Thursday, December 19, 2013

We All Wanted To Be Larry Lujack

It wasn’t Larry Lujack’s voice, although he had a great one for radio and he knew how to use it. I always thought the best voice on Chicago rock radio was Joel Sebastian. And, as far as voices go, Oklahoma-born John Doremus, who was on WMAQ in Chicago at the same time guys like Lujack, Sebastian, Bob Sirott, Gary Gears, Bill Bailey, and Steve Lundy were on WLS or WCFL, probably made more money with his voice than any of those famous rock-jocks.

It was what Larry Lujack did (said) on the radio that made me, and thousands of other guys like me, want to be like Larry.  Which is exactly what he counseled against, always telling the people he trained “be yourself”.

We wanted to have a sidekick like Little Snotnose Tommy (Edwards). We wanted to do Animal Stories. We wanted to read the Crank Letter of the Day (which later became the Clunk Letter of the Day) on a radio show like Uncle Lar did; we wanted to do Cheap Trashy Show-Biz News.  We loved that he would break format and just do whatever the hell he wanted to do. We wanted to work at a station so big that we had our own engineer, just like Spacey Dave engineered Larry’s show.

In college in the late 60’s, all the Radio-TV students had their own tape recorders (long before little portable tape recorders were available) and we made aircheck tapes of the big-time Chicago jocks. We studied the way Larry was so unlike the other talk-a-mile-a-minute rock jocks and how he used the dramatic pause – in an era where any unmodulated carrier (“dead air”) was considered a mortal sin. We listened to how the engineers processed his voice – how much reverb was added, what kind of equalization might be in the audio chain – we talked in class, in hallways, and over beers, about those big-time Chicago rock jocks.

But Larry was the king, the icon, the center of the young radio student’s universe.

I still have WLS and WCFL airchecks from those days.  You can still hear Lujack and all the legendary Chicago rock-jocks on YouTube and blogs and tribute sites all over the internet. My favorite tape from that era  is “Larry Lujack’s Farewell To Rock and Roll”, when WCFL changed format from Top 40 to beautiful music, and, as Uncle Lar said, “I’m needed here. I’m not going anywhere.” (Until a few days later when his contract with WCFL was bought out and he was back across town rockin’ away.)

I met Larry for the first time at some radio confab in Chicago, where he was one of the panelists on some discussion of where radio was headed. A few years later I went to a book-signing event in Chicago when Larry’s book “SuperJock” came out, bought a copy for me (which I still have, and stupidly never had him autograph) and a copy for my parents, which I did have him inscribe. He wrote “Your son is in a worthless dead-end occupation. With regret, Larry Lujack”.  Classic cynical Lujack! I hope mom still has that book somewhere.

When I opened Facebook this morning and saw so many of my broadcasting friends with links to stories of Larry’s passing (at age 73, of esophageal cancer), I paused a long moment and thought back to those days when so many of my friends and I were just beginning our radio careers, and how much time we spent talking about whatever Lujack did on the air that day.

What a wonderful time in my life – with great memories.  Rest in peace, Uncle Lar.

(Editor’s note: many people know my on-air persona as that of a news anchor. My first decade or so in radio was as a DJ (“air personality” as we called ourselves back then), and while Larry Lujack was always an inspiration, I owe my real mentors, the late Dr. Robert Snyder and my good friend Jerry Burke for really showing me the way. Jerry went from being a premiere DJ in the Fox Valley to a distinguished career as a TV news anchor and reporter. I could not have had a better path to follow than Jerry’s when I transitioned to news broadcasting.)


  1. When Uncle Lar began audibly rustling papers on mic...we all did. He had an amazingly profound impact on what radio became in the glory years (before the consultants fucked it up).

  2. My thoughts exactly, and I've got the timestamp on a post at my own blog to prove it. :-)> All of us who wanted to be Lujack are feeling his loss today, even as he's be telling us to suck it up and get back to work.

  3. Great memories of those guys from the heyday of AM rock radio. John Landecker was another one on WLS.

  4. I remember growing up in Rockford and we could get the signal as if Uncle Lar was sitting right next to us. No idea how they did it, but WLS AM's signal was huge. I will always remember Animal Stories fondly.

  5. Also, you may enjoy this: