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)
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.