Wayne Juhlin was a fast writer, gifted mimic and funnyman.
That translated into decades of success in Chicago broadcast circles. He hosted radio shows, wrote commercials and did voiceovers.
His midnight-5 a.m. show on WDAI 94.7 FM was the perfect time slot for comics who wanted to do a little self-promotion following late night stand-up gigs. From the early to late 1970s, Mr. Juhlin interviewed John Belushi, Martin Mull and Robert Klein. The only one who didn’t crack wise was a friendly but contemplative Steve Martin.
Mr. Juhlin’s voices and characters caught the ear of WCFL-AM legend Dick Orkin, who created “Chickenman” and “Toothfairy,” radio serials about offbeat superheroes that aired in thousands of cities in the late 1960s and early 1970s.
Orkin invited him to bring his funny voices and sketches to some of his shows.
Mr. Juhlin also helped write another radio show for Orkin, “You Had to Be There,” said his wife of 34 years, a radio performer who goes by the broadcast name Penny Lane Juhlin.
“He had a wonderful character voice and he had a wonderful sense of humor, and I also thought he was a very skillful writer,” said Orkin, who co-founded the Radio Ranch, a California agency that writes spots for a variety of advertisers, from Boston Market restaurants to Zippo lighters.
The commercials Mr. Juhlin penned, produced and performed in won CLIO, ADDY and Windy awards. He wrote one for actor John Cleese in which the English actor pitched a Milwaukee supermart.
Another spot, for Gancia Asti Spumante wine, still echoes in the memories of those who listened to Chicago radio in the 1970s. It featured a fictional Gancia spokesman with a pronounced Swedish accent, Jorgen Swenson, who claimed to be from Northern Italy.
Before selling wine, Swenson said, “I was an eye-closer in a sardine factory.” WGN-AM radio host Wally Phillips used to replay the line as a bit, said Penny Lane Juhlin.
“They’re terrific spots,” said Joel Cory, the voice of “Pop” in the “Snap, Crackle, Pop” Rice Krispies trio; the Hamburger Helper Hand, the Raisin Bran Sun and the farmer in Green Giant ads. Mr. Juhlin was “just a brilliant guy in all facets of the industry.”
His imitation of broadcast giant Walter Cronkite was so accurate, “you couldn’t tell the difference,” said Burt Burdeen, an instructor at Columbia College and former program director at WSDM-FM/WLUP-FM.
Mr. Juhlin, 77, died April 17 at his Chicago home.
He was born in Portage Park and attended Schurz High School and Wright College. He played the clarinet in an Army band. While stationed in Germany, he visited Paris and fell in love with the city. He visited it four more times in his life.
Back in Chicago, he landed a writing gig at WLS-AM and then worked as a record promoter. “He traveled all over the country,” his wife said. “He was one of the first people to hold a Beatles record.”
After his gig at WDAI-FM, he and his wife served as morning drive hosts for WFYR-FM, doing comedy bits and spinning the oldies.
One night, while returning home from a vacation, they passed an accident scene. She thought she saw small flames licking the dashboard of the car by the side of the road. They turned back and saw the blaze had grown. “Wayne went in the car, opened the door, detached the guy from the steering wheel, pulled him out, and within two minutes, the car burst into flames,” his wife said. The police told Mr. Juhlin he saved the man’s life.
He wrote plays for Chicago’s Organic Theater and did an uncanny, malaprop-rich impression of Mayor Richard J. Daley, which he turned into a 1975 comedy record, “My Kinda Town.” He also performed as Daley onstage. One of the actors on the record, Don Vogel, was legally blind. Mr. Juhlin mentored him and helped him land some of his first radio jobs, his wife said. Vogel went on to a successful broadcasting career at several Chicago radio stations.
The couple also started a comedy night at Ratso’s jazz club, where they helped introduce Judy Tenuta, Marsha Warfield and Jeff Doucette to audiences.
They slept in separate beds in recent years because of his sleep apnea, which leads to loud snoring. But each night she put a note on his pillow, saying: “Sleep well. Tomorrow will be a great day.” He responded with his own pillow notes to her. The last one said, “Thank you for being such a wonderful nurse. I love you.”
Mr. Juhlin performed as a gangster tour guide on a Chicago “Untouchables” bus tour. “He almost got arrested during the 9/11 crisis,” his wife said. “They saw him with a gun near his car, and they stopped him and asked him what he was doing.” They let him go when they realized the gun was a prop.
Mr. Juhlin is also survived by their daughter Jennifer Juhlin; his daughters from his first marriage Jill Murphy, Tina Juhlin and Amy Juhlin Yalowitz, a son, Michael Juhlin, eight grandchildren and four great-grandchildren.
For information on an upcoming celebration of his life, his family asked that people check the website http://wayne.juhlin.com