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.