Mr. Lujack Speaks

I wanted to be on the radio because of Larry Lujack. He took over mornings on WLS in 1970, not long before I started listening to the station while riding the school bus in the morning, so he was the first Top 40 jock I ever heard. And it wasn’t long, sometime early in 1971, before I decided that I wanted to do what he did. The thing is, of course, you can’t do what he did. If you tried to imitate his sardonic wit and acerbic style, you were destined to fail. You’d have to be a mighty good actor to fake it, if you weren’t really that kind of person. He cultivated an attitude of not giving a shit about the conventions of what he was doing, while at the same time doing it better than almost anybody.

An aircheck I had never heard before turned up at YouTube earlier this year. It’s about an hour of his show on WCFL in Chicago from December 23, 1972. You hear him trying to identify the artist on one of the new records that was added while he was on vacation, and making fun of the name when he figures it out. Later, he talks up “Tighter & Tighter” by Alive and Kicking by saying, “This is a good song,” and you can tell from the tone of his voice that he’s completely sincere. And that’s the thing about Lujack: to call him a reflexive curmudgeon is to miss something important about him. There were moments in almost every show where you could tell how much he enjoyed what he was doing.

There was another side to Lujack that the audience rarely saw. During one holiday season in the late 60s, he surprised his program director by volunteering to work over Christmas so his colleagues could be with their kids. On December 23, 1972, he delivered what he called his Christmas Address to the Nation. It was mostly an excuse to fool around on the air with his longtime engineer, the legendary Spacey Dave—but it came with a surprising coda, one that may be enough to make you rethink your opinion of him.

This isn’t an all-time great Lujack show. He spends a lot of the aircheck saying what time it is, which Top 40 jocks in general, not just Lujack in particular, did constantly back in the day—did we really need to know what time it was every three minutes? Nevertheless, the clip captures one of radio’s true legends in his natural habitat, hanging out on a Saturday afternoon just before Christmas. The YouTuber who uploaded this tape got the date completely wrong—despite what it says on the video, it’s actually from Saturday, December 23, 1972.

(There will be a post here tomorrow, the last one before Christmas and possibly the last of 2012, so be sure to stop back.)

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