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97 Rock DJ Larry Norton signs off on radio career

Two hours remained of a radio career that spanned 40 years, and morning DJ Larry Norton shed some light on his life.

“For seven years doing the show from Florida, I worked in my boxers,” said Norton, wearing jeans and a T-shirt as he stood for his last shift in the studio at Cumulus Media Buffalo on Friday.

“Did you know about Larry’s tattoo?” asked Rob Lederman, WGRF-FM morning show comic.

Chris Klein, news and traffic announcer, smiled.

The heart-shaped tattoo on Norton’s right bicep bears the name of his wife, Barb. The dime-size heart was done on-air, Norton said. Lederman got one at the same time.

Lederman pointed out another Norton “secret.”

“He’s very competitive,” Lederman said. “In fact, he’s killed three people on a shuffle board court in Punta Gorda.”

The cast of three make up “Norton in the Morning,” the show that thousands of Western New Yorkers have woken up to for decades.

“It’s fun to look back and remember all the people you’ve connected with, callers who have won a prize or whom we’ve helped,” Norton said. “You don’t think about that.”

Like “Lightning Boy,” who called in from the West Coast. The man who was struck twice by lightning now drives a tour bus for Rob Thomas. He called 97 Rock from the road on his way from Sacramento, Calif., to Las Vegas to wish him well.

Linda Taylor, director of marketing for Darien Lake Theme Park Resort, stopped by to reminisce about Norton’s marathon Ferris wheel stunt.

“The thing that knocks me out about it is Darien Lake was just starting out,” Taylor said. “Paul Snyder started it as a small family campground, and now it’s a powerhouse. Larry meant a lot to us, and he helped our business a lot.”

Spending 40 days continuously on a Ferris wheel would be agony for most people, but Norton passed the time in a novel way.

“I stood up and read Stephen King as I was going around,” Norton said of the fundraising stunt 31 years ago that lasted from Memorial Day to Fourth of July.

“My daughter was 3 months old, and she’s going to be 32,” Norton said. “It was just something that I did. I wanted to set the record for the longest radio broadcast, and I did. After that, it was the Ferris wheel at Darien Lake.”

Jenny Norton, her brother Dan Norton and their mother Barb Norton joined the “Norton in the Morning” crew for the last shift.

“I remember Mom driving us to school, and turning off the radio at times. She said dad was getting too personal,” said Dan, 33. “We grew up listening to him. It’s going to be weird driving to work and not hearing him on the radio.”

Jenny Norton is 31.

“That’s all we know is him being on the radio,” she said. “We listened to him in the morning while eating our cereal, and he was always home when we got home from school.”

Norton expects his two grandchildren will keep him busy. Aurora is 2 and Belle is 3 months. Barb Norton was 15 when she met her husband at Amherst High School. They were married 36 years ago. Living with Norton, she said, has made her more outgoing.

“I think the greatest lesson my mother and father instilled in us is to give back to the community,” said Jenny Norton, who works for Foundation Center, a nonprofit in Washington. “My brother and I live by that motto.”

A special delivery of wings and pizza was donated by Santora’s Pizzeria. Mayor Byron W. Brown called. A Tom Petty song played. Hugs all around. Tears, too.

Larry Norton for years served as host for the 97 Rock Ball Drop on New Year’s Eve. Today he and his wife reside in Florida. He announced his retirement during a recent fundraising drive for Make-a-Wish. Over his 40 years on the air, Norton helped raise $2.8 million for Make-a-Wish Foundation.

Norton said he plans to continue his fundraising efforts after his retirement.

“I’ll work for the Catholic radio station and help them out,” he said. “I’ve been very blessed and I want to give back. If people remember me for anything it should be for helping out Make-a-Wish and other charities.”

email: jkwiatkowski@buffnews.com