More on Mornings With Larry

 THE FOLLOWING IS AN EXCERPT FROM MY MEMOIR “RAISED ON THE RADIO” WHICH I LOOK TO RELEASE IN 2018

This segment picks up on the initial months I was working as Larry Lujack’s morning show producer at WLS AM & FM. It was a true “living the dream experience.”

Tommy Edwards was an early supporter of my work. One day he pulled me aside in the hall and said he noticed the improvement in the show’s content and said it was due to my input. Tommy noted Larry was super pleased with my help but then we both looked at each other and acknowledged, ‘Yeah, we’ll keep that between us because Superjock Larry Lujack is not going to gush on someone for a job well done.’ Still Lar did find ways to show his appreciation. That first year, he gave me three raises and I wasn’t even asking for them. He was simply rewarding my work efforts and even paid for a car repair bill when my Toyota Celica’s clutch needed repairs.

The very best thing Larry Lujack did for me from the get go was to not treat me, his producer, as an on air “Whipping Boy.” He told me there were plenty of radio shows at WLS and other stations where the hosts would berate their producers on the air for making mistakes. It could be for little things like not getting mayonnaise put on a sub sandwich they ordered to something bigger like misplacing a phone number of a contact or forgetting to have some audio tape ready to play. As listeners know, sometimes this beat down on the young producer or assistant was in jest but other times it was not. Larry’s view when he heard a producer catching frequent hell from a jock was, “That reflects on the star. How come you have such an incompetent working for you?” If I screwed up, I’d be told about it after the show and off the air. Larry Lujack keeping my on air profile on a top level of respect was something that would help me in my future radio work.

Also, I was always encouraged to get in my comments and say what was on my mind. Larry never cared who said the funny or memorable line on the air, just so long as it was said. If it happened on his show, that’s all that mattered. I was the young hipster who helped answer questions on current happenings and pop culture and toss in a quick quip or two when possible. Larry would ask me about concerts I saw of artists who we didn’t even play yet. Groups like R.E.M. and Lone Justice got nice chat-ups from me. When Bruce Springsteen was booked into Soldier Field for the summer of 1985, the morning crew wasn’t getting what was so special about the Boss’ concerts. I explained on the air about Bruce’s energy and earnestness. As I told them, “You have to see him to believe him.”

Though I knew some of Lujack’s tendencies, I had much more to learn. Very early one morning, I took a call from someone claiming to have seen people who just attended Bruce Springsteen’s wedding in Oregon. Anything Springsteen did in 1985 was major news. He was turning water into wine and selling truckloads of records and box offices full of concert tickets so this was a big deal. Bruce had been dating a model named Julianne Phillips and breaking the news of their nuptials would be a scoop. Off the air I told Larry about the caller on hold. He was concerned it was a crank call and told me to thank them and we’ll wait for confirmation from the newswires. About an hour later the wires broke the news that the Boss now had a wife. Springsteen’s bride had family living in the Chicago suburbs. We had the drop on this news and lost it. Damn! After the show, Larry acknowledged he shouldn’t have been so cautious. If we’re right, we break a big show biz story no one else had. If it’s a hoax, who remembers that two days later?

Bruce Springsteen circa 1985

I made note of this lesson. That fall, just before a Monday morning show, I got a call from a guy who told me Chicago Bears Head Coach Mike Ditka was just arrested for drunk driving on the Edens Expressway. 1985 was the Bears’ big winning year and they had just beaten the 49ers, winning their sixth straight game to open the season. This was a revenge victory after Bill Walsh and Joe Montana’s crew pounded Ditka’s boys in the NFC Championship game back in January. The win in San Francisco was also the first time William “The Refrigerator” Perry ran the football on offense. This was a late afternoon game out west and during the team’s flight back home there no doubt was some celebrating happening on their charter. The timing of this bust seemed to fit and I figured this story was true.

Bears Head Coach Mike Ditka

I went to the studio to give Larry the information since the caller couldn’t stay on the line. It was just before five a.m. and the show was about to start. His interest was piqued but I could tell he was being cautious again. I stood next to him, urging that we go with the story. As the song ended and Larry went on the air he said how we heard some news about a big name sports personality who just got popped for drunk driving. Off the microphone I called out “He’s a coach.” Larry snickered and said “Yeah, he’s a coach.” I then offered, “Just won a big game yesterday!” Again Larry went with it and said, “Yeah, a big game out west.” So Larry re-capped the clues and said “We’re told Mike Ditka has been busted for a DUI.” A few minutes later, newsman Jeff Hendrix came in to confirm the story. It just came over the local wires but as far as radio shows go, we had the scoop on this one. Thanks mystery caller, we appreciate all tips!

NEXT WEEK- WE SKIP AHEAD IN THE BOOK AS I LEARN OF LARRY LUJACK PASSING AWAY.

I’m On The Air And In The Big Time!

THE FOLLOWING IS AN EXCERPT FROM MY MEMOIR “RAISED ON THE RADIO” WHICH I LOOK TO RELEASE in 2018.

Before the second Monday with the Lujack show, I started to tell Larry about what I saw at the Hall & Oates concert two nights earlier. He cut me off and said to wait until he asks me about my story later in the morning. Save it for the show was the strategy. Hall & Oates was on their “Big Bam Boom” tour selling out two nights at the Rosemont Horizon and WLS just finished a big promotion with the duo and Pontiac. For a few weeks before the concerts, station personalities including Larry drove around in Pontiac Fieros and a contest gave away those red rides. Needless to say there was lots of attention on these Rosemont Horizon shows.

Hall & Oates and their promotion with the Pontiac Fiero (Remember those cars?)

So later that morning Larry called me on the air and asked about the Hall & Oates concert.  I said I had problems seeing the stage because a couple in front of me couldn’t keep their tongues out of each other’s mouths all night long. Lar reacted with “That’s disgusting, what’s wrong with these people?” He said this half jokingly but I knew we’d have a good laugh on it.  Catherine Johns stuck up for the couple saying they must be in love and Larry shot that down.  The significance of this exchange being I was barely there a week and Larry trusted me to share good material on the air with a story unheard before I talked it up.  I mean I could’ve said something gross like, “Yeah, at the concert a dude was piss drunk and flashed his wang at everyone.”

