Thursday, December 19, 2013

So Long

The last time I was this upset about someone passing I didn't know was when George Carlin died.
I would not have done what I did for a living if not for Larry Lujack. He was the bar for an entire generation of would be wanna be broadcasters.
I first heard Larry when I moved to the Quad Cities in 1971.
I had been a fan of WLS for years as it was a long distance beacon for a lonely kid growing up on a farm in the middle of nowhere. I was 12 when I got my first radio to call my own. It was a combo AM/FM/cassette recorder that I could sit in my bedroom window and listen to world from far away places like Chicago, Little Rock, Nashville, Denver and the like.
I never really had much of a family life on the farm as my mom was usually pretty hammered by the time I got home from school (she still did the best she could), my father wasn't around, my brother was in Viet Nam, my sister was too young to understand so the radio became my escape.
In the wintertime, the low power radio stations would sign off at 4:30 or 5pm and the wham, the great clear channel AM blow torches from all over the country would bellow into my room through the airwaves and out the new fangled fancy device I would have propped up in my window. I would get home from school, do my chores and then lock myself in my room, listening to WLS, KAAY, WLAC, KOA and whatever far away signal I could get. It would be on when I went to sleep and I'd wake up to white noise as the big powerful stations would be lost in the AM haze.
My escape.
My solace was those guys on the radio. I wanted to be like them.
WLS became my favorite as they played great hit music and had jocks who could tell stories over a 13 second intro. Those stories were funny, interesting, topical and marvelous.
It was at that time I knew what I wanted to do for a living.
We moved from the farm to East Moline in May of 1971. I was then able to hear WLS all day.
The guy that made it sound so easy, so simple, so relaxed was Larry Lujack. We had a great AM station in the Quad Cities (KSTT) that featured wonderful guys that sounded great but there was something about WLS. The big time, the big city, travelling through the airwaves from 200 miles away.
It was magical.
Here was Larry, sounding so spur of the moment, like he made it up as he went along. The pregnant pauses, the shuffling of papers, the timing, the wit, the humor.
Like great musicians, it was so smooth, so effortless, so natural, so funny.
I realize when I got into the business, that he had to be unbelievably prepared to make it sound so spontaneous.
There were times I'd be driving somewhere in my car and he would have me laughing so hard, I couldn't do anything but cry. I remember still having my fancy schmancy AM/FM/cassette a few years later and trying to record his daily versions of animal stories, a collection of humorous stories he would gather about animals. He would read them with the mid day guy Little snot nosed Tommy Edwards ( a great jock in his own right). He would crack Tommy up so bad, Tommy couldn't breathe.
Neither could I.
What a talent, what a gift for knowing how to be so relatable, to be the guy you invited into your car, your house, your life every day. You were sad when it was time for him to sign off.
Larry was your obnoxious but hilarious friend that no matter how hard you tried, you couldn't stop laughing with him.
I wanted to sound like him.
It was a time that while the music was the reason you listened, you couldn't imagine not having Larry in between the songs telling stories over the intro that made you laugh, think, feel and care what he had to say.
Sadly, it isn't that way anymore.
I've said it before on this blog where I've pointed out that I've reached the age my mom warned  me about.  Not long before she died, she told me she didn't recognize the world anymore, things were moving so fast, everyone she ever cared about or listened to or idolized were dying.
"And I don't know anyone on TV anymore."
Amen, mom, I get it now.
So, Uncle Lar, from some punk kid you never had any idea you influenced, I want to say how much I loved what you did. I loved how you were a friend riding with me every day and how much you taught me about being that .."bright good morning voice that's heard but never seen."
You taught me the art of communication, the art of being natural, being relatable, being...a friendly voice coming through the speakers.
While the other guys who made the line up at WLS, Fred Winston, Tommy Edwards, John Landecker, Bob Sirrott, Geoff Davis were, themselves, greater than life, it was you, Larry Lujack, that stood head and shoulders above anyone I've ever heard when it came to entertaining on the radio. I took most of your stuff and made it my own. I didn't even come within a solar system to the way you did it though.
I hope wherever you are you realize how much joy and laughter you brought into a whole generation of listeners from the entire Midwest. When everything got me down and life was a shit sandwich, there you were.
Like an actor on a stage, when that microphone went on, you were on.
It was real good radio. And you were real. And good.
You were on my radio and in my life through some of the best times and worst times and I cannot in anyway shape or form in written word tell you how your body of work shaped my life and influenced me.
I always wanted to sound like you.
I read where you died of esophageal cancer. What a tough way to go.
You didn't deserve that.

I listened to my CD of animal stories today and spent the day crying my eyes out.
I'm not sure they were tears of joy or tears of sadness.
I stand in wonder at your body of work. You did set the bar so high no one ever could reach it.
I tried, but failed miserably.
Rest in peace sir. I hope God has a great sense of humor.


BJ said...

Loved this Randy, thanks. This brought back memories of, like you, growing up on a small farm, and tuning into WLS at night. I wish I could have heard more of Larry.

Rink's Ramblings said...

Randy, that's a great take on Larry Lujack. He was a larger than life personality on the radio for me as well. And don't get me started on KAAY. That was must listening while cruising the street of Lawrence, Kansas at night!

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