whatta guy!!!)  The show became one of the most popular features on radio, spawning four albums worth of material that sold briskly ... the fans LOVED it.  (You can still pick up some of these volumes on CD!)  It became the perfect definition of "Appointment Radio" ... you didn't dare miss it ... and rearranged whatever you were doing that morning to make sure the radio was near by.
The ratings battles between WLS and WCFL in the late '60's and early '70's were legendary ... both stations were vying for the teen-age audience and radio was never more fun than flipping between the two stations to see what each one would come up with next.  But in 1976, WCFL threw in the towel ... and flipped to a format offering "The World's Most Beautiful Music".  Incredibly, because of contractual obligations (and the MASSIVE amount of money he was making at the time), Lujack stayed on.  (Quite honestly, the fans felt somewhat betrayed ... there was NO way we were EVER going to listen to this station ... and most of us felt that Larry should have bolted on principle alone.  A few months later, WLS stepped in, helped settle up the tab, and brought him back home.)
DIDAJAKNOW?:  For 50 years it's been talked about that the very first rock and roll record WLS ever played was "Alley Oop" by The Hollywood Argyles.  But does anybody out there know or remember the very LAST rock and roll record played by WCFL?  Incredibly, on March 15th, 1976, after Lujack signed off at 5:00 pm, the station played "ocean sounds" for two hours ... before the start of their brand new "beautiful music" programming.  You can hear Lujack's last ten minutes on the air that day ... and WCFL's last rock and roll song ... right here:  Click here: ? Larry Lujack - Last Show on WCFL 3/15/76 - YouTube
It wasn't always fun time with Uncle Lar ... when he son died, Lujack went into a major funk (and understandably so) ... it had to be hard ... if not impossible ... to come on the air and try to entertain others when you were feeling such deep pain yourself.
And then there was the infamous Steve and Garry incident ... one of radio's most embarrassing moments ... that prompted Steve Dahl and Garry Meier to actually walk off the air, leaving Lujack to man the microphone until their shift was over ... some twelve hours after he had already broadcast his own regularly scheduled morning show.  Suffice to say it was not pretty ... and, by then, the fun was pretty well gone.  He retired from radio in 1987.  (Rumors persist that WLS continued to pay Lujack for five years after leaving the station as part of a "guarantee" that he wouldn't sign on with a competing radio station in town!)
In later years he tried an ill-fated comeback with "The Beat", kind of a "smooth soul" station that didn't last very long here in Chicago ... before landing on Real Oldies 1690, where he shared the morning spot with his old Animal Stories sidekick Tommy Edwards.  (While Edwards broadcast live from the Chicagoland studios, Lujack's contributions were phoned in from New Mexico ... that was his one stipulation about returning to radio ... he didn't want to have to leave home.)  The pair were an immediate hit ... and probably the most entertaining act on morning radio was back on the airwaves once again ... but the incredibly weak signal made it almost impossible to listen to.  (I didn't care ... I still laughed harder between the static than I did at anything else that was on the air at the time!)  Even though they were a thousand miles apart, the pair fed off each other and the humor was as sharp as ever.  There was no denying the incredible chemistry between these two.  When the decision was made to close the station, the loss felt was immediate.  (Larry, we never realized how much we missed ya!!!)
Had it ever officially gotten off the ground, Lujack would have been the main focal point of John Rook's Hit Parade Internet Radio Station ... but sadly those plans were abandoned before the station ever really launched.  (Rook tells us that Lujack missed radio ... he just wanted to do it on his own terms.)  A few years ago, John inducted his long-time friend into The Radio Hall Of Fame ... Lujack, as usual, poked fun of the whole concept.
We miss you, Uncle Lar ... you were one of the best.  You'll find all kinds of articles and accolades on the web today as the world catches up with the news.  Feel free to share YOUR memories here with us in Forgotten Hits.  We'll run some of them tomorrow.