Hall & Oates in concert, 1985

The following Monday was Income Tax Day and I brought in some audio from a “Honeymooners” episode where Ralph has to report to the IRS because of problems with his taxes.  I played a cassette of the snippets for Larry before the show and he wanted to use all of them.  He agreed to play the Beatles’  “Taxman” out of the bit.  This was a few months before non-Union workers like me were allowed to touch studio equipment and do our own editing so one of the morning engineers had to transfer all the audio at my direction.  What I brought to the show seems pedestrian by today’s broadcast standards but for a guy like Larry Lujack who made his bones with his gruff, smart guy attitude, playing records and doing goofy Animal Stories and show biz items, this was close to groundbreaking. Those sound bites, known as “drop-ins” were something I’d been doing in college and now at WLS.

The Honeymooners as Norton tries to help Ralph out with his income tax problems. 

Audio wise, things were different in the 80’s.  To get drop-ins or ‘drops’ as we called them, I had a stereo cassette deck wired into the audio jacks of my home VCR and would record from the Beta tape.  Then I’d bring the cassette to work, run the sound onto a reel to reel tape player, edit the tape then dub it to a cart.  Today, studios are computer wired and tied to the internet so you can pull your snippet from You Tube or some other website and air it immediately, that is, if it doesn’t need editing.  Everything now is done digitally and if you handed a radio rookie some reel to reel tape, a grease pencil and razor blade he or she wouldn’t know whether to shit or go blind.

OLD SCHOOL RADIO GEAR-I marked, cut and spliced  miles of audio tape on a machine just like this one. 

The day after the ‘Tax Man’ bit, Larry gave me my first raise in pay.  He was grateful to have me steadily bringing him ideas and options for the show. Often I was asked if Larry was as much of a cheapskate as his on air reputation made him out to be.  He was quoted in newspaper articles as being the guy who always turns lights off at home when someone leaves the room for a second and driving an older cheap car and how money was being saved just in case bread one day costs ten bucks a loaf. Larry Lujack was never cheap with me.

The guy was simply frugal, careful with his money. Larry would come in to work in grass stained canvas gym shoes after mowing the lawn the day before.  His annual salary was somewhere around half a million dollars a year which is still a lot of money, but in 1985 that amount was massive.  Not only was Larry Lujack mowing his own lawn instead of paying some kid to handle it, he was doing it in the same shoes he wore to work!  Even I wore a different pair of shoes when cutting my grass.  Radio has no dress code, for Larry it was always well worn Levi jeans and in the summer the gym shoes and short sleeved golf shirts, in the winter cowboy boots and flannel shirts.

Stained gym shoes fit for cutting grass, (or wearing to work on your big time morning radio show.)

One embarrassment happened when I got my first paycheck from Larry Lujack Enterprises.  Payday was every other Friday and that first check ended up getting wrecked that weekend when my Boston Terrier ‘Molly’ got hold of my wallet while I was napping.  My wallet and the check inside it were shredded up pretty good.  The following Monday I had to explain what happened and hit up Lar for a newly written payment. He grabbed the messed up check from my hand and told me to get the next one cashed before Molly tore into it again.

On occasion, if Larry and I had a disagreement about a factual item we would make an off the air wager. We stepped it up from Randall and Mortimer Duke in “Trading Places” and made our wagers for five bucks.  It wasn’t about the money, we just cared to prove who was right or wrong. I remember losing one bet when I thought a coming ratings book would see morning radio rival Jonathan Brandmeier cracking a 5.0 share.  I was off by point .20.  I got Larry on one when he insisted he never met Elton John.  The proof I told him was in his own “Superjock” autobiography where he talked of interviewing him at WCFL.  The next day after looking up the story in his own book, Lar came in with a crisp fiver for me.

NEXT WEEK- More on Mornings With Larry

 

Welcome to the Rock of Chicago

THE FOLLOWING IS AN EXCERPT FROM MY MEMOIR “RAISED ON THE RADIO” WHICH I LOOK TO RELEASE IN 2018

My first show day at WLS was Monday April 1st, 1985. USA for Africa’s “We Are the World”, Phil Collins’ “Sussudio” and more singles from Springsteen’s “Born in the USA” album got heavy airplay. The hot TV shows were “Miami Vice” and “Moonlighting” and the big movie in theatres was “The Breakfast Club.” Women sported Reebok gym shoes on walks from the train station to their offices where they changed into dress shoes while suited businessmen wore yellow print patterned power ties. Ronald Reagan was in the first year of his second term as President.

When picking up the newspapers that first morning I took it as good sign that on the cover of the Sun Times was the photo of someone I knew well. Amy Beja, the sister of my longtime friend Todd Beja, was pictured holding a fanned out selection of Chicago Cubs tickets as their home opener was approaching. I signed in at the security desk in the Stone Container Building at Michigan and Wacker just before 2 a.m. and took the elevator to the 5th floor. Despite being in disbelief of all this heady radio stuff, I kept it together because Larry was very businesslike on everything. My job was to help him get the best listener ratings possible so the ABC Corporation could sell their commercials for top dollar and make lots of money and we could keep doing the same. I could not play the role of geeked-out fanboy because there was work to do.

Still, the halls of the radio station echoed of the famous voices of the past. The walls had framed photos of stars like Dick Biondi, Clark Weber, Ron Riley, Art Roberts, Joel Sebastian, Dex Card, Yvonne Daniels, Bob Sirott and John “Records’ Landecker. Not to mention the current names, besides Larry, there was Tommy Edwards, Fred Winston, Steve Dahl and Garry Meier, Brant Miller and Jeff Davis. Any time of the day or night I was tuned in to any and all of these guys. How many nights did I not mind only having only AM radio in my car because Jeff Davis was playing the latest hits and classic Stones and Doobie Brothers songs for me to rock out to? For years I listened to all these people and was now aboard the good ship WLS, a legendary and still vibrant radio station. I went from fan to fellow co-worker. It was like the little leaguer who idolizes the New York Yankees and one day he’s putting on the pinstripes and taking batting practice alongside Derek Jeter.

