(Pictured: a modern view of Chicago in autumn.)
Thursday, September 23, 1971, was the first day of fall. News headlines that morning included accusations that President Nixon had lied about the purpose of recent bombing raids in North Vietnam. A new report suggested that the earth’s climate was cooling. A coroner’s jury ruled that a woman who fell from the 90th floor of Chicago’s John Hancock building died accidentally. The Pittsburgh Pirates clinched the National League Eastern Division championship the previous day. In the wake of the recently announced move of the Washington Senators to Dallas, Senators fan Nixon told reporters he would switch his baseball allegiance to the California Angels.
Larry Lujack was on the air at WLS in Chicago, where he’d held down mornings for a year. I recently came across an aircheck of the 7 to 8AM hour of that show. The aircheck is unscoped, which means it contains complete songs and newscasts as well as full commercial breaks. Such airchecks are comparatively rare; it’s more common for airchecks to be “scoped”—that is, to have jock-talk only, with music, commercials, and news edited out.
Many of the songs on the aircheck are hits of the moment: “If Not for You,” “Ain’t No Sunshine,” and “Night They Drove Old Dixie Down,” but also Dawn’s charming “What Are You Doing Sunday,” which WLS charted as high as #3 while it was making only #39 on the Hot 100. It also includes the Fifth Dimension’s version of “Never My Love,” which prompts Uncle Lar to say it’s so good he wants “to take the cartridge out of the machine and eat it.” Also heard: Sly and the Family Stone’s “Hot Fun in the Summertime” and “When You’re Hot, You’re Hot” by Jerry Reed, which Lar misidentifies as “Amos Moses,” Reed’s hit from earlier in 1971. On the Klunk Letter of the Day, a regular Lujack feature, a listener writes to say that Lar blew her mother’s mind on an earlier show by playing a Roy Orbison song, so he plays “Candy Man,” which he calls Orbison’s best song ever. The last song heard on the aircheck is an oddball: “Who Will Answer” by Ed Ames, a 1968 hit that is trippy enough for the late 60s and straight enough to appeal to the housewife demo.
The aircheck includes a full newscast on the half-hour by Lyle Dean, who anchored news from the 60s to the new millennium alongside Chicago legends: not just Lujack but Clark Weber, Fred Winston, and Bob Collins. The Cubs and White Sox scores get mentioned a couple of times within the hour, as does Nixon’s transfer of baseball allegiance. The Senators’ move is also the subject of Howard Cosell’s regular Speaking of Sports commentary, which is also heard in full.
As a kid, I was weaned on my hometown station’s morning show, which unfolded so precisely that we never had to look at the clock—we knew what we needed to be doing by what we were hearing. So when the aircheck got to the regular morning broadcast of The Secret Adventures of the Tooth Fairy (a two-minute serialized superhero parody created by advertising genius Dick Orkin in the wake of the legendary Chickenman), it felt like time for the bus to be getting to school. Back then, when Cosell’s commentary came on at about 7:55, we would often get off the bus, just minutes before the first bell rang. And on that Thursday morning 46 years ago, I was almost certainly listening, on my way to another day in sixth grade at Northside School.
Lujack does quick bits in and out of songs, goofs on the weather, the traffic, and a laundry soap commercial, and talks about a recent jock meeting at the station. “We have them every couple of weeks,” he says, “so the program director can tell us we’re not as great as we think we are.” At this one, the staff teased night jock Kris Erik Stevens for his flowered shirt and his long hair, calling him a hippie communist.
Larry Lujack, on a normal day in his natural habitat, rasps and pauses and smirks and sometimes sounds like he’s badly in need of more coffee. He was not the honey-voiced fast talker of Top 40 legend (not like Kris Erik Stevens, whose delivery I have imitated for 40 years whenever I want to “sound like a DJ”). But by September 23, 1971, he was one of most important people who would ever come into in my life. At the age of 11, I already knew that I wanted to be on the radio, just like my old Uncle Lar.