Friday, December 20, 2013

Gone, Not Forgotten.

It was all over the local news Thursday that radio legend Larry Lukack passed away at age 73. At one time he was known as Superjock. If you don't know who he was more info is here.

While his passing may not have been of particular note to me he did happen to be one of those (drumroll) "Famous People Gerry Has Met". That's right Little Tommy.

In the mid seventies to the early eighties I was toiling as a jr. art director for a smallish independently owned ad agency where I sketched up drawings that eventually became ads. The offices were located at 360 N. Michigan Ave. in what was then named The Stone Container Building. Many years ago it was named The London Guarantee Building. The structure can be seen in the center of the image below as a bumper frame used for the old Untouchables television series starring Robert Stack as Elliot Ness.

Below is a more modern photo of the Stoney, as we called it back then. It was a classic piece of downtown architecture made of steel and Indiana limestone with greek revival columns and a penthouse/rotunda on top.

This building was home to the studios of WLS-AM and WLS-FM radio when I worked there. It also housed two art studios, another ad agency and in the upper rotunda was a professional photographer's studio where most of the photos used in ads for Nine Lives brand cat food featuring Morris The Cat were produced. The 360 building was a hotbed of creative talent of all kinds back then. It's also where I worked when The Pope came to town. In my 35 year career downtown I worked in three of the four buildings at Michigan and the Chicago River except the Wrigley.

On the first floor was the offices of Merril, Lynch, Pierce, Fenner & Smith, a Wall Street stock brokerage firm. Also on the first floor was the famous London House, a restaurant and one of the last original jazz nightclubs in town where all the jazz greats performed live. The Ramsey Lewis Trio was the local regular house band there. I was invited to watch so-called closed rehearsals there on a few Friday afternoons at about three o'clock with a few of our execs who were regulars at the bar as well as the owner of one of the art studios who had connections with one of the club owners but that's another story for another time. Well…I did get to see Steve Allen, Lionel Hampton, Yuseef Lateef and others rehearse while downing cocktails at the bar with my bosses. Steve Allen and my one boss got into a lengthy and humorous repartee while Steve was plinking the piano and tuning up.

Larry Lujack was the most popular top 40's rock jock of the day and nationally known due to the powerful signal WLS-AM produced. I knew of him well before I worked downtown but was not a regular listener of AM Top 40 radio at the time unless I was in an auto that only had an AM radio. Having an FM radio was considered luxury back then so most of us had aftermarket 8-track or cassette players in our beaters. We preferred music that wasn't allowed to make the Top 40 lists.

During my stay at 360 Lujack hosted the morning drive time. There were times I needed to leave the office during the mid morning before noon either to make a run to the art supply store on Wacker or to the magazine stand in the building lobby for reference material. Quite often while going down the elevator door would open on the 4th floor and Lujack himself would enter on his way home.

His attire was shabby/casual consisting of what we called a "jean suit" which was very common. A Levi's jacket, Levi's boot cut jeans, boots or sneakers, a flannel shirt and cowboy belt buckle. Most ad agency folks of the day wore similar attire but Lar always had on a cowboy hat as I recall. He generally looked down with the brim hiding his face, probably because he didn't want to be noticed. Radio guys generally aren't noticed but since his mug was plastered all over expressway billboards and the sides of CTA busses he was easy to recognize.

Most of the time he entered looking down while walking in then slowly rolling into a turn facing forward before pressing the button (which was already lit up) just to make sure the door would open on the first floor, I guess. His head would slump sideways and hit the wall before coming to a rest as if he were near exhaustion. On a few occasions I was alone in the elevator when he got on and he would look up at me. Maybe because I was alone. All he did was grunt and roll his eyes before turning around with his slumping head and pressing the button routine. He looked tired each and every time and with a stubble beard like a 5 o'clock shadow.

While I never spoke directly to him he did acknowledge my presence once while he was speaking to one of the other radio guys in the first floor lobby. Lujack looked up at me, gave me a point with his finger and I smiled back at him. That earned a rare and polite nod from the great man. I attribute that to my never trying to invade his space or try to converse with him. It was easy to see from his body language most of the time he had no desire for any small talk or fan worship of any kind. As I listened to the many eulogies today during a long drive to Indianapolis this morning on WLS-AM that is exactly as he was described by many of those who had once worked closely for or with him.

Musicians and celebrities of all sorts rode those elevators and bumping into one was not unusual. I recall Steve Dahl and Garry Meirer wearing those satin baseball jackets with the radio station name on the back before they became famous shock jocks, pre-disco demolition. Before disco demo Dahl would do live remote schtick in front of the building at times but drawing few participants.

Roger Daltry got on one day and he was with two gents wearing classic British business attire complete with briefcases and derby hats. Did Daltry ever stick out like a sore thumb with those two. He wore a tight t-shirt, was short but very fit and with the trademark curly blonde hair.

Members of the STYX band  got on board once but I didn't recognize them. Two chicks on the elevator ride did though. They squealed and didn't shut up after those guys got off on the first floor where they surrendered for autographs.

Guitar great Joe Walsh was another I didn't recognize when he was with Dahl and another fellow. A coworker friend of mine pointed him out while we were waiting for a ride from the first floor. They all came to the studios to pump sales for a recently released recording.

The radio great Paul Harvey was another regular rider. He was always talking with another person but that voice of his was undeniable. Harvey always wore the finest in men's wear and he looked perfect each and every time without one finely coiffed hair out of place. So now you know…….the rest ……of the story.

But Lujack is the one I remember most fondly today. He is special to me because he the first official "Famous People Gerry Has Met".

R.I.P. Uncle Lar.


Dan from Madison said...

Cool. I remember his Animal Stories segments. That signal was crazy strong from WLS and we could get it loud and clear in Rockford IIRC the Animal Stories things were so popular that they came out with lps and tapes of them for sale.

Carl from Chicago said...

That is great that they used the top of that rotunda as a photographic studio. I always wondered if they put those locations to practical uses. That's the kind of stuff I wonder about, I guess.

Very funny keep watching the obits and you will know many more over the years.

He had a great "radio voice".