1985 WLS AM Stars- Front row L-R Jeff Davis, Turi Ryder, Fred Winston, back row Tommy Edwards, Larry Lujack, Brant Miller.

In 1985, newspapers and the newswire stories were the lifeblood of radio content for most personality based radio shows. It was a matter of taking a single edged razor blade and slicing out the local gossip columns and other entertainment related news along with stories of interest and sports and circling the best information with a red flair pen. I would read through all sections of the papers and strip the best newsy meat off their bones to find things to talk about. Jeff Hendrix, the deep voiced news anchor who along with Catherine Johns made up a double barreled delivery system of the morning news on Larry’s show handed me the newswire copy of more offbeat stories.

Jeff and Catherine had a fast rhythm of pin-balling the reading of news stories between each other. They sounded like a news station and aspiring radio newscasters could learn much from listening to their air-checks. Personality wise, Hendrix was the resident cheapskate who once replaced the bumper of his VW Rabbit replaced with a two by four plank of wood. I saw that so called bumper, it was weird looking but economical. Jeff played lots of golf with Larry. Catherine Johns played the role of the young single woman and her dating life would sometimes be talked about on the show. It was by no means in the ‘ditzy bimbo’ way, Catherine was smart and a good foil to Larry during their interplay.

The physical set-up of the show was Larry seated in Studio A (the same one I watched him and other dee-jays do their show in while standing on the other side of the hallway glass for years) and opposite him in the control room was Larry’s button pushing engineer. Engineers worked an hour then were off an hour, so we had a rotation of at least two engineers per show courtesy of the Illinois Brotherhood of Electrical Workers. Jeff and Catherine flanked Larry on his left and right and sportscaster/reporter Les Grobstein had a stand up microphone and copy holder behind Jeff.

Unlike most radio producers, I wasn’t stationed in the control room area or engineer’s side during the show. Instead I was in Larry’s office with a bank of studio phone lines on my desk. I could take listener calls, handle contests or buzz-ins from the hotline and had a side phone for me to call him directly with the push button punch of the numbers 5363. Funny how that stuff stays in your head after all these years. The stereo in Larry’s office was wired so I could listen to the show live and not hear it on the seven second delay that was activated while we were on the air. From Studio A to our office, you had to take a left, a right and a long left to the office where I was stationed. Being on the opposite side of the WLS office suite like that sharpened my listening skills and kept me locked in the only way that was needed, by sound. Larry told me when I first started to keep my eyes and ears open and I’d learn lots very quickly. He was right.

In less than an hour on that first day I was on the phone talking to Larry and the listeners. He needed me to preview a couple of callers who wanted to chime in with their thoughts on a story brought up about how April 1st was the day to have sex if you wanted to have a baby that was born on New Year’s Day. I spoke calmly and with confidence and was on the air with the Larry Lujack show. My crazy radio journey was in hyper-drive and REALLY happening! Lord only knew what was next…

 

Young Radio Greenhorn, Meet Larry Lujack

THE FOLLOWING IS AN EXCERPT FROM MY MEMOIR “RAISED ON THE RADIO” WHICH I LOOK TO RELEASE IN 2018.

As last week’s post stated, I was about to interview for the job to be Larry Lujack’s producer on WLS AM. Larry called and recruited me for the interview and I was both excited and scared shitless.  

It was time to take the elevator up to the 5th floor of the Stone Container building and get buzzed in to the WLS lobby by the receptionist. I told her I was there to see Larry Lujack and a quick inter office call later, Larry was walking towards me. I asked to see his so called “Golf Hickey” he got the week before. On the snowiest, coldest day of the year, with a wind chill of more than forty below zero Larry Lujack made news by playing 18 holes of golf. The day got so cold and icy that chunks of slush stuck to his neck under his scarf and left something similar to freezer burn or a golf hickey as he called it. That golf stunt earned Larry a mention on Paul Harvey’s nationwide radio news show. This was a badge of honor for Larry Lujack as he was a huge fan of Paul’s.

Second to the right, the Stone Container Building, home of WLS.

Larry led me down two hallways to his office. Taking seats there I saw this was a hoarder’s paradise of old newspapers, magazines and other mess inducing items. Larry explained there was a need to hire someone who thought more like him, someone who could write in his voice and trite as it may sound “hip the show up a bit.” He explained the hours, starting with me being there at 2 a.m. to go through the newspapers and finding the most interesting articles and writing the entertainment items for his Cheap Trashy Show Biz Report and Animal Stories.

Then Larry turned things over to see what my story was. I told him like so many others have said in the past, he was the reason I was in the radio business to start with. Larry joked, “Hey, don’t blame me for YOUR messed up life!” I filled in some more of my background and interests as Larry listened intently.

Now here was the key moment in this meeting between the major market radio superstar and the young radio greenhorn. We were talking about the Cheap Trashy Show-biz report and I had the insane balls to tell Larry he missed the best part of a story he covered that morning. It was dirt on major league pitcher Dave Stewart who was arrested for getting into a hassle with a transvestite prostitute. Larry did the story on both his early and late in the show reports but left out a key item.

He asks what was missed. I said “The name of the transvestite hooker, it was Lucille! You could’ve mentioned her name then gone straight into the Little Richard song “Lucille.” Larry looked stunned. Had the great Larry Lujack been scooped? No way! So he starts rummaging through the mess on his desk looking for the newspaper clipping. I told him it was in the Sun Times. (Again, me being the media junkie, I was all over this story) Larry found the Sun Times report and sees that the hooker WAS named Lucille. For the next minute he kept saying “Damn, shit! (pause) Goddamn it! I can’t believe I missed that!”

