A Jump in The Lake
Legendary Chicago DJ Larry Lujack turns 66 years old today. For nearly 20 years, Lujack was the king of Chicago jocks, going back and forth between the city's Top-40 flamethrowers, WLS and WCFL. He retired in 1987, but returned to Chicago radio doing a weekend gig over the phone from his New Mexico home in 2000, and has co-hosted a morning show with old WLS partner Tommy Edwards on a small FM station in Chicago since 2003. Uncle Lar, also known as Superjock, is the greatest personality DJ in the history of radio, even though his personality was often sardonic and/or grumpy. (You can get a far-too-tiny taste of Lujack at his Radio Hall of Fame page, from the early days to his emotional 1987 farewell to his new-millennium return; find more Lujack clips and reminiscences here.)
I became a DJ largely because of Lujack, and I'm not the only radio guy who would say that. I was only 10 years old when I first heard him, and by the time I turned 11, I knew that I wanted to do what he did every morning. And I did it, for 18 years.
The things we love the hardest when we're young are often the things we never leave entirely behind. So, after I got out of radio entirely in 1997, I occasionally found myself tempted to get back in, but I never gave in to that temptation. And the further my radio days receded in the rearview mirror, the more it seemed that my DJ days were probably over--barring some specific, special situation that was too good to pass up.
Enter one specific, special situation. Old Uncle Lar's birthday seems like an appropriate date for me to tell you that later this month, I'll be going back on the air, doing weekends and fill-ins at The Lake (93.1 and 106.7) in Madison.
I wasn't interested in going back on the air just to play faceless and disposable AC or country hits. The Lake calls its format "timeless rock"--think classic rock, but with a much broader and deeper library than most classic rock stations. I'm a listener who knows the classic rock canon pretty well, and if they can surprise me, they've really got something. (Playing as I write: "All the Way From Memphis" by Mott the Hoople.) But here's the thing that's most amazing about the place: It's a throwback to the days when stations expected their jocks to know the music they play. We're expected to uncover interesting stories and facts about the performers and songs, and we're given time to use them on the air. Also, jocks in all dayparts--not just morning drive--are expected to connect with the community and talk about what's going on in the lives of its listeners.
In other words, this is no over-researched jukebox that tells jocks to read what's on the index cards and then shut the hell up. The people who run it believe that the way for the station to succeed is to--gasp!--hire jocks who know what they're doing, and then let them do it. That's what I meant by a special situation. Those of you with radio experience can best grasp how special it is. So how could I pass it up?
(Playing as I write: "Black Cow" by Steely Dan.)
I'm back, Uncle Lar. Happy birthday.