C of I media legends resonate on the air
Two of the most successful radio personalities in Idaho history got their starts at The College of Idaho.
Both Jack Link, one of the people responsible for putting KTVB News Channel 7 on the air, and National Radio Hall of Fame inductee Larry Lujack spent only a short time on the Caldwell campus. And while their career overlap was fleeting — “I knew of him, but I never met him,” Link says of Lujack, the young gun from Caldwell — both men left an unmistakable mark on both the radio industry and the Treasure Valley.
“We must aspire to inspire before we expire”
Jack Link was stationed in Yuma, Ariz. when he read that a new radio station was going to be built in Caldwell, right outside his hometown of Boise. Link, who broadcasted shows for KIDO at Boise High, knew exactly what he was going to do once he was out of the Army Air Corps.
“Well, hey!” Link thought. “I’ll see if I can get into The College of Idaho and maybe this station will be built and I can get a job there.”
Link moved to Caldwell and started attending classes at the C of I. He joined the Beta Chi fraternity, helped organize homecoming, ate lunch in the basement of Finney Hall, took biology classes from Dr. Lyle Stanford (“What a jewel he was,” Link says) and started going steady with classmate Ella Mays ’47. He also was elected student body president. Unfortunately, the new radio station— which would become known as KCID —was not being built. Link was not in the mood to wait.
“I was a junior and I thought ‘I’ve got to get some radio training somewhere down the line if I’m going to get into the field,’ ” Link said.
Link had a friend at Washington State University who could provide him with housing. So he transferred, even though that meant not serving his presidency at the College.
“I have the distinction of being the only guy elected student body president who never served at the C of I,” Link said.
The next year, KCID finally was completed. Link sent in a demo tape and worked the summer there. After completing his degree at Washington State in 1948, he took a permanent job at the Caldwell station. In 1950, Link married his C of I sweetheart, and the two spent a summer honeymoon in Chicago. Ella studied with famous pianist Rudolph Ganz at Chicago Musical College and Jack studied television production with NBC.
Not long afterward, KIDO in Boise hired Link away from KCID to help launch Idaho’s first television station. In 1953, KIDO-TV debuted, and just last year, Channel 7 (now KTVB) celebrated its 60th year on the air.
Link served as program director at KIDO-TV until KING AM-TV in Seattle came calling. Jack then became KING’s program director and was working in that capacity when he was hired by William Boeing Jr., son of the Boeing Aircraft Company founder, who was beginning to invest in radio. One of the stations Boeing was buying was none other than KIDO, which retained its call letters, prompting Channel 7 to switch to KTVB. Both the sale and the call letter change took place on February 1, 1959. The Links moved back to Boise and stayed until 1962, when they went back to Seattle. Link managed the Boeing stations from there until the last one, KIDO, was sold in 1976.
Around that time, Boeing started buying up properties near SeaTac International Airport for warehouse use. Link changed careers to commercial real estate and remained with the company.
Link served on the College’s Board of Trustees for seven years starting in 1974. He also was the emcee at the Oldtime Fiddler’s Contest in Weiser for 43 years.
“I was unstoppable for 43 years,” Link said. “I never missed a single one. It was a great experience.”
Link, 88, still commutes to his office four days a week and has been employed by William Boeing Jr. since Jan. 31, 1959.
“We must aspire to inspire before we expire,” Link said. “None of us are going to get out of this world alive. So you just take it one day at a time.”
“Superjock” Larry Lujack
The late Larry Lujack was born Larry Blankenburg on June 6, 1940 in Iowa and grew up on the Iowa State University campus. Lujack moved to Idaho as a teenager after his father got a job in the area. Larry was an All-State quarterback at Caldwell High when he graduated in 1957, but knee injuries derailed his athletic career.
Lujack was a student at The College of Idaho when a bulletin board job posting for a radio DJ at KCID changed the course of his life. Not that anyone would have guessed it after Larry’s initial tour of the station with manager Duane Wolf.
“Larry had never been to a radio station or any kind of broadcasting place until he walked into that office,” his mother Ruth Kuehne said. “But he pretended like he knew all about the whole bit and Duane told me later that he knew in his mind it was Larry’s first trip.”
But Wolf, recognizing that Lujack had a made-for-radio voice and the “gift of gab,” hired him anyway.
Early on, Lujack didn’t stay long in any one place.
“He was always making demo tapes and sending them out,” said Larry’s first wife, Gina Lujack.
Now married, Larry and Gina left Caldwell for a radio gig in Spokane, Wash. After a stop in San Bernardino, Calif., Lujack took a job at a station in Seattle. And then Boston. And finally Chicago.
“And the rest is history,” Gina Lujack said.
“He just became popular right off of the bat,” Kuehne said.
Lujack spent most of his career at WLS and WCFL in the Windy City. “Uncle Lar,” as he was known to his listeners, was a true radio pioneer. His “Cheap and Trashy Showbiz Report” was ahead of its time and his most famous bit, “Animal Stories,” has inspired countless imitators on both radio and television. Lujack and his sidekick Little Tommy would read weird and wacky pet tales such as “What do you do when your chinchilla gets constipated?” to great success. In 1975, Lujack wrote his biography, Super Jock (the loud, frantic, nonstop world of a rock radio DJ) with Chicago Sun-Times reporter Dan Jedlicka. Larry’s sarcastic, grumpy, tell-it-like-it-is demeanor endeared him to his fans.
Lujack signed a 12-year, $6 million deal in 1984 with WLS, but ABC bought out his contract in 1987. While that ended his everyday on-air radio career, Lujack was hardly idle.
“He never really retired until a few years ago,” Kuehne said. “Larry was always writing commercials and they even built a studio in his house in New Mexico so that he could bring back his show.”
In 2004, Lujack was inducted into the National Radio Hall of Fame. He loved watching sports and playing golf, including an infamous incident where he played an 18-hole round in Chicago while it was 27 degrees below zero.
While Lujack went on to inspire many shock jocks— including Howard Stern and Rush Limbaugh—he was not “on” all the time and actually was an introvert at heart.
“He would just sit in a chair and be quiet for a long, long time, but you knew his brain was racing,” Kuehne said. “We never knew he had it in him. It shocked us what he turned into.”
“He was introverted, but he came alive behind a microphone,” added Gina Lujack.
Lujack died on Dec. 18, 2013 after a yearlong battle with cancer. He is survived by his second wife, Judith, and a stepson. While Lujack spent most of his life outside of Idaho, his ties to the Gem State run deep. His son Anthony, now a doctor in New York, is a C of I alumnus. Kuehne, 92, lives in Meridian and Lujack’s daughter and her family live in Boise.