Now who in their right mind has the stones to tell Larry Lujack that one of his bits could have been better and he missed something that should have been talked about? That’s like some back-up singer auditioning to be in Paul Mc Cartney’s band saying, “Um, Paul? I think that last verse you sang on ‘Hey Jude ’was a bit off. Try it this way.”   I didn’t care. This was my chance to shine and I sure did with this scoop and the way I played it.

1980’s promo pic of Larry Lujack

As we were winding things down I asked “Any problems with what you’ve seen, heard or smelled from me?” Larry laughed loud and said, “No, things are good and I haven’t smelled any odors coming from your body.” He liked my self-deprecating approach which was the path Larry himself often took.

I was given numbers of what the job would pay to start and more information would be discussed if I got the gig. He also noted this wasn’t a job guarantee but I was definitely the “leading candidate.” Larry also said if I get any other job offers before he makes his decision to let him know so he could consider matching it. This whole scenario was just so hard to believe. Larry Lujack is telling me he’d be willing to get in a bidding war to secure my creative services! He also qualified things by saying, “Now if someone wants to pay you two hundred grand for some job, I’m gonna tell you, “See ya and good luck.”

The famed Superjock walks me out and says he’ll call once he makes up his mind. This was at the end of January and lord only knew when that decision would happen. I figured it might be a few weeks but who knew? This was new territory for me.

From the day of that interview with Larry Lujack I was on a constant alert, waiting for a phone call from the famed Superjock. Anytime after ten a.m. when his show ended, if the phone rang at home, I’d wonder if it was Larry calling to offer me the producer’s job. This was in the days before caller ID, voicemails, cell-phones and texting. A simple call was all that was needed. Even when I’d be out all day and come home, I’d wonder if there was a written message to return Larry’s call. It was a tense time and I tried to shift my focus to my job at WKDC, my newspaper column, the record hops Jim and I did and my work at the record store. I even kept my eyes and ears open for any other job offers I could land that would force me to call WLS and tell Larry, ”Hey, got an opportunity here, what’s your story?” That didn’t materialize.

Finally time moved along to Tuesday morning March 26th 1985. I was in bed listening to the Lujack show and he left half an hour before his ten a.m. stop time. Larry was feeling sick and went to his office. Tommy Edwards came on early and even got an on air report from producer Mick Oliver that the morning show star was lying on his office couch on top of a pile of old newspapers. So Tommy takes things from there and I turned off the stereo. Around 11:00 a.m. the phone rang and my dad picked up the downstairs line at the same time I picked up the extension in my room. We both said “Hello?” and after a pause I hear “Oh, sounds like I got stereo.” I’m thinking this might be Larry so I speak his name and he says “Hey.” So I tell my dad I got it and he gets off the line.

Larry asks how things are and I’m like, “O.K.” and after a pause he asks “Do you want a job?” I blurt out, “Yes, I certainly do!” With that I was hired! Larry was hoping I could start working for him the following Monday and I said that would be no problem. All of this was of course a huge rush and big relief for me. Two months of waiting was over and I had the job of my young lifetime! There were details to work out so Larry asked me to meet with him that Friday and we’d lock up everything. I was given his home phone number just in case anything came up that I needed to let him know about. We get off the line and I went nuts with a scream and a huge ‘Woo hoo!” ! I’m going to be working for my favorite radio personality who also happens to be the king of Chicago radio!

NEXT WEEK- My first day on the air with Lar.

Poplar Creek Dries Up, So What’s Next?

THE FOLLOWING IS AN EXCERPT FROM MY MEMOIR “RAISED ON THE RADIO” WHICH I LOOK TO RELEASE IN 2018

I finished working the summer of 1984 at Poplar Creek and looked to other opportunities.

Poplar Creek’s season ended in early September of ‘84 with a Cyndi Lauper concert. After that, we spent two weeks working on closing the venue for the winter. Kiosks were taken down, restroom toilets had to be winterized with anti-freeze and we did other repairs so that next summer’s work crews would have well maintained amenities for a new season of shows. My exit interview evaluation graded me out as an “A” worker however I wouldn’t be back for another summer at Poplar Creek. It was a fun show-biz job but I had other things to do.

Next, I did six weeks at a telemarketing research job which was as awful as anyone who’s ever done that kind of work will tell you. I quit when my friend Dave Ross got a job managing an Orange’s Record Store that was opening in Elmhurst. He needed help prepping the place and I jumped at the chance to work close to full time hours and be around music again.

(Record Store work is a cool job)

At this same time other jobs were bringing me money too. I had my weekly music column for Press Publications plus Jim Turano and I were still doing a few record hops per month which paid well. We continued writing and mailing out the Hucklebuck Update since Jim still had two years left at Elmhurst College. I also landed my first professional radio job, hosting mid-days playing “Beautiful Music” Saturdays and Sundays at Elmhurst’s WKDC AM 1530. No fancy story on getting that job. I called to see if they needed help, came in for an interview and after a short off-air audition, the job was mine.

(I’m on the air at WKDC)

It was convenient because the WKDC studios were on York road, just a block south of Orange’s Records. Between all these small jobs I was making about $11,000 dollars a year. Living at home, I could pay my bills had some cash to spend on beer, movies and concerts and managed to save a few bucks too. By the start of 1985, despite this easy respite of doing what I liked for a living, I knew it would soon be time for me to chase the next big thing and hopefully find a full time REAL job in media. Little did I know that the full time job would come looking for me.

In late January of 1985, I came back from my lunch break to be told by a co-worker at Orange’s that I needed to call my mom. The message from home was WLS Superjock Larry Lujack phoned my house looking to talk to me about possibly working for him! I asked twice if this was a joke. Larry Lujack got my phone number from Press Publications; he knew I wrote for their paper because we always plugged my column in the Hucklebuck Update. Larry was ACTUALLY READING Mick and Jim’s Hucklebuck Update and was recruiting me to work for him! What the hell was that all about?

