CHICAGO – Larry Lujack, the immensely popular Chicago radio personality whose sarcasm, grumpiness and sense of humor was unlike anything listeners had ever heard before and inspired and influenced broadcasters around the nation, has died. He was 73.
Lujack’s wife, Judith Lujack, said Thursday that he died of esophageal cancer at their Santa Fe, N.M., home Wednesday evening. She said he was diagnosed last January and his health started to deteriorate dramatically in September.
Though Lujack’s name may not be familiar today, a quarter-century after his 20-year run at WLS-AM and the former WCFL-AM, it would be tough to understate just how big he was – the star of a massive radio station with listeners all over the state and beyond. Lujack joked, bellyached and criticized his way through a show in a way that is ubiquitous among radio DJs and talk-show hosts today but that was unheard of until he came along.
“The point is that with all the top-40 disk jockeys, these high-energy guys with their fake effervescence, cheerfulness, he was the first one to be real,” said Robert Feder, a longtime Chicago media critic who writes a blog. “He paved the way for new style of radio that followed and everyone who became a real personality owes it in some way to Larry Lujack.”
Feder, who wrote about and interviewed Lujack a number of times when he was the media critic with the Chicago Sun-Times, wrote in his blog that “Ol’ Uncle Lar,” as he was affectionately called, was an immediate sensation when he came to Chicago after he had held several radio jobs around the country.
Staples of his show, both alone and working with longtime partner Tommy Edwards, such as “Animal Stories,” ‘’Klunk Letter of the Day,” and “Cheap, Trashy, Showbiz Reports” gained him legions of fans, including a woman who listened to him religiously before she ever met him.
“I’d be driving to modeling jobs and listening to Larry the whole time laughing my head off,” said his widow.
So popular over the years that, according to Feder, in 1984 he was given what was then an unprecedented 12-year, $6 million contract to prevent him from jumping to another station.
After moving to afternoons in 1986, Lujack’s ratings dropped and he left WLS the next year when the parent company ABC bought out his contract. There were a couple of comebacks in Chicago – broadcasting form his Santa Fe home – but he never achieved the kind of popularity that he’d had earlier.
Lujack has received numerous awards and honors, including induction into the National Radio Hall of Fame and the National Association of broadcasters’ Hall of Fame.
Lujack is survived by three children from a previous marriage, sons John and Tony, daughter Linda Shirley, as well as two grandsons and Judith Lujack’s son, Taber Seguin.