Remembering KDAL overnight DJ ‘Little Joe’ Laznick

April 10, 1966

Former taxi, truck and ambulance driver turned disc jockey Joseph “Little Joe” Laznick keeps watch over his nighttime family in this photo from April 1966. (Charles Curtis / News-Tribune)

Pre-Dawn Jockey

Little Joe Spins Night Away

By Wayne Wangstad, News-Tribune staff writer

A world of grooved plastic spins away the time for a nightworker who entertains the restless during the early hours of a new day.

Between those midnight to 6 a.m. hours, KDAL radio’s “Little Joe” plies his trade as a disc jockey, keeping watch over what he calls his nighttime “family.”

Little Joe – the moniker follows the parallel of Robin Hood’s Little John, only with reference to girth – has never used his own name, Joseph M. Laznick, on the air. He prefers to be known by the self-selected name that leaves little else to be said.

Most radio listeners tune their ear to an announcer’s voice, then come up with an image of what he looks like. A woman, for instance, may hear a deep, resounding voice and, in her mind, view the man as a handsome fugitive from Muscle Beach. Oh, the disappointment when she sees he’s a scrawny, crow-like 98-pound weakling.

An image had been formed before the interview with Little Joe. But the graying, skinny, guitar-carrying man was not to be found. Looking younger than his 32 years, the DJ was surprising only because the “Little Joe” analogy had not registered. The most important thing, that friendly, smiling voice that see other nightworkers home, was there, however.

A former taxi, truck and ambulance driver turned radio announcer, Liitle Joe concurs with other nocturnal working types. He likes night work – and has more than 10 years of it under his Jackie Gleason-like belt. “Jackie Gleason,” Little Joe jokes, “and I would have something in common except that I’m fatter and he makes a million dollars a year.”

Armed with a folksy resonant voice touched with a slight nasal twang, which sometimes sounds as though he were rhythmically rolling marbles from one side of his jowls to another, Little Joe works alone yet has the company of hundreds of other nightworkers.

“Night is a lonely time,” he said with his sincere, homespun inflection. “Any person who works nights must (he emphasized that word) be a night person himself. And he must understand the motives of this type of person,” he insisted.

Little Joe’s musical format, as he describes it, is “everything.” That means he plays everything from country western to the long-hair stuff, including listener requests.

KDAL nighttime DJ “Little Joe” Laznick in the studio on Oct. 15, 1978. (Joey McLeister / News-Tribune)

Explaining that his show is best described as “public service radio” – news, weather, sports and music – Little Joe says he keeps in touch with an after-sundown family composed of doctors, lawyers, steelworkers, police and firemen and insomniacs. Unable to get desired information from the morning newspaper, which has not yet arrived, or from television, then no longer on the air, they call the night disc jockey.

Two particular occasions brought a flood of phone calls, the radio announcer revealed. Steelworkers concerned over a threatened strike phoned for information, as did parents of men stationed in Alaska when an earthquake spread trembling havoc there.

The phone calls, Little Joe asserts, make up his “family.”

“Night people are a funny family,” he offered. “Women may call me up and tell me about their husband’s job promotion, or that he got fired. Or they may want advice on a job transfer.”

No all of the “family” calls are congenial, however. “Some of the family cal me up and bawl me out when I do something wrong,” he revealed.

“These people are not kooks,” Joe said as a bit of the friendly homespun air in his voice was replaced with fiery conviction. “These people are lonely. … If they have a problem of if they’re crying, I usually try to find time to talk to them and try to help them.”

A night nurse at a Duluth hospital, Little Joe explained, is typical of the callers. “She phoned and said ‘I won’t be calling the next three nights because I’m off (work)’ ” the DJ said.

Anything unusual about the night work? “The oddity of this type of work,” the announcer insisted, “is the closeness of strangers. You have a bond that’s probably best explained by a mutual dependency.

Several Twin Ports mothers, for instance, have a certain dependency on Little Joe when their children refuse to go to bed. “They’ll ask that I tell the kids to go to bed. Surprisingly, most of the mothers call back and explain that the kids have done what they were told after I’ve talked with them,” he said.