I called the WLS offices and was put straight through to Mr. Lujack himself. Larry remembered me being a fan of his who sent him Animal Stories and Police Beat news clippings. But the key to his interest in me was all he read from the Huckelbuck. I sent those newsletters downtown as a shot in the dark. The WLS superstar saw my humor and thought I was thinking like he did! Now some might ask “What about Jim and his part in the Hucklebuck?” That is a fair question. Still, it was me who sent the Animal Stories and other show material to Larry, and met him a couple of times. He also knew from the Hucklebuck that Jim still had more than two years of college to go and Larry needed someone who could work full time right away.

Larry Lujack’s producer situation was spelled out to me. He started with help from a guy named Mick Oliver but after some time he was replaced by Cindy Gatziolis, a WLS staffer. Cindy worked with Larry for awhile then opted to pursue other radio jobs so Mick was brought back. Still, Larry wanted to make a change. We made arrangements to meet downtown at WLS a few days later and I was asked to bring in samples of my newspaper columns. By the time I got off the phone I thought I was in some insane dream. Working for Chicago radio’s perennial number one rock radio personality was totally off my radar. I figured I’d chase small time radio jobs in the suburbs, work my way to Rockford or Peoria and keep crawling up the media ladder. This Larry Lujack job prospect was not even a consideration. Preparing for the interview, I realized how right I was two years earlier; there WAS something special about the “Hucklebuck Update.”

(Larry Lujack, circa 1985)

My head was spinning about this job prospect. Not only did I listen to Larry’s show whenever possible, so did most of Chicago. Larry Lujack was everywhere. WLS used to run a popular TV commercial for the Lujack show co-starring comedian Rodney Dangerfield. It had Larry throwing Rodney’s “No respect” line back at the comic. I also remember seeing him on with Oprah Winfrey when her show was just on in Chicago. Larry was on to talk about the Grammys and referred to Oprah as “Okra.” Little did he or anyone else know what a big deal she would become in a few years.

(Rodney Dangerfield doing a TV ad for Larry Lujack)

I drove down to WLS which at the time was still housed in the Stone Container building at Michigan Avenue and Wacker Drive on a Friday. I was thirty minutes early for the most important meeting of my young life. Killing time in the Burger King that was on the main floor while sipping a Coke, I looked over my briefcase of writings and resume’ that Larry requested to see and took lots of deep breaths. When the time came to go up to the 5th floor I kept telling myself, “THIS is your time, now show Larry Lujack who you are.”

NEXT WEEK: Young radio greenhorn sits down with the king of Chicago morning music radio.

 

Some Days are Diamond’s

THE FOLLOWING IS AN EXCERPT FROM MY MEMOIR “RAISED ON THE RADIO” WHICH I LOOK TO RELEASE IN 2018

This picks up where my last post left off as I spent the summer of 1984 working day maintenance at Poplar Creek Music Theater in Hoffman Estates.

Some Poplar Creek acts were a big enough deal to do two nights in a row there. For that summer those stars were John Denver, James Taylor, Willie Nelson and Rod Stewart. However, only one artist merited three straight nights and that was the darling of the Nederlander organization, Neil Diamond. I use the term “darling” because all the stops were pulled out when Neil came to town in late August. Plush new chairs and sofas were delivered to the dressing rooms. There was special wiring done backstage for better TV reception and we had to roll in a fire hose on a giant wooden spool to hook to a fire hydrant backstage to accommodate the lasers Neil used during his show. It was like the Pope was coming. Maybe some of this upgrade was due to Diamond’s concert contract rider demands, but being a fan of his, I was fine with the extra work. It was fun to be part of the big arrival for the “Jewish Elvis.” Would they call us Neil fans “Diamond Heads?”

(The Jewish Elvis, Neil Diamond)

Neil Diamond had the tightest security I saw at Poplar Creek. All summer, we maintenance workers could work and wander all over the seating area during artist’s sound checks, but not for Neil. Nobody was allowed to be within sight of the stage from any location. They had security on the north and south ramps to keep everyone from catching a glimpse of Mr. “Holly Holy” during his show prep. Even backstage, outside of Diamond’s dressing room two black curtains perpendicular to his door and the stage door were hung. The curtains were there so nobody would see Neil Diamond leave his private dressing room and push through to the stage door.

I asked one of his people why things were so buttoned down. The reply I got came down to there were some Diamond fans who had their minds bent to thinking he was singing only to them and they had a special “relationship in their minds” with him. Things could get a bit scary when they got too physically close to Neil. It also sounded like there had been some recent close stalker situations on this issue.

On the morning of the second Diamond show I led a crew to clean the dressing rooms. When we got to Neil’s lair, his stage clothes were hung on the racks and we snickered at his sequined shirts and vests. The glittery stuff seemed dated even for 1984, but he wore those shirts for years to come. I also spotted black hair dye stains all over the sofa throw pillows in the star’s dressing room. Neil must’ve had a pre-show touch-up and leaned back on the pillows while still not quite dry from the hair coloring. What price vanity, right?

 

Due to lack of night staff I was on the clean-up crew during the last of Neil Diamond’s shows. Midway through the concert I was summoned to bring a can of vomit comet to a section in the pavilion. Vomit comet was a powdery substance sprinkled down to deodorize the stench after someone else cleaned up a puddle of puke. In this case, the problem was the puddle was all over a woman who was passed out drunk in her seat after getting sick on herself. There was nothing to really clean off the seats or floor so I sprinkled the vomit comet powder all over the lap and blouse of the passed out woman. This countered the stench and everyone sitting near her could enjoy the show without gagging from the regurgitated wine and nachos. Just another of the guest services provided to you by the friendly and helpful staff at Poplar Creek Music Theatre.

(Nilosorb, or as we called it, “Vomit Comet”)

Neil Diamond wrapped up his last show and having to work early the next day, I slept on a stretcher in the maintenance office which was a double wide mobile home. The next morning I went to the dressing rooms to take a shower. Plenty of clean towels were around and I ended up using Mr. Diamond’s shower where there was liquid soap and his bottle of shampoo was left behind. So in a roundabout way you can say I shared a shower with Neil Diamond. Too bad I never got to relive this “Brush with greatness” with David Letterman. In modern days, I could’ve saved Neil’s shampoo bottle and sold it on E-Bay.

