Sunday, December 22, 2013

R.I.P., Larry Lujack.

I was going to do a "happy holidays" post this week, or maybe a year-in-review post. And then I heard Larry Lujack died.

Apologies to those of you who have never worked in radio and/or those of you who didn't grow up listening to Chicago top-40 radio in the 1960s and '70s. You have no idea who I'm talking about. But stick around anyway -- I promise it will be fun.

Lujack, a.k.a. Superjock, a.k.a. your charming and delightful ol' Uncle Lar, spent a large part of his career bouncing back and forth between two Chicago radio stations: WLS -- a 50,000-watt cookin' mother of a top-40 radio station, back in the day -- and WCFL. He was the afternoon disc jockey at top-rated WLS when he left for 'CFL the first time, and on his first show for 'CFL, he promised to "make this turkey fly!" Which he then proceeded to do -- 'CFL's ratings went through the roof during Lujack's tenure. WLS later lured him back with the promise of a morning drive-time slot (typically the most lucrative daypart for both the station and the jock).

It was there that Lujack created his "Animal Stories" feature with Tommy Edwards. Lujack wanted to spice up the daily farm reports (and rightfully so -- there are only so many days in a row that you can read barrow-and-gilt prices on the air without wanting to hurt something), so he began to add odd news stories about animals. Edwards' show followed Lujack's, so he would be in the studio getting ready for his show when Lujack did his bit, and he'd join in. Eventually it became a thing. Here's a sample:

The thing about Uncle Lar is that, unlike shock jocks like Howard Stern, he never went too far. The innuendo would be there, but it was never gross or graphic. He'd just start sniggering and let you fill in the blanks yourself.

Lujack could be controversial. I used to have an aircheck of him reading a poem called "But You Didn't" (this is the text, more or less) that led into Edwin Starr's recording of "War," but goodness knows where it got to. The poem is an ode to a soldier who died in Vietnam, and the whole thing was a powerful anti-war statement.

Lujack's brand of personality-driven radio is a far cry from what you hear now, with jocks reading nothing but pre-approved copy between songs, if they're allowed to say anything at all. He was best known for "Animal Stories," but he had other regular bits, too: his "Cheap, Trashy Show Biz Rumors" and his "Clunk Letter of the Day" (which started out as the "Crank Letter of the Day," but morphed when he got more dumb letters than crabby ones) were always entertaining, if not downright hilarious.

I can credit -- or blame -- Larry Lujack for one other thing: my career in radio. My brother was in broadcasting, so I knew it was possible for mere mortals to make a living at it (more or less). But Lujack always made it sound like fun. That, more than anything else, is what probably sold me on going into radio.

Lujack died of esophageal cancer last week at the age of 73. Rest in peace, Uncle Lar.

Superjock would be the first to understand the need to break for a commercial, and so I'm not going to apologize for including a plug in this post for the Pipe Woman Chronicles Omnibus. The Kindle Countdown is still underway, so there's still time to get the whole series at a special price. Don't wait 'til the last minute, though -- it's back to list price on Christmas Eve.

Happy Yule, merry Christmas, happy Kwanzaa, happy Festivus, and a very belated happy Hanukkah, everyone.


Unknown said...

He said more than "make this turkey fly " when he went from one to the other in '73-74. It's the more part I can't remember. It was an excellent example of his gift for expression. The idea was he would bury the old place and elevate the new station. Something like, maybe in the third person, like he's reading his own eulogy, "He ____________ed the _______ and made the turkey fly!"

Can anyone fill in those two blanks?

An old Sheboygan Wisconsin fan.I moved to San Francisco and told everybody about his 5:25 letter of the day, his " Groundhog's Day Address to the Nation" and more.

Lynne Cantwell said...

Thanks for the correction. I wish I'd had a tape rolling when he made his debut on 'CFL. Alas, I was still in high school and had never heard of an aircheck at the time back then...

Thanks for stopping by!