Before voicetracking and corporate takeovers ruined the radio industry, there was quite a lot of personality in the medium. And from the late-1960’s to the mid-1980’s, one jock used his dry wit and sarcastic humor to win over a generation of Chicagoans… the one, the only “Superjock”… Larry Lujack.
On Wednesday, Lujack died at a hospice near his home in Santa Fe, New Mexico at the age of 73, after a private, yearlong battle with esophageal cancer.
Born in Iowa and raised in Idaho, Lujack held numerous jobs before settling in radio. In 1967, Lujack arrived at WCFL-AM as a late-night discjockey, before moving to then-Top 40 rival WLS-AM only a few months later. Lujack returned to WCFL in 1972, where he held sway for four years. Lujack continued at WCFL even after the station flipped to beautiful music in March 1976 to finish out his contract. He returned to WLS in September 1976 in morning drive, where he remained for nearly ten years.
While Lujack provided an alternative for younger listeners not interested in Wally Phillips, increasing competition from Don Geronimo at upstart Top 40 rival WBBM-FM and Jonathan Brandmeier at AOR rock WLUP-FM eroded Lujack’s young adult audience in the mid-1980’s. After an ill-fated move to afternoon drive in January 1986, Lujack retired from the station on August 28, 1987, after WLS bought out the reminder of his 12-year, $6 million a year contract – as Lujack was entering his fourth year into his deal and became a financial drain on owner Capital Cities/ABC, whose merger in 1985 ushered in the Wall Street corporate-controlled era in the media business.
Lujack had two brief comeback attempts: in 1998 for WUBT-FM (now WKSC) and from 2003-06 for WRLL-AM (now WVON.) Lujack moved from his longtime Palatine home in 1998 to New Mexico, where he did his two comeback attempts.
One thing that set Lujack apart from other radio personalities of the era was his ability to “keep it real” – way before the phrase was coined in pop culture lore. If he didn’t like a certain record (and there were many), he told you about it. His gruff demeanor – and his honesty – inspired many in radio – and even TV (his November 28, 1985 on-air confrontation with Steve Dahl and Garry Meier was the stuff made of legends.)
His show segments were original for the time – notably “The Klunk Letter Of The Day” and “The Cheap Trashy Showbiz Report”. But the most notable and popular was a daily roundup of oddball animal stories simply called “Animal Stories”, which paired Ol’ Uncle Lar with sidekick Lil’ Tommy, a.k.a. Tommy Edwards, who today is a personality on K-Hits (WJMK-FM). The “Animal Stories” segments were so popular, they were later released on CDs.
Well after his retirement, Lujack was inducted to any Radio Hall Of Fame you can think of. He won a bunch of awards, too. But he didn’t care about accolades. What he did care about were the plight of others. Indeed, he kept his illness private because he felt others who were less fortunate than he deserved more attention. Lujack did not want anyone feeling sorry for him.
While he felt awkward receiving congrats and well-wishes from fans and colleagues alike, deep down, you knew he appreciated it – though to him, it wasn’t really important to show emotion. And that what made him what he was.
During the final segment of his WCFL show before the flip from Top 40 to elevator music, Lujack – in his witty, sarcastic tone – invited listeners to stick around for the new format, telling them to relax the only way he knew how: “Get your clothes off and get into the tub!”
I bet that’s exactly what he’s doing in heaven right now.
Here’s Larry Lujack in a 1981 commercial with comedian Rodney Dangerfield (courtesy of FuzzyMemories.TV):