 

 

Out of College and Up the Creek

THE FOLLOWING IS AN EXCERPT FROM MY MEMOIR “RAISED ON THE RADIO” WHICH I LOOK TO RELEASE in 2018

In May of 1984, after five years of classes at three schools, hours and hours of radio fun and some hard work, I got my college degree; a Bachelor of Arts diploma in Interdepartmental Communications/ Advertising from Elmhurst College. I wasn’t ready for a real job so I landed summer duty as a day maintenance worker at Poplar Creek Music Theater in far west suburban Hoffman Estates.

Poplar Creek was a music venue known in the concert industry as a “Shed.” These places had an open air yet covered pavilion with reserved seats and a large hill or lawn area behind the pavilion for general admission seating. There were 7,000 seats in the pavilion with room for about fifteen thousand more fans on the expansive lawn which was a large grass hill.

Aerial view of Poplar Creek Music Theater

My work began in June, doing a shift that started at eight a.m. til late in the afternoon. A couple weeks later I was promoted to a squad leader, which brought the pay to five something an hour. Each squad boss would lead a group of workers to do things like pick up the parking lot’s trash and clean bathrooms both in the public plaza and backstage. We’d also clean the pavilion which meant using a hot water pressure sprayer that helped blow all the sticky crud off the plastic seats and concrete floor.

One odd trend was cleaning the Poplar Creek restrooms the morning after shows. The men’s johns would have a little trash on the floor and small puddles of spilled suds but that was about it. However, the women’s rooms? Whoa! They looked like those retail stores that get looted during race riots. Often times we found ourselves knee deep in paper towels and toilet paper with lakes of sticky wine coolers and beer on the floor. The toilets were such a scary sight they made me pine for the urine covered men’s room walls from my days at White Castle. Even after mellow shows by Air Supply or Herb Alpert we’d clean awful messes and find bras and underwear stuffed in the stalls’ metal containers meant to store used feminine hygiene products. Apparently some liquored up ladies decided “I’m sick of wearing this bra and rather than stash it in my purse, I’ll just leave it here.” I found the whole thing to be pretty funny.

The “women can be slobs” phenomenon wasn’t limited to fans. Co-workers said cleaning up the Go-Go’s dressing room the morning after their show that summer was a major job. Chairs knocked over, food and drinks splattered everywhere. Someone else said when Billy Idol opened the summer of ’84 concert calendar his people turned the whole backstage into a reenactment of the riot scene at the end of “Animal House.” Still, legend has it the ultimate backstage pigs at Poplar Creek were the Blues Brothers back in 1980.

Poplar Creek’s pavilion. I power sprayed plenty of crud off those seats.

Not everything going on backstage was gross. The Pointer Sisters left behind two vases stuffed with fresh roses that I pilfered for my mom and a girl I was seeing. There was also the trove of left behind set-lists, drumsticks, guitar picks, backstage pass laminates and other rock memorabilia. I scooped up lots of this stuff and gave it to fellow Lee Swanson protégé’ Dave Ross. Dave was now working in radio consulting and research in Chicago but had a side business of selling music collectibles at local record conventions.

The summer of 1984 was when Bruce Springsteen launched his mammoth selling “Born in the USA” album and tour, Prince was showering us with his Purple Rain movie soundtrack while Madonna’s “Like a Virgin” release was launching her into the pop stratosphere. None of these acts played Poplar Creek that summer but we still had plenty of other shows to prepare for. I witnessed sound-checks by stars like Linda Ronstadt & the Nelson Riddle Orchestra, Elvis Costello, Nick Lowe and Paul Simon. The Thompson Twins’ curry cook left a stink of that food backstage that lingered for days. Luciano Pavarotti came out to rehearse in cargo shorts, flannel shirt and a Chicago Blackhawks baseball cap. Here I am, all sweaty and dirty in jeans, steam spraying down the pavilion walkways and thirty feet away onstage is the world’s most famous tenor rehearsing beautiful opera songs.

One very hot show day I was driving the maintenance truck to check up on a crew and spotted a tall thin guy jogging on the access road. So who was the unauthorized jogger? I get a closer look and it was the star of that night’s concert, Rick Springfield. Sorry there Dr. Noah Drake from “General Hospital”, that was my bad. Sometimes we chased groupies from the grounds. When Ratt, hot on the heels of their breakthrough hit “Round and Round” came to open for Billy Squier, there were about twenty young women lined up outside their tour bus in the middle of the day. To quote Grand Funk “These fine ladies, they had a plan, they was out to meet the boys in the band.”

.38 Special’s crowd left behind more beer bottles and cans in the parking lots than any other concert that summer. The morning after their show, I found a guy’s wallet full of IDs, credit cards and close to a hundred dollars in the parking lot. I tracked down the wallet’s owner on the phone and he came to pick it up. The guy was a hung over burn-out who barely grunted “Thanks” when I turned everything over to him. He starts to walk away and I commented how I could’ve robbed him blind, still no reaction. Finally I ask, “Any appreciation for me taking care of this?” Finally, the guy says, “Oh yeah, what do you want?” I suggested the six or seven loose singles he had in it. It bought me dinner on the way home. Jesus, if I lost my wallet and everything including the cash came back to me intact; the finder would’ve gotten at least twenty bucks. So to the mopey .38 Special fan who had all his wallet contents returned to him in tact, I hope you’re not still a socially clueless asshole.

 

 

Wacky Wedding

 With Halloween coming next week, I would be remiss if I didn’t add in one more story on my longtime friend Jim Turano. A few sentences in you’ll see how this tale ties in with the masquerading fun of Halloween.

This story will be in my memoir “Raised on the Radio” which I look to release in 2018.