The rotund disc jockey, who races stock cars as a hobby, stands aside from most other nightworkers’ waking-sleeping hours. Off at 6 a.m., he usually goes home then has breakfast and stays up until 3 p.m., when he goes to bed. Then it’s up at 10:30 p.m. to meet his on-air deadline when the hands of the clock are straight up. Unlike most after-sundown workers on the slumber angle, he is like others in that he can participate in most social activities because of his late working hours.

What’s his retort to the sunshine workers? “At 2 p.m., when the sun is highest, you can’t go out for a ride, but I can. And when it’s midnight and you’re just going to bed, I’m just starting to have my fun,” was his prompt reply.

In radio for nearly 2 1/2 years now, about a year of it at KDAL, Little Joe fill several slots in his solo night trick. Shagging records for requests, checking sources and preparing stories for upcoming newscasts consumes a good share of his time. Occasionally, he will interview a recording artist or entertainer on his show.

The DJ’s longest stint, 7 p.m. Saturday to 3 a.m. Sunday, is followed by his only night off.

Any conclusions about working when most people are sleeping? Little Joe used that friendly, folksy voice to paraphrase something he’d mentioned earlier. “You have to be genuinely and seriously interested in – and understand – night people.” Just what he meant by that was not clear, but it was evident that he was talking about that undefinable thing which he likes so much, his radio “family.”

—–

Joseph “Little Joe” Laznick, February 1974 (News-Tribune photo)

In February 1980, the Duluth Herald reported that Little Joe Laznick, then hosting the all-night “Vacationland Calling” show on KDAL, had “received a substantial bequest from an anonymous listener.”

Under conditions of the 71-year-old woman’s will, Laznick was not allowed to give her name or reveal the size of the bequest. But he said he was told the woman left him the money “because I comforted her by playing music on the radio and chatting with her on the phone” during his all-night broadcasts.

He continued on the all-night show until about 1984, and also played bass and sang with the local band the Du-Als. In June 1987, the News-Tribune reported that Laznick was suffering from kidney disease and needed a transplant; friends organized several benefits for him. He died on Dec. 14, 1987, at age 54.

13 thoughts on “Remembering KDAL overnight DJ ‘Little Joe’ Laznick

  1. I listened to Little Joe virtually every night from the late 60′s to the last day of his career. He knew my mother and every Christmas Eve that he worked, we called him and wished him a Merry Christmas. He talked us through snow storms, severe thunderstorms and family turmoil. By far the saddest moment Ive ever heard on radio was the last 5 minutes of his career when he played his last record, “talk back tremblin lips, and his last words ever spoken on the air were, “I just cant’ talk anymore” I have that on cassette and its a tear jerker still to this day. The canned programming that is on the air today will never replace the professionalism and home town love that Joe shared with all of us. God Bless the memory of Little Joe

  2. This was amazing to read! I am Little Joe’s neice and I was working on our family tree and ran across this article. He was super funny & full of love! I remember one time he played a song for me Brown Eyes….I called him and said Uncle Joey my eyes are blue. He just laughed and said at least someone played you a song! I am looking for a picture the Tribune took of Louis Laznick if anyone can help me out! Thanks again for the article~~

  3. Joe would go to my parents Cafe in Superior in the mornings, after keeping up with the bakers all night long. In the early 70′s I would stop by the station and pick music, I’m sure others did also. He had a way with folks, one of the most soothing voices on radio. He loved doing his music onstage also.{ where he got away with almost anything!} Do miss his friendship.

  4. My wife were invited to the wedding of Joe and Bev, then later a friend and I had lunch with them at their home while on the way to the Range. Joe knew I liked to say grace before a meal, so he said go ahead. My friend took over and delivered a nice message the length of which caused Joe’s stomach to growl waiting to eat.
    Little Joe was a fine man and easy to talk with…he is missed.

  5. Little Joe and I had been friends for several years and would often talk on the phone during the early morning hours since we both worked the night shift. When my oldest daughter graduated from high school in 1983 Joe put in a good word for her with Perkins and they hired her and still works there at present. Stopping at Perkins for breakfast with Joe was always an experience which would last for several hours and you never knew who would stop at our table, lawyers, bankers, police officers and it seemed like everyone knew Little Joe .While at his house one morning his wife had gone grocery shopping and when she got home i went outside to help her bring in her groceries, Joe told me to stop doing that as his wife would expect him to do it also. Little Joe Laznick was truly a unigue person.

