Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Wolfman Jack: EN EL AIRE, Parte I


 

WOLFMAN IS BORN ON XERF 

Brooklyn-born Robert W. Smith aka Wolfman Jack first introduced his gravely voiced character in 1964 from super-powered border radio station, XERF 1570-AM. The station broadcast at 250,000 watts, five times the U.S. limit, which meant that their signal could be picked up all over North America and at night as far away as Europe and the Soviet Union.  The "Border Blaster" located in Ciudad, Acuña, Mexico (across the Rio Grande from Del Rio, Texas) propelled Wolfman Jack half way around the world from midnight to 4AM every night.  The mysterious Wolfman enthralled young listeners with his howling, ghetto talk and hip play list that featured black artists rarely heard on West Coast radio. The first time Bob Smith introduced Wolfman Jack he had tremendous success.  Smith once told an interviewer, "The first night I went on the air I know we ran mail order record spots and stuff and, I think two days later I collected like, 4,000 or 5,000 pieces of mail. And, that was the first night on the air.  No promotion no nothing, ya know. The station had such a phenomenal signal it covered all those people," he said.

XERF Baby Chicks commercial.


Bob had moved from Shreveport, Louisiana to Del Rio, Texas to be radio personality Wolfman Jack in 1964 but, after eight months of living in the border town with it's hot semi-arid steppe climate he and his family moved back to Louisiana. The Wolfman Jack Show continued on XERF through taped broadcasts.  He would record his shows in the Shreveport studios and mail them down to XERF in Ciudad, Acuña where they were broadcast at Wolfman's regular time: Midnight to 4 A.M.

Soon after, Smith and his family moved to  Minneapolis, Minnesota, where he managed a 1,000 watt, daytime-only station, KUXL 1540-AM for owner, Marvin Kosofsky.  The morning hours at KUXL were filled with pre-paid religious and ethnic programming but during the afternoons it had the distinction of being the only local radio station that catered to the black community with R & B music.  Ironically, of all the employees at KUXL, the most famous voice belonged to someone whose voice did not air locally.  Kosofsky once explained, "Robert W. Smith, A.K.A. 'Wolfman Jack' was the manager and the rhythm and blues program was conducted by a disc jockey called 'Preacher Paul.' [Ralph Hull]"

Early Publicity pic circa 1964
Incidentally, for some reason in Wolfman's biography, station owner  and business partner, Marvin Kosofsky is referred to as "Mo Burton."  If you ever have the chance to read Wolfman's 1995 biography, "Have Mercy! Confessions of the Original Rock 'N' Roll Animal," be aware there are embellishments, name changes and proven historical inaccuracies in the book. It's unfortunate, because in the process of telling his story,  he and the co-author have made it difficult to put his life events in the correct historical perspective. After realizing that some of his biography is fabricated it makes one wonder about the truthfulness of the other parts. It can be difficult to know which statements are fabrications and which are fact. Luckily, there are other sources for fact-checking, so in addition to his own memoirs, I have used many other sources to put together the incredible legendary DJ's fascinating history.  For a comprehensive list of these sources please see the bibliography listed at the end of Part 2 of my Wolfman post. Remember, you've come to this blog for the truth, and I'm gonna do my best to give it to you, baby!


XERF: Wolfman reads letters & laments stupidity.


1965 live recording sold over the air on XERF
The fascinating book, Border Radio gives a glimpse of what it was like back in Wolfman's early days on XERF, "Between the white-hot rhythm and blues of James Brown and Johnny Otis and the jazz of Count Basie, the Wolfman grunted, groaned, and howled an endless stream of exotic exhortations, such as, “Wherever ya are, and whatever ya doin', I wancha ta lay ya hands on da raydeeooo, lay back wid me, and squeeze ma knobs.  We gonna feeel it ta-night!"  

Nobody contributed more to the Wolfman legend than Smith himself.  In his biography, Smith says he took over station XERF from armed banditos. The story is now known as the "Border Radio Shoot-out Saga."  The semi-mythical tale involves lawsuits, shootouts, and armed takeovers. How much is true we may never know.  However, the anecdote is so intriguing that it makes Wolfman's memoirs worth reading just for the chapter where he recounts the story.

Looking toward Villa Acuna, Mexico from International Bridge at Del Rio, Texas.

