Larry Lujack, the legendary Chicago radio personality known as "Superjock" and "Uncle Lar," died Wednesday in New Mexico, his wife said. He was 73.
Judith "Jude" Lujack told the Tribune her husband had been in hospice care for three days and died of esophageal cancer.
Lujack was known for his gravelly voice, sometimes surly disposition and larger-than-life personality. His radio celebrity paved the way for such shock jocks as Howard Stern, said Bruce DuMont, founder and president of the Museum of Broadcast Communications in Chicago.
He worked for rock 'n' roll stations in Chicago from the 1960s until 1987.
Jude Lujack recalled how much her husband enjoyed his retirement in New Mexico, where he'd lived the last 15 years, teaching his grandchildren how to golf and enjoying the mountainous views.
"He was passionate … about everything that he did, whether it was helping neighbors or taking care of charities," said Lujack.
"We’re really hurting right now," she said Wednesday night from their New Mexico home.
Lujack said he requested that his body be donated to the New Mexico Medical Center for research, which she called a demonstration of his compassion.
"He wasn't defined by being a Hall of Famer or a superjock, he was defined by being the man that he was, and he was an amazing human being," Jude Lujack said.
In 1987, WLS-AM management bought out his contract amid sliding ratings. The purveyor of the "Animal Stories" and "Cheap, Trashy Showbiz Reports" features then retired.
Lujack was recognized for his decades of achievement with his induction in 2002 into the Illinois Broadcasters Association Hall of Fame. The honor came at the IBA's annual convention in Peoria, just as Lujack was turning 62.
"Although I am somewhat humbled by that thing, it's the Illinois Broadcasters Association Hall of Fame," Lujack said in a phone interview at the time. "It's not Mount Rushmore. But hey, it ain't bad."
Tommy Edwards, Lujack's longtime radio partner at WLS, and later at WRLL-AM 1690, said late Wednesday he has lost a best friend, one whose ability to make him laugh extended well beyond their radio careers.
"The chemistry, the whole relationship that we had between each other — we'd just usually wind up laughing whenever we talked," Edwards said. "We genuinely liked each other, and he just broke me up all the time."
The pair started doing their signature bit, "Animal Stories," at WLS in the late 1970s. "Uncle Lar" would read offbeat news about animals to his sidekick, "little snot-nosed Tommy," who would be hearing them for the first time. Their spontaneous chemistry made the live bits a hit with listeners, and an enduring chapter in Chicago radio history.
"The only way it really worked was when I was hearing the story for the first time, just like the listener," Edwards said. "Then I would ask a stupid question, and it would set off some ad libs on his part, and then on my part, and we would wind up laughing."
A year and a half ago, Lujack and Edwards reprised their 'Animal Stories" bit from the 1970s and 1980s, in the form of public service announcements for pet emergency preparedness.
Seven spots featuring "Uncle Lar" and "Lil' Tommy" aired on more than 200 radio stations statewide, according to the Illinois Emergency Management Agency, which partnered with the Illinois Broadcasters Association to produce the spots.
"Animal Stories," a quirky look at animal-related news, grew out of Lujack's reading of WLS-AM 890's farm report and became a staple on his show.
In a famous moment in Chicago radio, Lujack, tired of taunting from Steve Dahl, entered Dahl’s studio in December 1985 and confronted Dahl and partner Garry Meier. They left the studio, and Lujack had to do the rest of their show.
Lujack and his wife sold their Palatine home in 1998 for $170,000. The inexpensiveness of Lujack’s home at the time was noteworthy beacuse Lujack signed a 12-year, $6 million contract with WLS in 1984. At the time it was considered the most lucrative in radio history.
Longtime Chicago radio executive John Gehron was Lujack's program director and later general manager during his second run at WLS during the late 1970s and early 1980s, after rival WCFL relinquished rock. Despite Lujack's cynical on-air persona, he was actually quite easy to work with, Gehron said.
"He was a professional, worked hard at what he did," Gehron said. "He was one of those personalities that surprisingly didn't cause any problems. His feeling was, you pay me and I'll do the job for you, and he worked very hard at it."
Gehron also hired Lujack in 2003, pairing him once again with Edwards for a short-lived run on Clear Channel's WRLL. Ratings were muted by a weak signal, and Lujack called in his show from his New Mexico home, but the on-air chemistry was still palpable, according to Gehron.
"I thought they did a great show," Gehron said. "It's just that the signal was such that a lot of people couldn’t hear it."
Lujack leaves behind a daughter, a son, a stepson and two grandchildren. Another son preceded him in death.
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