Thursday, December 18, 2014

Radio Memoirs: Superjock

Published in 1975, Larry Lujack's Superjock captures him freshly arrived at the top of Chicago's Top 40 airwaves. He was working the afternoon drive shift at WCFL ("The Voice of Labor") when this came out, a few years after the station, programmed by the brilliant John Rook, had managed to outpace the ratings of powerful WLS (where Lujack had previously worked until 1972). This would all come undone by 1976, though, when CFL switched formats to "The World's Most Beautiful Music," prompting Lujack, a few months later, to move back to WLS, where he'd stay until 1987.  (You can hear Lujack handling the 1976 format transition on YouTube, playing Reunion's "Life Is a Rock (But the Radio Rolled Me)" and following it up with ocean sounds.)

Although music programming philosophy is the side of radio history that interests me most, I still gobble up books like these and wish that every notable radio jock would write one. Superjock alternates between memoir and zinger-filled on-air/off-mic dialogues between Lujack and his producer/engineer "Spacey Dave," who's got a thing for records by Rare Earth. Like Don Imus, Lujack was one of the best of the new breed of early '70s Top 40 DJs who came across as the over-caffeinated grouch, seemingly hungover from the exuberance of the "boss radio" years. He'd pepper the playlists with two-to-three minute "Animal Stories," "The Klunk Letter of the Day," "Can This Marriage Be Saved?" and other features, projecting a resigned sense of "can you believe this?" This crucial attitude accompanies the irreverent material in Superjock and makes it funny. The loudmouth approach to today's morning drive time radio, which mostly comes across as spiteful and is done at the expense of music airtime, is both an unfortunate legacy for Lujack (who passed away in December 2013) and a testament of his influence.

Some tidbits from the book:

"Any kid of mine who wanted to be a disk jockey, I'd kick his head in" (p. 22).

"A DJ's life is ... accurately portrayed by Harry Chapin in the song about radio staton 'WOLD,' a very depressing story about the rise and fall of a Top 40 jock: the drinkin', divorce, and driftin'. You mothers who don't want your infant son to waste his life by becoming a rock jock should...buy the kid a copy of that record and make him listen to it over and over" (p. 29).

"In the late sixties and early seventies, when objections were raised to songs on the radio with drug-oriented lyrics, the popular radio cop-out was 'Well, we're not endorsing the stuff, nor are we encouraging its use. We're simply playing the music that reflects what's happening in today's society, the music the public wants to hear.' What crap! By playing those songs we endorsed it; we made drugs seem 'in,' hip, sophisticated. We helped make martyrs of Janis Joplin and Jimi Hendrix. They weren't heroes, just ignorant people" (p. 33).

"A few years back there was a girl singer who reportedly made the rounds of all the big radio stations in the large markets offering her sexual favors to music directors and DJs in return for airplay of her first record. I say reportedly because I didn't happen to be there the day she dropped by the station I was working at then. But the story came from all over the country; so it must have been true. It worked. The record sold several million and established her as a major nightclub performer" (p. 61; I have my theories).

Lujack describes Janis Joplin as the "absolute snottiest person" he ever met (p. 79), Nancy Sinatra's behavior as being similar to a "pizza waitress," and the Monkees as juvenile, "silly little f*cks" (pp. 79-84). Tiny Tim, on the other hand, is described as a "very intelligent guy, one of the nicest people I've ever met in this business and really fun to talk to" (p. 84).

And this, from his real-life American Grafitti teenage years in Idaho:

"The biggest hood at Caldwell High School [Lujack's alma mater] was two years ahead of me. His first name was Revere. He was in a gang called the 'Nemows' (pronounced with a long 'e' and a long 'o': rhymes with Creamo). The derivation of the name? I'll give you a hint. It concerns something the gang was always in search of. You might as well give up; you'll never get it. Leave off the 's' and spell it backward.

"The Nemows were incredible idiots. At basketball games they would gather outside and wait till everyone was seated and the game had begun. Midway through the first quarter they would make their grand entrance. Twenty guys all wearing Levis and identical leather jackets would march single file all the way around the gym and then back out the door. They didn't give a sh*t about the game. They just wanted to make sure everybody saw them and noticed how cool they were.

"You'd look at Revere and think, 'No way is that sonofab*tch ever going to amount to anything. He'll end up doing either 20 years for armed robbery or life for murder.' So guess who the blond guy was who played piano for Paul  Revere and the Raiders, one of the biggest rock bands in the early and middle sixties?" (p. 98).

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