One more tale on Turano: He married his girlfriend Jamie in October of 1990. I was asked to D.J. the wedding reception. Halfway through the party, Jim hands me a cassette and tells me to get everyone off the dance floor because it was garter belt removal time. Jamie was sitting on a chair in the middle of the dance floor in her beautiful gown awaiting her new husband who had slipped out of the reception hall.

I put the tape on and the music was from “The Phantom of the Opera” and Jim comes sweeping into the room in his tuxedo but now he’s wearing a black fedora, black cape and his face is covered by the Phantom’s mask.

The groom keeps creepily circling Jamie until he’s right on top of her.   As the music hits its crescendo, Jim dramatically rips the mask from his face and the hat from his head! Ta Dah!…. I said Ta Dah!…. Dead silence… Nothing.

The wedding guests, the servers, bartenders, clean-up crew and I the music master had no idea how to react. My only thought was, “What the shit was that?” You know the phrase “All we heard was crickets?” Even the crickets shut the hell up. The silence went on for about thirty seconds but it felt like thirty days. It was like in “Coming to America” when Eddie Murphy as Randy Watson sings Whitney Houston’s “The Greatest Love of All” for the Black Awareness Rally and when he finishes, nobody claps and then he yells the name of his band, “Sexual Chocolate!” With no reaction he yells it out again “Sexual Chocolate!”

Finally I got on the microphone and told the crowd to keep quiet on what we just saw, because it may have been illegal. They laughed and the reception went on. Years later Jim told me he almost went with a different bit where he’d lip synch Roy Orbison’s “In Dreams” into a mechanic’s light like Dean Stockwell did in the movie “Blue Velvet.” To be honest, I would’ve preferred that shtick instead.

When I tell people Jim Turano’s “Phantom of the Opera” reception story, they look at me like a dog staring into a fan. It was the craziest thing I ever saw at a wedding and that includes the time when one groom got on a microphone and said in another life he would’ve married one of the guests at the reception and not his new bride.

To this day Jim defends this Phantom of the Opera bit as a cool happening. I guess that mask and fedora blocked his view of the looks on the guests’ faces. Just stunned silent and bewildered. I’m telling you, I’m pretty unflappable but after that bit of drama, I didn’t know whether to laugh, cry or run out of the reception hall and drive home.

My pal Jim Turano is a born mimic. He spends parts of each day mimicking a normal human being. The rest of the time he’s the Phantom or Elton John or Bruce Springsteen or any TV or movie character you can think of. And of all those characters in the guy are very entertaining and a lot of fun!

(Me and my longtime pal Jim “The Phantom” Turano)

Twin Sons From Different Mums

THE FOLLOWING IS AN EXCERPT FROM MY MEMOIR “RAISED ON THE RADIO” WHICH I LOOK TO RELEASE IN 2018

In the spring of 1983 I met Jim Turano who was wrapping up his freshman year at Elmhurst College and had a Sunday night show host on WRSE. Jim, like me, was a media nut who set his sights on a radio career. One night I heard him play an old dance song called “The Hucklebuck.” Being a ‘Honeymooners’ freak, I knew that song was featured on the old show so I called Jim to talk about that moldy oldie. Soon we discovered we had matching tastes in lots of things. We were both fervent fans of Elton John, Bruce Springsteen, “The Honeymooners” and had other similarities from TV show preferences to the fact that we each owned Beta VCRs, same brand and type.  Jim and I often joked we were twin sons from different mums.

(L-R- Me and Jim Turano in the WRSE studios circa 1983)

I wanted to start a music newsletter that we could send to WRSE listeners. A once a month, double sided 4 page collection of music news, information on the radio station and other comments and articles that we would do ourselves. I invited Jim to be a part of this and soon enough the first edition of “Mick and Jim’s Hucklebuck Update” was published. Since it was the “Hucklebuck” song that linked us in the first place, it made sense to call the newsletter by the same name. To start the subscription list we would solicit on the air for listeners to call in their names and addresses and set them up for the freebie news.

The “Hucklebuck Update” cost us nothing to print. We typed each issue in the college union workroom and learned how to lay-out pictures, cartoons and other parts of the newsletter from, you guessed it, my mentor Lee Swanson who also took Turano under his wing. Elmhurst College had a printing center for us and a bulk rate exemption so we didn’t pay for postage. Copies of the newsletter were also sent to big time Chicago radio stars Larry Lujack, Steve Dahl & Garry Meier and WLUP’s rising morning star Jonathan Brandmeier. I figured why not let the big dogs know what the young Turks are up to?

The newsletter was an instant hit. Our listeners liked getting mail from their favorite radio station and they got into the music updates, our little comments, pithy prose and everything else we put into each issue. I felt something big was bubbling with the Hucklebuck. Just what ‘big’ meant remained a mystery.

The button we mailed out to Hucklebuck subscribers, free of charge. This one is old and a little rusted.  (Like us)

When Elmhurst’s 1983 Fourth of July parade was happening, my mentor Lee said he could get us in it. We painted some WRSE FM and Mick & Jim’s Hucklebuck signs on butcher paper that were taped to my ‘73 Plymouth Duster. Jim and I sat on the closed trunk of the old heap as Lee drove. He maneuvered the car into the pre-parade line-up and told officials we were on the list just like the marching bands and Brownie troops and they absentmindedly waved us through. I realized Lee snuck us in when at the end of the parade the announcers at the reviewing stand had no idea who we were or why we were there. They announced all the other floats and parade participants but didn’t know what to make of me and Jim! It reminded me of “Fast Times at Ridgemont High” when Spicoli stows away on the Biology class field trip to the local hospital. As the students are about to enter the hospital morgue, the teacher, Mr. Vargas stops Spicoli and asks him, “Are you in my class?” Spicoli answers, “I am today.”

1983- Stowaways in Elmhurst’s 4th of July Parade with Lee at the wheel. 

In late August of that year, my alma mater York High School, called WRSE to look for someone to DJ their first sock hop of the new school year called “Morp” which was Prom spelled backwards. I said I’d do it and pulled Jim into the deal. Asked how much we’d charge, I said we needed to rent the turntables, mixer and sound system from Elmhurst College and that would cost ten dollars. I didn’t ask for a dime more because I was glad to get exposure in front of a couple hundred high school kids. In the two years before this MORP I DJ’d several Elmhurst College fraternity dances for a little pay and a lot of fun.