  6. As a police officer working nights I spend many nights listening to Little Joe. We would give him a call during the week and catch up on what was going on. If we were in Duluth later in the evening we would stop by and have a chat. My wife and I were in the radio studio the night the Fitz went down. Little Joe was central location for everyones calls about the Fitz. He was a great man that was all heart.

  7. Great article on Little Joe. While I remember him, I usually wasn’t tuned in but listening to other iconic all night DJ’s on AM radio. I was a teenager and couldn’t wait for the stations to switch over to night mode, since that meant we could pick up WLS or KAAY in Litte Rock for Beaker Street when the AM signal hit the ionosphere and would hook up to our transistor radio in our bedroom at 2am. My twin sister and I would sit up and play cards, listening to all night radio. (A night person back then, now both of us have worked nights – one a nurse and the other in public safety). I remember once forgetting to turn off WEBC on one of our radios after Johnny Marx signed off. About an hour and a half later someone came on the air and said “shhhhhh…WEBC is sleeping…” and it scared the bejesus out of both of us ! haha. Thanks for a good article. It reminds all of us how, back in the day, the radio and your favorite DJ was an important part of your life.

  8. Joe Laznick and his family were neighbors on third street when I was growing up. I was always surprised by his career in radio. He pretty much did it all on his own, because there wasn’t much to inspire him around the neighborhood. Fine story- interesting comments. Marion Johnson Woodbury

  9. Joe was a warm, friendly man. I admired his work on the air, and his friendship off the air. Little Joe had quite an interest in stock car racing…he took me to the racetrack in Superior, and even got one of the racers to take me for a ride for several laps around the track. Joe liked his “hog” (motor cycle) as well, and rode me around the Iron Range on a wonderful spring afternoon. It was always a special treat to wander into the radio studio on nights that I was tracking the weather through the night. Joe would put me on the air if it would benefit the listeners. After his show was done, we might have a breakfast in Superior or at the Cloud 9 or at Perkins. Folks that had ended their night shift all knew Little Joe, and would drop in at the table and visit.

    Little Joe’s work was a great service to the northland. His was a local hometown voice, a reachable voice, a neighborly voice. He was one of “us”, not some syndicated satellite delivered voice from thousands of miles away. Joe was a real treasure.

  10. Having delivered the Duluth News Tribune from 1971-1977 up in the Iron Range, I was up by 3:45am every morning. While KDAL….Marsh Nelson and UMD hockey were Friday and Saturday night staples for me……most often I would awaken to Little Joe…..KDAL and Little Joe while I was getting dressed to head out in all kinds of weather. Ah….the days of live radio….with rotating or segment anchors/hosts…..and ordinary non-inflammatory easy dialogue. What nice trip down memory lane…..thanks! Al

  11. I’m far too young to remember him, but really enjoyed this article. As an oil field worker, I’m far too familiar with the long overnights where it gets downright lonely when things slow down to a stand still. I’ve always felt like I should have been born 50 years earlier than I was as I don’t really care to follow up with the new technology and trends, and reading about Little Joe makes me believe I missed out on something much more spectacular. Good stuff. Though glad I did live to see the day UMD won a hockey title, wasn’t sure I’d ever see the day

  12. Nice memory. However, back in the 1950′s, the all night person was Dell Russell, when KDAL, as I remember, was on the third or fourth floor of the old Bradley Building. The entrance was from Superior Street. Dell liked to have friends up in the studio for company, and myself and other buddies would go up and stay for an hour or so. Dell enyoyed the company.

  13. I miss Little Joe, even to this day. I had an Arvin transistor radio that I left on low at night, and when I couldn’t sleep, his calming voice transitioned me back. I remember the first time I met him at the Sports Show at the Arena, where the big K had a booth and so did we. Earlier in the day, I stopped by to talk to Double E (Eric Eskola) and there was Little Joe. I told him how his program accompanied me to bed each night and he laughed. I told him I remembered him driving his stock car at the Proctor Speedway and he thanked me.

    Later that evening, as he was leaving the Arena, he walked by our booth on his way out. He made a point to walk over and talk to me some more and seemed genuinely interested in our booth.

    Thank you for re-running this story. If you are too young to remember Little Joe, you missed someone really great about our area and AM airwaves.

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