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.