Thursday, December 19, 2013

Larry Lujack in the mourning

One of my radio idols broadcast 2,000 miles away from me. He was on the air every morning, but I rarely heard him. Live at least. But I would pester my friends to make tapes and whenever one would arrive in the mail I would cherish it like 14 karat gold.  I marveled at his genius.   I would then listen to the show over and over and over again. At the time there were thousands of disc jockeys, but none were more unique or funnier than Larry Lujack on the Big 89, WLS, Chicago.

Larry Lujack died yesterday. He was only 73.  I know all of Chicago and many in the Midwest are grieving today.  I sure am. 

What made Larry so special? At a time when thousands of disc jockeys all sounded the same, he had a very distinctive cadence and delivery. Jocks back then all tended to be very up and excited with smiles in their voices. They were Club Med social directors on speed.

But not Uncle Lar. He was caustic. He was sarcastic. And what struck me the most was he was honest. If he hated a record he told you. If he thought a certain station promotion was bullshit he told you. This was in stark contrast to all the other deejays who cheerfully drank the Kool-Aid, toted the company line, and even pretended to like “The Night Chicago Died.”

Another thing: Jocks talked fast on those Top 40 days, often like machine guns.  (Think Scorsese but double it.)   Larry Lujack talked slow. He would take pauses (unheard of in radio where the First Commandment is no dead air). He would command your attention.

A lot of the schtick that Howard Stern was doing in 1987, Larry Lujack was doing in 1967. David Letterman grew up in Indiana listening to Lujack and you can clearly hear Uncle Lar’s influence on Letterman’s persona.

Some of his regular features were “Animal Stories,” the “Clunk Letter of the Day,” and “Cheap, Trashy Showbiz Reports. ”  He wrote and performed all of his bits by himself.  

I’m always telling my USC students that great comedy comes from creating great characters. You don’t have to write “jokes” to be funny. You just need a funny attitude. Larry Lujack portrayed this larger-than-life image (he called himself “superjock”) all tongue-in-cheek and got laughs just from his sarcastic tone. He didn’t have to tell “jokes;” he just said all the things you wish you could say.” Ironically, I think his act would be even more popular today. He was doing “irony” long before Letterman, Stewart, Colbert, Conan, and every on-air host on E!

In 1975 he wrote a terrific autobiography called Superjock: The loud, frantic, nonstop world of a rock radio DJ. For a very public figure you learn his favorite job was working as a forest ranger one summer and spending weeks at a time alone in an observation tower. Off the air he was very low key and private. He used to say he didn’t like talking to people, but he was sure nice to me the one time I met him at the WLS studios in 1971. At one point I asked: “What advice would you give a young person wanting to become a disc jockey?” and he said, “You can’t be both.”

I always envied the folks in Chicago who had Uncle Lar in their lives every day. I just had the tapes. But they were a master class in comedy. There have been a lot of celebrity passings this week but none has hit me as hard at Larry Lujack’s. This truly is the night Chicago died.

R.I.P. Superjock

Here's a sample of Larry Lujack.  Not the best but it's what YouTube had.  

39 comments:

Fred said...

Love being on the east coast and getting to be first. I studied Lujack too. Thanks for the memories

Scooter Schechtman said...

I didn't listen to him when he was Superjock on "SUper CFL" but I sure remember him on WLS. Loved "Animal Stories" with Snotnose Little Tommy.

willieb said...

As a jock, I always wanted to be Uncle Lar -- even more so when I found out how much he was being paid.
I worked at a radio station in Topeka, Kansas where Tommy Edwards at worked prior to going to WLS. People would tell me, "Snot-nosed Little Tommy on the Lujack show used to work here."

Chuck said...

RIP Uncle Lar...after reading this I went and listened to his "Major Address to the Nation" when Super-CFL switched to Elevator Music, and he told the listeners that he was now endorsing KHJ for their Rock-and-Roll listening. Classic stuff...

DJ said...

Edwards was more than just "Snot Nosed Li'l Tommy" (Animal Stories began as a sort of transition bit between Lar's morning drive show and Edwards's mid-day show). He's the PA announcer for the Chicago Bulls and was responsible for using the Alan Parsons Project's "Sirius" as part of the pre-game introductions.

