Adios, Uncle Lar, one last time
It was 7 p.m. on a Friday in 1987 at the studios of WLS 890-AM, Chicago's "Big 89" rock superstation.
After an incredible 30-year career in broadcasting -- 20 in Chicago -- revolutionary, cutting-edge disc jockey Larry Lujack, affectionately dubbed "Superjock," played his signature opening from his popular "Animal Stories" feature, said goodbye and signed off.
Outside his office, Lujack, his disconnected earphones still dangling around his neck, talked with fans who had come to the station. He seemed caught off-guard, genuinely touched that anyone would actually come to see him on his last day. Lujack thanked them for their support and said goodbye once more.
Now, it's the fans' turn to say goodbye.
The Chicago broadcasting icon, 73, died Wednesday in New Mexico after fighting esophageal cancer.
I was there to witness that famous last show on WLS. During the '80s, I had lobbied Lujack to make me his WLS movie critic. Finally, he relented and gave me a try.
We clicked, so every Friday after 6 p.m. I talked movies with Superjock. And every time, it was mind-bogglingly surreal.
As a kid growing up in downstate Charleston, I was just one of a generation of pop rock radio fans who listened to the new kid on the Chicago block, an edgy talent whose surly disposition and sarcastic wit ran counter to everything we'd heard on the airwaves before.
When I started my career at the Herald (it wasn't "Daily" yet), I distinctly remember driving down the Kennedy to the Loop on my first official city assignment, and I marveled, "I can't believe I'm working in the same town with Larry Lujack!"
I would never have guessed that one day I would be talking with him in person every Friday afternoon.
In 1987, I visited Lujack and his wife Jude, a former foot model, in their Palatine home, and asked him where the Superjock persona actually came from.
"I was a lot younger than the other jocks, a smart ass who appeared to be very confident," Lujack said. "All the time I was thinking, 'Am I good enough to be in Chicago?' All the time I was faking it and coming on with a lot more, uh, what's the word? Bravado? I was this sarcastic kid who was being that way intentionally because I realized I had to be different in order to make it."
After he retired from WLS -- in the era before talk radio and Rush Limbaugh -- Lujack told me that he wanted to continue to work, "but I'm not going to do broadcasting anymore."
Even Sean Connery had to eat his words after publicly vowing never to play James Bond again.
In 2003, Lujack reteamed with WLS sidekick and "Animal Stories" co-anchorman Tommy Edwards on Clear Channel's low-powered AM station WRLL. Edwards persuaded his former partner to give it one more try.
I spent an entire shift with the "Animal Stories" news team on a Friday morning in 2006. I was elated to be there in person to witness the magic, but disappointed, because Lujack always phoned in his performance from his Santa Fe home. (A fact they didn't want generally known.)
"I used to be Superjock!" Lujack crustily growled in his characteristic snarl.
"I used to be the king of the city! Now I've been relegated to this superfluous, meaningless, adorable sidekick role. Here I am up at the top of the AM dial with 10,000 watts! It's so demeaning! It's the saddest story in the history of radio."
I asked Edwards what WRLL stood for. He replied, "Lujack likes to think RLL stands for 'Real Larry Lujack.' I hope the truth doesn't break his heart."
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