The Beat Chicago

Larry Lujack: Chicago Radio Stars From Back In The Day

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Larry Lujack was one of the superstar DJs here on Chicago radio back in the day. Throughout the 70’s and ’80s, Lujack took Super CFL and “The Big 89, WLS” to the top of the ratings. This is one of the many features to come spotlighting some of the great talents from back in the day on Chicago radio.

When I put these together, I try to add a little personalization to them because at one time or another I either knew these gifted talents, worked with them, was close with someone who was instrumental in their successes, or provided services for them or had a dialog with them.

“Superjock,” “Lawrence of Chicago,” “Uncle Lar,” and “King of the Corn Belt” were all names that Larry Lujack was known as back in the day here on Chicago radio.

Born in Iowa as Larry Lee Blankenburg in 1940, Lujack started his multi-award-winning, Radio Hall of Fame career in 1958 while in college at KCID in Iowa.

It wasn’t until 1967 when Lujack joined Chicago’s WCFL (owned by the Chicago Federation of Labor) that his professional career in radio, a career he never really intended to have, would blossom. He had wanted to be a wildlife conservationist, in fact, while in college he was a biology major. For Lujack, radio was just something to help pay some bills but, he was so damn good at it with his dry, sarcastic shtick that it would become ‘his career.’

Lujack had many stops before getting to Chicago including Boise ID, Spokane WA., Moscow ID., San Bernardino CA., Seattle, and Boston. In 1967, he arrived at “Super CFL” where he’d stay for only four months before being lured away by WLS AM 890 where he’d remain until going back to WCFL for four years in 1972.

wls lineupIn 1976, Lujack was back at WLS AM 890 with a team of radio icons including Jim Johnson, Little Tommy, Jeff Davis, Bob Sirott, John Records Landecker, Brant Miller, Turi Ryder, Fred Winston, Yvonne Daniels, and others. Lujack is best remembered for his Klunk Letter of the Day, Animal Stories with Tommy Edwards as Little Tommy, and the Cheap Trashy Show Biz Report.

Flying high at WLS for years, finding a few arguments along the way with station management and other radio DJs in Chicago, WLS gave Uncle Lar a 12-year, $6 million contract making him one of the highest-paid on-air talents in the nation.

In 1987, tragedy would strike as Lujack’s son John was killed in an accident causing him to rethink his life and retire. Leaving the Chicago area in 1997, he moved to Santa Fe New Mexico only to be lured back to radio in 2000. In 200, that’s where I had the honor to work with him behind the scenes.

In 2000, one of my closest, bestest buds in the world, Armando Rivera was APD at the new 103.5 The Beat in Chicago. “The Beat” replaced 103.5 The Blaze (a rock station). The ‘new’ format was a “Jammin’ Oldies” format playing an upbeat mix of Motown, disco and great songs from Rick James, Earth, Wind & Fire, KC & The Sunshine Band, Aretha Franklin, Gap Band, Chaka Khan, Prince, Michael Jackson and others like them. Yes, it’s similar to what we do here at The Beat Chicago.

That year, the radio station thought it’d be great to bring Lujack back. When you think about it, it was a no-brainer because he was the perfect air talent for the station’s target audience. Seeing as though I was one of the few who understood streaming back then here in Chicago, (I was already creating and streaming content since 1996) Armando asked if we’d stream the show on Saturday mornings. In May of 2000, Lujack’s show was broadcast from his studio in Santa Fe to the radio station here in Chicago and we were streaming it on Cyber Radio’s website.

My experience with him was no different than the guy you heard on the radio. He’d grobble in a fun way. Like most people in radio at that time, he had no clue what “listening to the radio on the internet” meant. He wasn’t even fond of email but he was a trooper! Uncle Lar would ask questions, he was inquisitive but didn’t really seem to get it too much. We’d talk about various things in between breaks including the ‘tech industry’, how I got in the business (as a disco DJ), the old record labels in Chicago on “record row” as well as the jingle biz from back in the day. I had mentioned my Mother was a jingle singer and background singer as well as her being the last artist signed to Vee-Jay. When I had mentioned that, he opened up a bit to talk (we were on the phone throughout the show so I could report to him messages and emails from listeners) and he actually remembered a few of the spots my Mom did including Just Pants, Thomson Vacations, McDonald’s, United Airlines, Marriott’s Great America, North Riverside Park, and others. He once asked me how I wound up a disco DJ and [jokingly asked) if there was a good pension for a job like that. I told him how I wound up in it which got a chuckle out of him. I told him how I felt Dahl messed it all up but house music (which he had no idea about) was born here and really saved the dance music industry. He had a few words about Dahl, while brief, I’ll keep those to myself LOL.

“The Beat” lived a short life. That short-life wasn’t due to a lack of success but because of its success. See, V103 and The Beat shared a lot of the same audience. Both stations were owned by the same mismanaged company and V103 won the fight. In fact, the station billed 22 BILLION dollars in its first year. But V103 was more important so The Beat flipped to KISS FM as its still known today.

In 2003, radio stations were still amassing insane debt with their over-leveraged, overblown portfolio of debt-ridden radio stations. Clear Channel, which is now iHeartMedia actually filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy in March 2018 dumping 20 BILLION DOLLARS OF DEBT.

Anywho… Clear Channel had an AM here in Chicago at 1690 AM WRLL back in 2003. The “Real Oldies” format had a short-lived life but, they did bring Lujack back with Tommy Edwards (Little “Snot-Nosed” Tommy) to broadcast special features on weekday mornings. On August 16, 2006, Lujack was let go along with the entire WRLL on-air staff. The company announced it would kill off the Real Oldies format in September of that year.

The last times that Lujack would be heard on Chicago radio (in an on-air capacity) was for WLS’ “The Big 89 Rewind” on Memorial Day, 2007 and again in 2008 when the station returned to its music format.

Lujack was inducted into the Illinois Broadcasters Association’s Hall of Fame in June 2002, the National Radio Hall of Fame on November 6, 2004, and the National Association of Broadcasters Hall of Fame on April 15, 2008.

Uncle Lar passed away on December 18, 2013, in Santa Fe New Mexico.

Below you’ll find some great airchecks that include commercials from that era, interviews, documentaries and links to more about Larry Lujack

Larry Lujack Offbeat interview

Patty Wong’s lost interview with Larry Lujack courtesy of Danny Giordano

Larry Lujack Wikipedia

Scott Childers’ great website encapsulating the history of WLS radio in Chicago

Chicago Tribune’s article on the passing of Larry Lujack

Source: Sal Amato
Photo credit: Chicagoland Radio And Media

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