I talked to John last night about Larry's passing and he was pretty shaken up by it. (Robert Feder wrote a moving obituary, if you'd like to read it.)
I've known John Landecker for more than twenty years now, and everywhere he goes someone tells him how important he was to their lives because of his stint on WLS. People really look up to him. But one of the people that John always looked up to was Larry Lujack. He keeps an autographed picture of Larry in his home office, inscribed with classic Lujack wit: "This is to certify that John Landecker knows me personally."
In John's book "Records Truly Is My Middle Name", there are lots of stories about Lujack. I thought it was appropriate to share a few of those here today.
This story is about the first time he met Larry...
WLS already had an all-star lineup when I came aboard in 1972. Superjock Larry Lujack was the morning man, Fred Winston was doing middays, and J.J. Jeffrey was the afternoon man. I was hired to fill the evening slot.
I met Larry before I was on the air a single time. The program director Mike McCormack called me into his office because he wanted me to sit in on a Larry Lujack aircheck. In the radio business we call them “airchecks,” but they’re really just critique sessions with the program director. The disc jockey brings in a tape of his or her show, and if the program director likes it, he praises it. I suppose this has happened once or twice in radio history. Usually it goes the other way. Usually the program director picks it apart.
McCormack started Larry’s tape, and we listened to a bit Lujack had done that morning. It was reality radio. Larry was pointing out that you could hear the garbage trucks in the alley through the air conditioner in WLS’s main air studio, and he held the microphone right up to it, so the listeners could hear it too. After the bit ended, the program director turned to me.
“What do you think of that?” he asked.
“I thought that was pretty funny,” I said.
I didn’t know what I had done, but after the meeting I was walking back to the jock lounge with Larry and he turned toward me.
“Thanks, kid,” he said.
Apparently before I came in, the program director had been telling Larry he hated it, and Larry was defending it. When I backed him up by saying I thought it was funny, it defused the criticism, and Larry thought the new guy was alright.
On the other hand, not too long after that, I may have turned the tide in the other direction at least for a day. We were in a jock meeting, shooting the shit, and someone asked the seemingly innocuous question: “Who was more important to music — Elvis or the Beatles?”
“I don’t think Elvis was that great,” I said.
Well, I had no idea that Larry Lujack was a huge Elvis fan, but I found out pretty fast. Larry glared at me. And then he nearly spit the words at me, in his patented Lujack delivery.
“You don’t know anything about music, you... Phil... a... del... phia... FUCK!”
Years later I was at the station when the news came across the wire that Elvis had died (August 16, 1977). The first thing that crossed my mind was that nobody in the world would want to know this information more than Larry Lujack. (When someone calls you a Philadelphia fuck for not loving Elvis, you have a tendency to remember that sort of thing.)
So, I called him at home, and his wife answered.
“Judy,” I said, “It’s John Landecker. I’ve got something very important to tell Larry. Trust me; he’s going to want to know about this.”
“OK, hang on,” she said.
A few seconds later Larry growled on the phone. “Yeah?”
“Larry, it’s me, John Landecker. Elvis is dead.”
“Who cares?” he growled again. “I’m taking a nap.”
A story about the WLS family...
I thought we all got along great at WIBG in Philadelphia, but I haven’t worked at a radio station before or since that had the kind of camaraderie we had at WLS in the 1970s. It was like one big non-stop party. We did all sorts of things together inside and outside the workplace.
The whole staff would play basketball and softball against local fire and police departments and various other organizations, and then after the game, all of our families would go out for pizza together. It usually ended up like Thanksgiving dinner, with two big tables — the grown up table, and the kids' table. Superjock Larry Lujack, the biggest star of all of us, would always, and I mean always, sit at the kids' table.
There are lots more stories in the book about Larry--too many to post here now--but I did want to post one more thing from the book. Larry and Tommy graciously allowed us to reprint an old animal stories bit that made fun of John.
Larry: Get your greasy little face up next to the radio because it’s time for America’s favorite radio program, Animal Stories. And now here in person is the Animal Stories news team anchormen, I, your charming and delightful Ol’ Uncle Lar, and him,
Larry: In person, little Tommy. How you doin’ little Tommy?
Tommy: I’m fine, Uncle Lar.
Larry: We were sent a picture. I guess in Cedar Rapids they had one of those donkey basketball games.
Tommy: Oh yeah, I’d like that.
Larry: All of the players ride donkeys around, and look at the floor. The donkeys left... uh...
Larry: Uh... unsightly...
Larry: All over the basketball court.
Tommy: Uh, well that makes it kind of slippery.
Larry: That’s one thing our WLS basketball team does not do. We do not leave droppings on the floor. However, Landecker plays like a donkey dropping.
When it was time to promote the book, John's first appearance was on the television show "Windy City Live". The producer of the show and I worked together to get a mystery guest on the show to surprise John on the air during a live "Boogie Check". That mystery guest was Larry...
Rest in Peace, Uncle Lar.
The outpouring of affection you're receiving today is very real. You were beloved.
Even though I know you wouldn't hear of anyone telling you that.