Tom said...

Never heard of him.

Jim said...

I listened to Lujack in the 80s when he did afternoons on WLS. AM radio, Ford Pinto, South Bend, Indiana. He was good company.

Brian Phillips said...

For a small fee, http://reelradio.com has a LOT of Larry Lujack on their site.

They even feature some fellow by the pseudonym (I hope) of "Beaver Cleaver".

Now who would pick a screwy name like that? There's a Friday question for you...

DwWashburn said...

Wow! I am not only stunned by this announcement but also about the fact that Larry was only 12 years older than me.

I grew up in rural western Tennessee where WLS at night was a ritual for all teenagers. Larry Lujack, Ron Riley, Clark Weber, Art Roberts, Dick Biondi -- these were the disc jockeys that took us through the British Invasion, the Monkees invasion and the psychedelic era. So sad to hear of Larry's passing.

michael said...

Thanks for the Blog memory. Nice to learn how others in another part of the country thought about him. I grew up in the midwest listening to him all the time as he boomed out across the frozen corn fields. I always thought everything everyone wanted to know about SUPE was in that word "SUPERJOCK". Just reflect on that word and you'll see the sarcasim, wit, humor, and self assurance of the man. While you noted Letterman listened to SUPE, so did Limbaugh. You can tell by the way they exude that self confidence. Yea, he lead the pack before the pack even got it together ... R.I.P. SUPE. You will be missed.

gman said...

You nailed it...Larry was an original. The first jock to sound like the guy down the block. I was in college when he began a run at KJR Seattle before leaving for Boston and Chicago. I would listen to him every night. I was lucky enough to meet him and spend some time with him at WLS in the late sixties. I thought his book really captured what it was like to be a top forty jock.

Jack Leyhane said...

Lujack's passing was the top story on the 10:00 news last night, at least on the channel I was watching. By that time I'd already seen Robert Feder's post on Facebook. Every person of a certain age in (or from) Chicago is saddened this morning.

I didn't expect you'd have a post on this -- it was a treat to read your take on it. Thank you.

Sonny Clark said...

The reason why I do radio today is because of Larry Lujack! Animal Stories - I could listen over and over, and laugh every time. Truly a marvel at what he did, and influenced so many. Me included. Truly a sad sad day.

Sonny Clark said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Mike said...

Here are some Animal Stories for you. There's plenty out there.

Scooter Schechtman said...

Thanks for the link Mike. They were great but didn't include the one I remember, where Tommy actually guessed the correct answer to "What is anteaters' favorite food?" "Termites". Lujack's volcanic chagrin was pricless.

Nixon said...

I've worked in radio for many years and never lived within range of WLS. So I never got to hear him but I certainly did hear of him. And I read his book. To this day I still privately snicker at the announcers who, as he observed, come walking in looking all important with their expensive briefcases...lay the case down, open it (flick-flick) and reveal the contents...headphones, a hairbrush, an orange and a Bic pen. These days it might be a backpack but the contents remain the same.

Anonymous said...

My name is Marty. I know it's trite to say this, but being a lifelong Chicago and it said when someone who touched all of our lives dies. We mourn for Larry Lujack yes but in the stronger sense we mourn for ourselves. A piece of us dies also. This is a sad day. Larry Lujack left a huge impact on my life.

Anonymous said...

Didn't he also do All-Star Jello Heads???

Courtney said...

Winter was the best, because local power change didn't take place until well after Uncle Lar was on the air, and we could actually hear for awhile what four-star morning radio in the majors sounded like.

For those of us working in radio down in the secondary markets of Alabama, WLS was like the shining city on the hill—custom jingles! No trade-out spots! An engineer to run the board for you!

A couple more names to add to the mix: Fred Winston and Jon "Records" Landecker. Mighty, mighty men from a long-lost age.

Anonymous said...

Johnny Carson said something to the effect that if you can fake sincerity you have it made.
Larry Lujack did the exact opposite- he proved you can make it if you fake insincerity - he was the most honest jock on the radio.
A true radio genius

Cliff said...