LOOKING GOOD

In the early days (1964-72) Wolfman Jack worked hard to keep his true identity a mystery and Mexico helped provide cover for his valuable mystique. He did not grant interviews or allow pictures to be taken of him. A long-time Wolfman friend and fan, Jeff Dunas, told Creem Magazine, "You were always wondering who he really was, what where...I would call the station and ask about Wolfman and they would tell me he was eight feet tall and they kept him in a special room, or that no one has ever seen him, or he was all differnt colors... When I wanted to talk to him, Dunas recalled,  "I would always have to wait two hours to get through... Every kid has his own Wolfman Jack in his head, no two are alike..."
The wizard behind the curtain
However, Bob Smith initially did make sporadic public appearances, as Wolfman Jack usually in the role of an MC.  As the MC he would present performers, (such as Bo Diddley, Harmonica Fats, and other rock and rhythm and blues acts), tell dirty jokes or anecdotes, yell along with a few tunes and generally keep the event moving. At each appearance he looked a little different because Smith hadn't decided on what "The Wolfman" should look like. Some rare early pictures on this page show him without a mustache but with a short chin beard, straight hair combed forward and dark makeup added to obscure his Anglo/Saxon ethnicity. Other pictures show him with a big afro wig and large sunglasses. Another image of Wolfman was presented on the sweatshirts he used to sell.  The garments had a hip looking wolf standing on his hind legs and sporting a vest, beret, and sunglasses.  The uncertainty of his identity lead some people to believe, at the time, that he was Black or Hispanic which added to his appeal for some and repulsion by others.  By the early 1970s Smith had established a look for the Wolfman that remained fairly consistent for the rest of his career with the exception of a black broad-brimmed hat with a silver band which he became increasingly fond of wearing towards the last few years of his life.


____________________________________________________

 XERB 1090

While working at KUXL Wolfman approached the US representative for Mexican station,  XERB and sold him on the idea of a R&B format to replace its then, music staple of Country & Western.  Two of the radio personalities at KUXL; Art Hoehn a.k.a. "Fat Daddy Washington," (1/23/1939 - 3/12/2011) and Ralph Hull a.k.a. "Preacher Paul Anthony" helped Wolfman take over station XERB 1090, located across the California border on Mexico's Baja peninsula, at Rosarito Beach, near Tijuana.  They operated the "Big X" from Minneapolis initially, then relocated to Southern California in 1966.  A bartender turned DJ named Ray Moss from KUXL made the journey to XERB, too.  

The first XERB office was a pink stucco building at 8228 Sunset Blvd. They soon found a better location and moved everything to a building he and Marvin Kosofsky bought located at 4007 West 6th Street near Western Ave. Wolfman converted the downstairs into a 16-track recording studio. He'd record his shows a day ahead of time on several reel-to-reel tapes.  One tape had commercials on it, another had music with Wolfman introductions, while another tape had recordings of phone calls. The tapes were transported by bus, across the border to Rosarito, Mexico with directions on how to put the show together.  Mexican engineers/operators such as Gabriel Esquivel, Adolfo Tejeda, & Ernesto Madueno would blend the tapes of music, commercials, phone calls, etc. and broadcast the assembled show from the XERB, 50,000-watt transmitter, giving listeners the impression that they were hearing a live show.


In 1966 XERB was initially advertised as exclusively an R & B station but eventually the station's format became more inclusive of mainstream rock. Regardless, Wolfman's show was always an awesome roller-coaster ride as he snarled, cackled, and blasted Soul, R&B, Oldies, and whatever he felt like playing on the spur of the moment.  Part of the fun of the Wolfman Jack Show on XERB included his interactions with listeners who would call in.  Usually before they could make a record request the Wolfman would tease them.  Often times he'd interrupt them by growling, or by making kissing or farting noises. Other times he'd speak in romantic tones:

WOLFMAN: Hello?

CALLER: Is this Wolfman?

WOLFMAN: This is the Wolfman.  This is yer one and only baby.  This is the Wolfman, ya understand?

CALLER: Yeah, man.

WOLFMAN: I love you.  Who is this?

CALLER: This is Nancy.

WOLFMAN: I love you Nancy with the passion of my heart.  I know that I can walk through the green fields and see the little sunlight breakin' through the trees. And, love will be all around us.  Ya understand?

Original handbill for music event at California State University, Chico.


