I’ve written here before about Larry Lujack, the legendary Chicago DJ who’s largely responsible for making me want to be a radio guy. His dominance in Chicago ended in the mid-80s, and 19 years ago this month, WLS bought out the 12-year contract he had signed only three years before. The radio industry was changing, yes, but Lujack was clearly burned out after 20 years at the top in Chicago–to hear him in the later years was almost painful. Unable to work as a condition of the buyout, he lived in the Chicago area for several years afterward, but eventually retired to New Mexico, where he often said he was “dodging rattlesnakes and waiting to die.”
In 2000, Chicago’s WUBT re-upped him for a weekend show that ran for about seven months. In the fall of 2003, Clear Channel paired him with former WLS jock Tommy Edwards on Real Oldies 1690. (In the 70s and 80, Edwards and Lujack had co-hosted “Animal Stories” on WLS, perhaps the most hilarious use of a simple concept in the history of radio.) As he’d done on WUBT, Lujack provided his bits for the morning show from a studio in his New Mexico home. Tuesday, Real Oldies 1690 ceased to be–Lujack, Edwards, and the rest of the jocks, who included fellow Chicago legends Scotty Brink, Ron Brittain, and Tom Murphy (and the overnight guy, Len O’Kelly, with whom I worked in Davenport, Iowa, in the late 80s), were turfed, and the signal is going to be leased to another station effective tomorrow.
That kind of thing happens in the industry, of course. I couldn’t begin to guess the number of format-change-related firings among five guys the likes of Edwards, Lujack, Brink, Brittain, and Murphy, who must have nearly 250 years’ experience altogether. But the fact that Real Oldies 1690 lasted nearly three years was a bit of an upset to begin with. The signal was terrible. Most of the jocks were voice-tracking their shows from faraway places. Promotion was nonexistent. And the music, far from being the stuff of classic AM Top 40, was largely 50s and 60s MOR. It’s what kids like me who listened to WLS were escaping from–the stuff our parents liked.
Asked for a comment, Lujack was quintessentially Lujack. If you know the voice, you can hear it:
Given the fact that I am still charming, still delightful, and still blessed with the God-given ability to pleasure the listeners in every conceivable way, you would think that some station manager would be eager to throw money at me. But with the idiots running radio stations these days, who knows?
I could have said the same thing myself when I got out of radio the last time.
Lujack is 66 now, and most likely doesn’t need to work anymore. But I never expected him to come back the last time, or the time before that. And as I know from my own experience, radio’s a funny thing. You miss it, even when you try hard not to, or tell yourself you don’t.
(Thanks to Willie for the tip.)
(Further commentary on Real Oldies 1690 is here.)