Larry was one of many truly special DJ's at KJR in Seattle during the 60's. He and the others (Pat O'Day) Lan Roberts, made that station pretty special during the hey day of great rock. It was the only place many radios were tuned to.
I'm happy for his later success, but Seattle had him first!

jb said...

I got the word of Lujack's death in the studio at my radio station this morning, about 45 minutes before going on the air. I am glad I didn't need to speak at that moment, because I couldn't have. He's why I wanted to get into radio in the first place. Without him, I---and thousands of radio people like me---would be somebody else entirely.

Darlene Koldenhoven said...

Ditto on everything you said about Larry Lujack, Ken. I grew up in Chicago and loved listening to him. He was the best!

benson said...

Like so many, he was why I got into radio. Listening to a live stream right now, its so basic, yet it's brilliant. Early on, the clunk letter of the day, the cheap trashy showbiz news, then later Animal Stories. Sometimes just the way he read something, emphasizing one word. I read somewhere today he was the Paul Harvey of top 40. Can't argue that.

Are the listeners gonna be alright, Uncle Lar? Yes, they are, little snot nosed Tommy. But a small part of them died, too.

LSNT said...

When a sophomore at Pullman HS, I listened to Larry Lujack on a Moscow, ID station. Don't remember much about him in those days. Moved back home to Seattle the following year and what do ya know, Larry Lujack turns up at KJR Seattle, Channel 95! What were the odds? I was being stalked by a relatively unknown DJ! Many years later, after a series of poor career choices, I wind up in Chicagoland with you know who - by then, he's Uncle Lar. And what a treat it was. He and little snot nosed Tommy entertained me for hours/days/weeks/months/eternally! Uncle Lar was Chicago radio. That voice I started hearing in my head way back in high school is still with me. It's a good voice, it does no harm! RIP Uncle Lar!

Dan said...

I used to listen to Larry before school each morning back in the 70s, and in the summer we would be able to hear Animial Stories just before the shift change at 10:00.

Shiny new dime, anyone?

thevidiot said...

Much of Rush Limbaugh's shtick is directly stolen from the SuperJock too: the "Badalupdadalupdadalup" and "Talent on loan from God" for example.

Lar was the final voice on "Sooper CFL" before it went Beautiful Music & his suggestion to get into the bathtub & listen to the hour of surf sounds that they played to accomplish the transition was genius! He also pointed out that he "wasn't going anywhere" and that from now on he would be playing "the sweetest music this side of heaven" (with the appropriate amount of sarcasm.).

RIP SuperJock! You are missed!

Jeff Michaels said...

You got it Beav...Larry Lujack was simply the best. He immediately inspired me to get into radio, he encouraged me to be myself on the air. When you listened to the Superjock, you listened to every word he said. Uncle Lar grabbed your ears!!! May his spirit live on, if your an up and comer in radio, find an air-check and study Lujack, study him hard, feel the vibe, and flick on your mic. Make Larry proud!!!

Mike Doran said...

Back in the '70s, Larry Lujack did the "No Smoking, Talking, Making Loud Noises, etc." announcement for the Plitt theater chain (as it was then known; it's been merged a couple of times since).
Lujack filmed the first spot at the Water Tower plex - which, as it happens, is where I first saw it.
The spot was straightforward: Uncle Lar' told us all that we obviously weren't the sort of people who would behave badly during a movie.
As he took his tub of popcorn into the auditorium, Lujack spake:
(this is an approximation)
"So let's all hush our faces, sit back, relax - no smoking of course - and enjoy this socially significant movie.
(goes into the aud, but then quickly sticks his head back out)
But don't forget, I'll be standing in the back, and if you don't behave, I may be forced to harm your body - but if you're good I might give you a shiny new dime if you can find me, so Shhhh ..."
Uncle Lar' made a few more of these spots for Plitt - a couple with Tommy Edwards, and ultimately a super-spectacular with most of WLS's other incumbent jocks - Fred Winston, Steve Dahl, and Turi Ryder.
Those were the days, my friend ...

Barefoot Billy Aloha said...

The way I heard the line:

"My son wants to be a disc jockey when he grows up. What do I tell him?"

"You can't do both."

Larry was super. Made my three years in Chicago happier.