Long story short, the MORP dance at York drew over five hundred students who paid three bucks each to get in. Jim and I blew the roof off the room with three hours of oldies and current pop hits. It was a rowdy fun success because we got everybody up and dancing, singing and going nuts. At the end of the night we were paid what I asked for, ten dollars. The rest of the profits went to the York student council and we quickly learned a lesson on better pricing for live dances. Rave reviews of our D.J. dance debut at York got out and calls started coming from area schools who wanted us to play their hops. From 1983 through 1987 we played and got paid for D-J-ing everything from grade school sock hops to colleges, reunion dances, homecomings, proms, company events, birthday parties and weddings.   Jim and I were a big hit doing these dances because we turned every event into a Springsteen-like go nuts happening.  We’ve been friends ever since “The Hucklebuck” song got us together.

JIM TURANO POSTSCRIPT: Jim graduated from Elmhurst College in 1986 and worked for entertainment trade publications and PR agencies while dabbling in Chicago radio before eventually linking up with Chicago radio personality Garry Meier. This was after Garry split off from a long partnership with Steve Dahl followed by years with Roe Conn. Meier and Turano were together for on air partnerships at WCKG FM and lastly at WGN AM where Garry coined Jim’s nickname as Elton Jim in honor of his dedication to the piano pounding pop star.

Jim’s Elton John fandom (he’s been to over 160 Elton concerts) in 2001 was  featured on a VH-1 show about super dedicated music fans. They taped interviews with people who knew him, including me. I gave statements like: “Jim will never leave his wife for another woman, But he MIGHT leave her for Elton John.” I also noted “If Elton ever turns up missing, check Jim Turano’s basement.” The VH-1 producer ate these lines up. Jim was crushed. He said wanted to look like the “normal” Elton John fanatic, I told him, “That ship has sailed.”

Next Week- One more tale on Jim Turano that involves the craziest thing I ever saw at a wedding.

 

 

 

 

Luke Meets Yoda

THE FOLLOWING IS AN EXCERPT FROM MY MEMOIR “RAISED ON THE RADIO” WHICH I LOOK TO RELEASE IN 2018.

Besides thriving on the WRSE FM airwaves, meeting rock music business entrepreneur Lee Swanson in the spring of 1982 was a pivotal moment for me. Lee came to a local concert I was emceeing and we were introduced. He was thirty-one at the time and Elmhurst born & bred. Lee owned The Record Gallery record store in town as well as a local bar called The Rock Garden plus he managed a popular bar band called Risk. Often being a mentor to teens and college kids who had interests in music and media, it would take a math genius to total up his far reaches and contacts but Lee was the Chicago suburbs’ answer to legendary concert promoter Bill Graham.

At the time when I met Lee he was mentoring Dave Ross, a former WRSE D.J. who was now interning at rock station WMET FM.  Dave and I would be linked up through Lee and became long term friends as well.

Lee Swanson was Yoda to my Luke Skywalker and a pre-Google era search engine. Got a question on how to make a local show happen or how to promote a radio station event the right way? Lee was the guy to call. Need to rent P.A. equipment for a concert or dance? Talk to Lee. He was a booster rocket who helped get others moving in the right direction much like Hamburg Germany was a catalyst for the Beatles and other British acts who were honing their skills. Those bands played long late hours six nights a week and either got better or went home. Lee helped all his protégés help themselves and he was also a great friend. When I first met Lee, he just completed treatments for thyroid cancer. It was a rough battle that included surgery and radiation. His physical strength was coming back and the good news was the cancer was in remission.

With the exception of his long red hair, Lee was always the guy in a crowd who would stand out in more subtle ways. When most Chicago rock music fans were sporting black WLUP FM “The Loop” T-shirts, Lee wore a white long sleeved T titled “The Poop” which mocked the iconic radio station. He would say while it’s nice to be into what others liked, it’s better to have something going on that’s just a little different. He was generous and considerate. When a mutual friend won a really cool M TV baseball cap in a drawing, he offered it to Lee who told the guy, “Give it to Mick instead, because he’s the one who wears hats and it’ll mean more to him.”

The best thing Lee taught me was to gather as much information and details about any situation you’re involved in and to not go off half cocked until you knew what was what. That may sound like common sense but to a twenty one year old college kid like me this was vital insight and guidance. Lee Swanson showed me it was best to aim to be the smartest person in the room but you didn’t always have to show that off. When explaining his view or ideas on something Lee would often say, “What you have to understand is…” And he would give some background and detail that helped frame the reasoning behind his thoughts. The guy was very smart and we were great loyal friends from the get go. Lee was someone I talked to on the phone or in person just about every day, he was my touchstone.

(L-R, Me, Dave Ross & Lee at Rolling Stones Records Store)

My media reach expanded in the fall of 1982. Rob Dicker, a high school friend and former yearbook photographer was working for the Elmhurst Press newspaper. He thought the paper needed a music column and pitched the idea to an editor. I was asked to submit a sample article and gave a review of The Who’s new album “It’s Hard” which ran in the next issue. The paper called to have me come down for photos that were taken for my byline on the column titled “Rock Scene” by Mick Kayler. I spelled my last name with a ‘Y’ so people wouldn’t pronounce it Collar or Kohler. That drove my Grandpa Kahler nuts but he also understood my reasoning on the importance of name pronunciation. The column was to have an emphasis on local bands. “Rock Scene” ran in the Elmhurst, Villa Park and Lombard editions of the Press publications newspapers. It was a win-win-win all over the place. My pal Lee was a huge help when I needed to make local music contacts. The Rock Scene column was another stop on my media road.

I cannot emphasize enough what Lee Swanson’s friendship and guidance meant to me. His mentorship was this inspiring and never failing catalyst for me. I knew no matter where my career and life took me, we would be very close friends forever.