BOOGALOO, XERB Phone call from Ginger
PAYOLA, PILLS, & PREACHERS 

One of many mega-oldies record packages sold over the air
One of the benefits of broadcasting across the border is that the station did not have to abide by US laws. For example, Payola, is illegal in the US but was an acceptable practice in Mexico. Payola is the practice of playing a specific song in exchange for money and not disclosing on the air that it is sponsored airtime. Bypassing US laws meant XERB could take money for playing specific records.  In a 1967 Billboard Magazine article program manager, Ralph Hull (aka The Nazz) admitted DJs on XERB were permitted under Mexican law to accept money for playing records.  There was no sponsorship identity required.  Plainly stated, record promoters payed money to XERB to have the DJs play specific songs on the air. What's more deceptive, is that these songs would be included in the Soul Monster record survey with other hit singles which helped to promote and influence music fans to buy these records. Below is a copy of said record survey from 1967.



Although the station did accept payola it was not a large source of income. Big money was generated in other ways.  Bob Smith was thriving as a salesman. In addition to selling commercial spots to LA-based night clubs and retail shops, he made 50 percent commission on every mail order item he sold over the radio including cosmetics, potency drugs, diet pills, and Wolfman Jack t-shirts, roach clip, and calendars.  With a hoarse-voiced dialect that sounded like a mixture of a hippie, beat-nick and Pentecostal preacher, Wolfman Jack would say,

 "They made up one of these here, one of these crazy calendars, for me, baby.  One of these psychedelic calendars.  Got a picture of da Wolfman on it right smack in the middle of a big LSD capsule, baby.  One of these psychedelic jobs.  You gonna blow yer mind when you see this here calendar, baby.  You gonna looove it ta death!  Have mercy! If you ain't got yer calendar yet, you better get cha' one in the mail right now, tonight while its fresh on yer mind...This is what the calendar look like, baby it's red and green and blue and yella...  Got all the important birthdays on it.  Got the drinkin' days, and the sleepin' days, and this that and the other thing.  You won't believe it when you see the calendar, baby.  It's all yours for just a dollar.  Send one dollar cash, check, or money order to: Wolfman Jack Calendar, X-E-R-B, Hollywood, California!"


 Although he got an enormous response for these items, it was selling airtime to preachers that made the most money for XERB.  Smith, (who from here on out will be referred to as his alias, Wolfman Jack), sold programming to the radio proselytizers in 15-30 minute blocks.
Some preachers like Brother Henderson paid for a regular spot that was thinly disguised as a gospel music show. His program called "Glory Bound Train" was typically on Monday thru Saturday from 6:00 am to 10:00 am and again for another two hours before Wolfman's show at 9:00 pm. Brother Henderson and other radio proselytizers like Reverend A.A. Allen were real hustlers making enormous amounts of money selling salvation through bibles and anything from "The Lord's Last Supper" tablecloths to "Lord's Prayer Coins" with the likeness of Jesus on them.  Wolfman once joked that the radio preachers were selling Jesus all day while he was selling sin at night.  "Hallelujah!"  Because they had such a large following and made so much money, the radio evangelists were never too hesitant about paying huge fees for airtime.  Some eccentric preachers like Reverend Ike would pay for their spots a year in advance.  He would drive up to the XERB office in his Cadillac and walk in with a brown paper bag filled with one hundred dollar bills to pay for his airtime.

A map of the border between California & Mexico

XERB PROGRAM SCHEDULE

Early XERB program schedules show that there were only three other radio shows besides Wolfman's 9:00 pm to 3:00 am show that broadcast from the station.  They were:  Fat "Daddy" Washington from 11:00 am to 2:00 pm, The Nazz from 2:00 pm to 6:00 pm, and  Ol' Joe Soul who took over after Wolfman's show, in the early morning hours of 3:00 am to 6:00 am.  The fate of these DJs at XERB was not good.  After a year or so, they either left or were let-go. For example, program director, Ralph Hull (The Nazz) was fired in 1967 over programming conflicts with Wolfman. Around the same time  Art Hoehn a.k.a. Fat Daddy Washington returned to Minnesota to work for MPR. Lonnie Napier recalls that by the time he had begun to work for Wolfman in 1970, the only real radio show at the station was Wolfman's show. "He was on during the day from 3:00 to 6:00, and then again at night from around 10:00 pm to 1:00 am.  The rest of it was all sold block programming," he said.  The time was sold to a lot of preachers and a company called Turffcraft who would buy [horse] racing results from across the country and then a radio personality such as, Leo Herbert or Polo Hawkez would announce them by recreating certain races.













