R.I.P., Mr. Lujack

larry lujackIn an ideal world, every station in the radio industry would find a clever and carefully-planned-out way to lead up to long, drawn-out, pregnant-with-sarcastic-meaning moment of silence at 5:30pm today to mourn the passing of arguably the best disk jockey that ever worked the Pacific Northwest and the Midwest (eventually on a 50,000-watt AM flamethrower that covered much of the nation), Larry Lujack.

In a world spanning almost precisely the glory days of AM Top 40 radio, where DJs were fast-paced, frenetic, and fun, Mr. Lujack (as he told us repeatedly that he preferred to be called) stood out as the antithesis of almost everyone else on the air.  He was surly, disgruntled, straightforward, and wry; while he could occasionally be cheery when the occasion called for it, it was always clearly a sarcastic cheery.

Mr. Lujack had predecessors and successors, of course, but they were all meaningfully different.  A couple that come mind are predecessor Henry Morgan (a radio personality from the pre-rock era who moved on to greater fame as a TV game show panelist) and successor Howard Stern (who has blended Steve Dahl’s realness with Mr. Lujack’s winking egotism).

But I always perceived that Morgan was a genuine grump and Stern isn’t really winking.  Lujack, despite being a curmudgeon in real life, somehow added a unique kind of likability.

The reason that radio’s tribute to Mr. Lujack should be at 5:30pm is that that was the time of his best feature at what I believe was the height of his career, the “Klunk Letter of the Day,” on “Super CFL” in Chicago — a feature in which he would read from and respond to a letter from one of his listeners.  (They started out as “crank letters,” but the featured evolved to encompass letters from fans as well.)

On special occasions, the “Klunk Letter of the Day” would be pre-empted by features like his “Christmas Address to the Nation.”  If you’ve been to a RAIN Summit and seen my biannual “State of the Industry Address,” you should know that the title of the speech is an allusion to Mr. Lujack.

I’m writing this blog post from the Starbucks across the river from Marina City, where the office building that contained the WCFL studios has been converted into the Hotel Sax, and I realize that I’m probably working both in Chicago (and picked an office near Marina City) and in radio as a result of Mr. Lujack’s influence.  And I’m sure I’m not alone.

Here’s a pretty good portion of a December, 1972 aircheck on YouTube:  The final joke, making a Hallmark cards slogan joke out of Jesus’s birth, is, I think, pretty cutting-edge for its era.

Another nice tribute from TV comedy writer. Ken Levine is here:.

Kurt Hanson


  1. Hear hear! Well said, and you are not alone. My own experiences in radio began at our high school FM station, where we needed an FCC license to work. On the day of the exam, we went to the downtown FCC offices and made a stop at Marina Towers to visit Larry Lujack and his engineer, Dave, an alumni of our school radio station. Thrilling, and in spite of his seemingly gruff manner Larry was very encouraging to all of us.

  2. Mr. Lujack was 100 times more compelling to listen to than the aircheck provided. As a fellow Top 40 personality from the same era, I often listened to Larry on WLS and would wonder… How does anyone ever become so good? The voice, the delivery, the ability to entertain and to make people laugh… Simply stated, Larry Lujack was one of the best and someone who inspired us all to strive to be better, to be as good as Lujack. He will be missed.

  3. I worked at WLS as a newscaster with Larry. We were the top-rated station in the country at the time. We were ABC O&O with a clear-channel signal going out to 40 states at night (the other eight were blocked by the Rocky Mountains). It was terrestrial radio at its peak!

  4. I met Larry in 1966 when he was “Johnny Lujack” at WMEX in Boston. the station owner wouldnt let him use his real first name because there already was a “Larry” on the air staff. he was doing a 4-7 pm Sunday shift and what followed him was a paid church service. so in his last break at 6:57 he said “most music WMEX where coming up next is another 3 in a row…3 hymns in a row from the Central Baptist Church in Quincy!”

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