1987: WLS colleagues reflect on Larry Lujack as he retires
BY ROBERT FEDER Sun-Times columnist December 18, 2013 11:54PM
Larry Lujack on Aug. 28, 1987, when he retired after 20 years in Chicago radio.
Updated: December 19, 2013 8:46AM
Originally published Aug. 27, 1987
Larry Lujack doesn’t want any long goodbyes when he retires tomorrow after 20 years in Chicago.
In fact, the self-styled “Superjock” of WLS-AM (890) would prefer no goodbyes at all.
“At Mr. Lujack’s request, there will be no official or unofficial ‘Farewell to Lar’ function this week,” Lujack , 47, wrote in a memo to fellow WLS staffers. “And I can assure you if such an event is held, Mr. Lujack will not be in attendance.
“Let’s get serious about this. It ain’t no big deal. So let’s skip all the `nice working with you,’ etc. crap on the final day. It’s awkward and stupid, so please don’t feel like you have come up and say something to me Friday. There ain’t nothin’ to say,” he wrote.
“In short, there is no need for any sappy goodbye routines, so there’s not going to be one.”
So in deference to Mr. Lujack , this is not a sappy goodbye column.
Instead, here are reflections on the legacy of Ol’ Uncle Lar from five colleagues, including his longtime “Animal Stories” sidekick (Tommy Edwards), his designated afternoon successor (John Landecker), his oldest radio rival (Bob Sirott) and two of his most unabashed admirers (Jonathon Brandmeier and Catherine Johns):
Tommy Edwards: “Larry taught quite a few people a lot of things. Mainly, he gave those of us who worked with him the insight to be ourselves on the radio. . . . One of the things they tried to do at WCFL back in the ’70s was to make every disc jockey sound like Larry and do Lujack-type things. But Larry taught me that if you just go on the air and be yourself, you don’t have to worry about putting on an act.
“When he left WLS and went over to ’CFL, he became the first mega-dollar star in Chicago radio — and that eventually enabled a lot of us to make some money in the business, too.”
John Landecker: “Indirectly, Larry influenced lots of people because he was the first to be cynical in a very positive format. Up until Larry, no one criticized anything on the air or expressed any kind of negativity. So he really opened up the cynical door that a lot of people have walked through since. Even those who would claim to hate him today probably owe him for that particular contribution.
“To succeed in radio these days, you have to have multidimensions. Twenty years ago, formats were so restrictive and attitudes were so different that it was easier to stand out than it is today.”
Bob Sirott: “It’s ironic that in recent years Lujack has followed the format to the letter, because he really made his mark breaking the format. To those of us who were thinking about radio in the late ’60s, all of a sudden, our heads were turned by this guy who said: ‘I’m not going to follow this format. If I have something to say, I’m just gonna stop and say it. And if I don’t feel good, I’m not gonna pretend to be happy. I’ll just say everything is stupid and I hate my job.’ He really was, in his own way, an original.
“The other great thing Larry did was talk about a lot of inside stuff — memos at the radio station, things you weren’t supposed to talk about — that people inside and outside of radio could identify with. He probably featured more sounds of paper rustling, chairs moving and sniffling than any other radio broadcaster in history. He did those long pauses that grabbed your attention. And though every word and every pause was calculated, he made it sound like it was all off the top of his head. He was the master of that. But behind the scenes, he really cared a great deal, and he was a perfectionist.”
Jonathon Brandmeier: “I’ve always said that Lujack was one guy I definitely listened to a lot. Anybody who grew up in the Midwest did. . . . The thing that set him apart for me was that he wasn’t always in a good mood, he wasn’t sweet, he didn’t like all the songs he played — and he said so. When he didn’t like his station’s contests, he said so. He just said what he felt, and I’d never heard anything like that before. You have to admit, he was absolutely unique.
“Larry once said one of the greatest lines I ever heard. When somebody asked him why he didn’t go after Sirott, the competition, more, he said: ‘The eagle does not hunt flies.’ That’s hilarious. I’m sure what he really meant by that was: `’Hey, just do your job, mind your own business and don’t bother anybody.’ ”
Catherine Johns: “When I came to WLS, I could read a newscast as well as anybody, but I had never been a ‘personality.’ Larry helped me develop the skill, timing and total lack of shame to just get on the radio and tell stories and mouth off and assume that people wanted to hear what I had to say. If I had been working with some young hotshot with a huge ego, I know I’d never have had the airtime to grow into that new role.
“I’ve never told him so — because he’s not the kind of guy you can say things to — but I’ll always be really grateful to him.”