Wednesday, September 16, 2009

WLS- Chicago Rock Radio Giant of the 60s, 70s & 80s

(This article was first published on in 2001 in a slightly different version under the byline Marianne Moro)

For those of us old enough to remember, radio was once a kinder, gentler medium. Now I listen to and enjoy shock jocks as much as anyone. Howard Stern was never a problem for me, its just that after 10 years you get burnt out on strippers having sex with deformed midgets, and you move on. The reported downturn in Howard's ratings proves that people can tire of anything, no matter how initially weird, disgusting, or titillating.

The first DJ I remember hearing was a guy named Art Roberts on WLS-AM 890 in Chicago. I stayed up late Sunday nights when I was supposed to be asleep for school the next day while my Mom's radio played the mellow voiced DJ spinning platters like "A Rose And A Baby Ruth" and the Fendermen's "Mule Skinner Blues." At first I thought the show had no commercials, then I realized the commercials were actually woven into the convivial stories the DJ told. These are among my first memories of anything.

As I grew up, so did WLS. Soon the smooth patter of Art Roberts and Barney Pip gave way to the deadpan sarcasm of Larry "Uncle Lar" Lujack. Within a year, the music metamorphisized, with Gogi Grant replaced by Janis Joplin and the Fendermen usurped by Sergeant Pepper era Beatles and "In-A-Gadda-La-Vida". Uncle Lar was neither happy-voiced announcer or hippie dippie weatherman. He forged his own unique style of understated sarcasm. It's no surprise David Letterman cites him as an early influence. Well-known DJs are usually famous for being over the top, yelling and screaming, and just being plain loud. Lujack, however, played against type. Lar had true daily comedy bits on his show that didn't involve obvious teeny-bopper humor.They included the "Klunk Letter of the Day" - a letter from a listener reamed by Uncle Lar and the "Cheap Trashy Show Biz Report." Uncle Lar put celebrities in their place with a simple "umm-hm" and a quick segue into the next story. Radio ad legend Dick Orkin contributed two serials, "Chickenman" and "The Tooth Fairy",which were similarly tongue in cheek. These serials appeared on dozens of other stations from 1969 through the early '80s.

Lujack left WLS for rival station WCFL in the mid-70s. A true illustration of how radio -as well as other media - have changed to favor the performer over management occurred when Lujack, unable to get out of his contract, was forced to stay on air when WCFL changed its format to beautiful music. ( Beautiful music was the 1970s equivalent of New Age music.) Fortunately, Super CFL bought out Lar's contract, and a few months later, he was back at WLS.

Uncle Lar now shared the airwaves with such notables as Tommy Edwards, Chris Eric Stevens, Ron Britian, John Landecker (more on him later), and in the 1980s Steve Dahl and Garry Meier (of Disco Demolition fame.) There was no love lost between Lujack and Dahl, as Steve insulted him mercilessly without explanation or provocation. This resulted in an infamous on-air confrontation where Steve and Garry left the studio rather than explain why they were constantly bagging on Uncle Lar. Lar took over the airshift, and put Steve in his place. (I'm leaving Garry out of this one.)

Steve Dahl and Garry Meier were consistently hilarious from Disco Demolition through the end of their partnership; they weren't afraid to tell it like it was. Everyone from station management to other DJs to callers were harangued. I have 2 hours worth of cassettes from their 1985 shows on LS and the grin never leaves my face when I listen to them.

Lujack is retired in New Mexico (he always used to threaten that he'd leave radio to become a forest ranger during his rants) Landecker conducts an afternoon show on WIMS-AM.There are no more Boogie Checks; maybe soccer mom checks would be more appropriate for this demographic. Steve Dahl was let go as an on-air jock by WJMK (Jack FM) in Chicago last year. He now conducts a daily one-hour podcast which is available on iTunes and Jack-FM's website. Garry has a conventional talk show on WGN-AM. On Steve's podcast, the topic is basically Steve, but the show is at its best when he pokes fun at his assistants or talks to old cohorts like Buzz Kilman or the Bears' radio announcer Tom Thayer.

You can listen to airchecks from these DJS and other '60s and '70s icons like Charlie Tuna, Gary Owens, and Loehman and Barkley at

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