Sardonic wit and Chicago winters go well together...

STJr said...

It was 1975 and I was on the Dan Ryan expressway on my way to work. Morning rush hour was a nightmare as usual. I had WLS playing on the radio with "the Charming and Delightful ol Uncle Lar" and he said "Jocks may come and Jocks may go, but the old SuperJock just keeps on comin." I laughed so hard I almost caused a 10 car pile-up! That was Larry Lujack. May God Bless your soul SuperJock.

Dan Wolfe said...

Read his book when I was a young disk jockey at WKST in New Castle, PA. Great read and a great jock. Sad to hear he's no longer among us. Condolences to his family and to real radio listeners everywhere.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for the blog and the comments, what a trip down memory lane. I grew up 60 miles due west of downtown Chicago in the heyday of the Big 89. I never imagined a world without Larry Lujack. Not only was he endlessly fascinating to listen to but ultra-cool and controversial for his time. I vividly recall a rather lascivious but mild-by-todays-standards comment he made about a Raquel Welch poster and the cut of her bikini. It was an uh-oh moment. I was just a kid, but knew instantly that he was in deep trouble. Sure enough, WLS promptly fired him. Heartbroken I surfed the old radio dial endlessly when out of the blue Lujack turned up on the WLS-wannabe, superCFL. In no time, he was back in the saddle at WLS and so it began. Everyone was hooked. What Larry would say next? Would he behave himself? Would he mouth off and get fired again? I recall one jock making the comment “Lujack has worked at more stations than the Texaco man!” I will never forget flipping past (the no longer) superCFL to hear Larry announcing "The World's Most Beautiful Music" in the most sardonic, thick with nausea voice he could muster. I dropped to the kitchen linoleum in hysterics, laughing and weeping. Larry Lujack had that kind of effect on us. God love him, he is greatly missed here on earth.

Famous! said...

As I've often said, if you were L.A. (well, apparently, not YOU, Ken), you were Morgan and Steele; if you were New York, you were Ingram; and if you were Midwest, you were Lujack.

How appropriate, then, that Big Dan (Ingram!) shows up, "laughing and scratching", doing a VO for a women's deodorant at 2:38 in this Lujack aircheck!

Anonymous said...

from Connie~
A jock's jock. You had great style - one of the all-time greats in the history of radio. RIP - you'll be sorely missed, just as much as the good old days when radio was dominant.

RJ Makemyday said...

I am a long-time radio broadcaster (30 years) who is still in the business. I am also into astrology. Larry was born June 6th, 1940, time unknown, Quesqueton, IA. Larry's natal chart shows new Moon (Sun and Moon) in Gemini, Mercury, Venus and Mars in Cancer. His natal chart typifies the bucket chart, like former President John F. Kennedy. He was a true humanitarian, here to serve mankind, somehow ? Venus conjunct Mars showed great personal popularity and sex appeal and is also an aspect of great financial drawing power. He was also a very spiritual person (Sun and Moon square Neptune) and not drawn to the big city life. He worked in the big city, because of the money, but actually lived most of his adult life in rural America.
His oriental planet (planet of work and occupation) was Uranus (the ruler of broadcasting). This meant that radio was his true calling and truly meant for him.

I think that he likely had Scorpio rising. During the day of his death, transiting Pluto (chart ruler) was opposite his natal Venus and Mars, while Saturn (death?) was inconjunct Sun in Gemini (the life force).

Inconjunctions typically indicate sudden, overwhelming events of an unavoidable nature, and poor health is usually a factor. His lifelong addition to cigarettes (Sun square Neptune, the planet of drugs and nicotine) was likely a contributing factor to his death at a fairly young age (esophogal cancer).

Blessings to you, Mr. Lujack, I was a big fan.

R.J. Smith

Anonymous said...

I know I'm late to this party - Larry Lujack was FANTASTIC. I grew up in the Chicago suburbs, and vividly remember listening to him. Particularly his "Weird Animal Stories." And that VOICE. Cool, real, and unique. Larry Lujack was a legend and an icon.

Anonymous said...

Uncle Lar read my letter on Clunk Letter of the Day in 1977. It was one of the highlights of my adolescence.