Although John Lanigan grew up in Nebraska, he is as Cleveland as Christmas Ale and the Cuyahoga River. A quick wit and a sardonic outlook have characterized his 28 years on the local radio dial and helped him outlast mayors, managers and miscreants from all walks of life.
Maybe that's because Lanigan has never been shy about taking aim at such characters since arriving at WGAR to replace Don Imus in 1971. Still outspoken and unbowed after all these years, the 70-year-old Lanigan does not suffer fools gladly — recently taking the Cleveland Browns to task for the team's woeful history since 1999: "When you have tradition, you have to stand by it," the Majic 105.7 host deadpanned.
This month, Lanigan will be recognized for his contributions to media with induction into the National Radio Hall of Fame in Chicago.
"I didn't think I was good enough to do this forever," he says. "I really don't believe it's talent that puts you where you are. It's a skill that you have to work hard to develop."
And Lanigan has certainly honed his craft. During the late '70s, when local radio execs were privately calling Cleveland morning radio more awful and offensive than any city in the nation, Lanigan battled for listeners with WHK's Gary Dee and WWWE's Pete Franklin. He's taken on all competitors ever since, including when Howard Stern's syndicated show came to WNCX in the 1990s.
Following his script to attack the personalities in each new market, Stern relentlessly trashed Lanigan and his wife, a former Playboy bunny, on the air. Lanigan shot back.
"I called the owner of the station," he recalls, "and told him I knew he had hired people with criminal records for prostitution and drug dealing, and I would make that public."
Coincidentally, Stern's on-air personal attacks soon ceased. But where did Lanigan get his information? A Cleveland cop called and said, "I'm not crazy about you," Lanigan recalls, "but I like [Stern] a lot less."
So now Lanigan, who also hosted WUAB's Prize Movie for 15 years, follows another local legend, Alan Freed, into the Radio Hall of Fame.
"I didn't really want to be inducted posthumously," he says. "It wouldn't have been nearly as much fun."
Here are some of our favorite Lanigan quotes from our pages through the years.
On competing with Gary Dee: "Dee did for radio in this town what the Boston strangler did for door-to-door salesmen."
— from "Morning Mouth," 1979
On coming to Cleveland: "I knew it was a great radio town. Cleveland really had a glamour about it. Remember, I was a kid from Ogallala."
— from "The Boy from Ogallala," 1987
On co-host Jimmy Malone: "If you don't think I'm the quintessential Clevelander, I don't care. Jimmy's much more concerned about what people think. Jimmy will care a lot."
— from "The Ultimate Clevelander," 2005
On his longevity: "Cleveland sort of takes in people who have been with them for a long time. And this city has been very good to me."
— from "30 People Who Defined Cleveland," 2002