- Published on Wednesday, 18 December 2013 22:27
One of the greatest radio personalities of all time, Larry Lujack passed away from cancer earlier today at the age of 73. The man nicknamed "Superjock" and "Uncle Lar" was best known for his years as the top-rated morning and afternoon DJ on WLS-AM and WCFL-AM.
Lujack, who was living in retirement in Santa Fe, New Mexico, had quietly been battling cancer of the esophagus for many months. Earlier this week, he entered hospice care, dying this evening.
He was born Larry Lee Blankenburg in rural Iowa. While in college, he took a job as an announcer for KCID-AM in Caldwell, Idaho, for kicks and extra cash. The rest, as the cliche goes, is history.
Not able to use Blankenburg as his professional name, he took the last name of Notre Dame quarterback Johnny Lujack to be his new radio name. From a small Idaho radio station, Lujack bounced around to many other markets across all parts of the country, before finally arriving in Chicago in 1967.
Lujack began his legendary Chicago career at WCFL-AM in April 1967, working nights. Four months later, WCFL-AM's chief rival, WLS-AM, stole Lujack away to be their afternoon host. His popularity grew rapidly and he eventually was promoted to mornings, where he became a local radio star.
It was on this morning shift that he began to do a radio bit that will be remembered for decades to come: "Animal Stories." The "Animal Stories" segment had Lujack reading funny small town news stories and farm reports that involved animals. He did this at first by himself, and then eventually along with fellow DJ Tommy Edwards, who would become sidekick "Lil' Snot Nose Tommy" to his gruff persona of "Uncle Lar'," at least for these segments.
Lujack was also known for his bits "Klunk Letter of the Day" and "Cheap Trashy Show Biz Report."
In July 1972, WCFL-AM was able to steal Lujack back from WLS-AM, placing him in afternoons. He stayed with the station through its end of being a Top 40 and for a while longer, playing "Beautiful Music." No longer happy at WCFL-AM, Lujack rejoined WLS-AM as soon as he was able to in September 1976. He also returned to his familiar morning role and once again became a radio superstar. For many years, his AM radio morning show was simulcast on WLS-FM. No longer enjoying the grueling morning hours, Lujack moved to afternoons in 1985. Between the tragic accidental death of one of his sons, a changing radio environment, and declining ratings, Lujack was no longer enjoying radio as he once was. He retired from WLS-AM and radio in general in August 1987.
He lived in Chicago for another ten years before deciding to move to a quiet ranch in New Mexico with his wife Jude (Judith). This was done to be far away from the noise of Chicagoland and allow him to golf all year long -- a passion of his.
He came out of retirement twice since leaving Chicago. Both times he did his shows remotely from a studio nearby his home in the southwest. The first time was for a short-lived radio show for WUBT-FM in 2000. That job lasted less than eight months. His second time was for WRLL-AM, starting in September 2003. He stayed with that Oldies station until its end in August 2006.
He had plenty of offers to work, but had no desire to do so. The last time he was heard on the air working as a DJ was in May 2008 when he appeared for the WLS-AM "Rewind" reunion weekend.
His years on the air did more than just entertain large amount of listeners. Larry Lujack went on to become one of the most influential radio hosts of all time, helping to inspire a great many people to get into the radio business.
Among the honors Lujack has received include his induction into Illinois Broadcasters Association's Hall of Fame in 2002, induction into the the National Radio Hall of Fame in 2004, and induction into the National Association of Broadcasters Hall of Fame in 2008.
In his 1975 autobiography "Superjock," Lujack ended the book by writing the following words, which showcased his unique, sarcastic sense of humor: "And now... get ready to cry. Don't be ashamed if your eyes moisten and you start to weep openly.
Years from now, when you speak of this (and your will), be kind. I hope each and every one of you lives happily ever after, and may all your Christmases be white. Take my overwhelming love and shove it up your heart. Bless your heart and all your other vital organs."