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.

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