Larry Lujack’s colleagues, rivals share stories about ‘Superjock’
BY KIM JANSSEN Staff Reporter December 19, 2013 7:34PM
Radio hosts Tommy Edwards and Larry Lujack.
Updated: January 21, 2014 11:18AM
A generation of Chicagoans woke up to “Superjock” Larry Lujack, the sardonic and plain-spoken radio innovator they fondly remember as “Uncle Lar.”
It’s more than 25 years since Lujack, who died Wednesday at 73, retired from his stellar 20-year career at WLS-FM (890) and the former WCFL.
Less profane than Howard Stern, more likable than Rush Limbaugh, the lovably cranky Lujack was his own man.
But the antics of today’s big-bucks shock jocks would have been inconceivable before Lujack tore up the radio rule book in the 1970s with pioneering, down-to-earth bits like his regular “Animal Stories” and “Cheap, Trashy, Showbiz Reports,” former colleagues and rivals say.
Here they remember him in their own words.
John Gehron, of Accuradio, Lujack’s program director and later general manager at WLS: “Before Larry, radio was very different — most disc jockeys were smiling and happy all the time. Larry was just the opposite — grumpy and sarcastic.
“Some radio stations didn’t like what he did, but listeners loved hearing someone with a real viewpoint, someone who said, ‘Everything is not fine, but we’ll have a laugh anyway.’
“Being on that big 50,000 watt signal at WLS meant that he could be heard across half the United States — his style influenced a lot of people, but he always knew where the line was. He had a very warm heart.”
Steve Hayes, of WNXT, Ohio, met Lujack as an 18-year-old in the 1970s: “He was like the eccentric uncle that said what everyone wanted to say, but was afraid to.
“When he walked into Soldier Field, the crowd parted in front of him like Moses and the Red Sea.
“He sat in the cheap seats and everyone wanted to talk to him — they related to him because he was one of them.
“He told me ‘You can’t get away from your roots because those are the people you’re talking to.’ ”
Les Grobstein, sports broadcaster on Lujack’s WLS show, was in the studio with Steve Dahl and Garry Meier in 1985 when a furious Lujack offered to fight Dahl live on air: “Steve had been ripping Larry for weeks, and Larry got tired of it.
“He marched in and said, ‘I’m here to promote my new game — Who’s afraid of the big fat pig Steve Dahl?’
“I was sitting right between them. Luckily both of them were too smart to throw the first punch.
“Steve, Gary and their producer walked out, so Larry sat down at the console, said ‘I guess we’re here until 7 o’clock’ and took over their show.
“The police showed up and I told them nobody was hurt. People still ask me if it was a ‘bit,’ but it was real.”
Tommy Edwards, Lujack’s longtime on-air partner at WLS and later WRLL-AM (1690): “He didn’t have much respect for Rush Limbaugh, but he did for Howard Stern, and, believe it or not, for Steve Dahl.
“They took what he’d started and pushed it further, and he said, ‘More power to them.’
“When you had a big radio station back then, you had to do agricultural programming — that’s where he got the idea for the ‘Animal Stories.’ There were so many, but a favorite was one about a tough biker waiting at a railroad crossing in front of a horse and buggy when the horse drooled on him . . . the way he painted the picture made me laugh, and the listeners would hear me laugh and they’d crack up, too.
“People in Chicago wake up in the morning and they’re not in the best of moods: he sounded like he understood that, and people identified with him.
Bob Sirott, WGN, competed with and later worked alongside Lujack: “Before Larry, you didn’t hear rock DJs admit they were having a bad day, or that didn’t like certain records, or that the station bosses were making mistakes.
“There were similarities between his gruff demeanor on his show and how he was off air, but in reality he was only a rebel on the air. He was very conscientious, and he’d stay for five or six hours after he finished broadcasting, working on his next show. He was like the Garbo of rock radio — there was just something charismatic and different about his voice.”
Dennis Lyle, president of the Illinois Broadcast Association: “Larry told it like it was — he didn’t have a lot of time for pomp and circumstance, and he mastered the art of sarcasm. It was so refreshing. He had that gift where you felt he was talking just to you, personally. He was a great communicator.
Fred Winston, a longtime friend and colleague of Lujack’s at WLS: “Larry was one of the most talented, gifted performers in the history of the business.
“Someone asked him once, ‘Why do you wear Levis and inexpensive flannel shirts from Sears?’
“He told them, ‘Well, I’m saving my money for when bread costs $40 a loaf.’ ”