Above: Both sides of a book of matches advertising the station's frequent broadcasting of racing results.

ANYWHERE, ANYTIME


 As if being on one border blaster wasn't enough, Wolfman began broadcasting pre-recorded shows on three different Mexican stations at different times of the day, XERB, XERF, & XEG (1050 in Monterrey, Mexico). Wolfman created different programming for each station with frequent mention of the station's call letters in the middle of his wild patter.  With powerful clear-channel (not the company) stations, broadcasting his show, Wolfman could be heard almost anytime, anywhere in the world.  He was the undisputed king of night time border radio. with no consultants, no rating books, no focus groups, no audience research, no tests, he re-invented night time radio. Former XERB station manager and disc jockey, Ralph Hull, "The Nazz" remembers almost the entire continent being covered by the Wolfman. "We were just slightly ahead of Ted Turner, " he said.  "With XERB we covered from the Rockies-west.  XERF covered from the Rockies to the Appalachians, and all of Central America, Mexico, Canada, and the U.S. all on one station.  And then, XEG beamed to the East.  So, with those three Mexican stations we had the entire North American continent covered.  Anybody could listen to us. [Laughs] And, they did."

With 3 towers blasting the 50,000 watt signal at night, listeners as far North as Canada and Alaska could hear XERB, 1090 in Rosarito, Baja CA. (Mexico).
SUPER SOUL 21 SURVEY circa April 1970.
XERB's weekly SOUL survey eventually included both R & B and Rock & Roll records.
       
 ALL GOOD THINGS 
GOT TO COME TO AN END
XERB studio & transmitter site in Rosarito, B.C., (Mexico).
  
Wolfman Jack was making loads of money at XERB.  According to his biography, by 1971 he was making a profit of almost $50,000 a month. The Mexican company executives that had been leasing XERB for a monthly fee noticed this and got greedy. They wanted to throw him out and make all the money themselves. So, the owners bribed Mexican officials into politically squeezing Wolfman off the air. The Mexican government did this by passing a law that stated there could be no more Pentecostal or religious programming on Mexican airwaves. Without the profits from selling airtime to the preachers, the station could make very little money.  The majority of profits Wolfman received from selling local advertising was in the form of trade-outs for items such as cars, clothing and furniture rather than actual cash.  So, there was no way he could continue to make monetary payments to the owners each month.  “That was it. In one stroke they cleaned out 80 percent of all the money we were expecting to make,” Wolfman said in his biography.  So, he and business partner, Marvin Kosofsky had to turn control of the station back over to the Mexican owners.

Comic Book drawn by Dan Koffman, 1970
With Wolfman out of the way, the station owners tried to duplicate his successful formula.  They changed the call letters to XEPRS and programmed soul music, calling the station “The Soul Express.” Wolfy still broadcast for a little while under the new ownership, but left soon afterwards.  April 14, 1972 was the last day Wolfman ever held sway over the Mexican border airwaves. [Please see post from May 2012 to hear Wolfman say goodbye on his last day on the border blaster] Soon the government repealed their own law and put the preachers back on the air.  But, without the Wolfman howling over the airwaves, the station never even remotely saw the success that Wolfman Jack had achieved.

Thus, the door of success for the mysterious man who broadcast from Mexico was closed like a coffin lid.  But, as the saying goes- when one door closes, another one opens.  And, the doors of International super stardom were about to swing wide open for Wolman Jack. Click below to continue on to Part 2 of  the thrilling, Wolfman Jack story  "Wolfman Jack : En El Aire."

The sign on the XEPRS entrance as it looks today.

END OF WOLFMAN JACK: EN EL AIRE, Parte I


_________________________________________________________________________

After reading this you're probably all pumped up and wanna hear some of The Wolfman in his prime.  Since I first wrote this article, I've gotten a lot of e-mail from people asking where they can hear Wolfman from back in the day.  Below are some links where you can find FREE vintage Wolfman air-checks.
Southern California Giant XERB 1090

If you do a Search for "Wolfman Jack"  on Archive.org you'll find some fantastic air-checks: Comment: There used to be many air-checks of Wolfman here but now there are only a couple last time I checked.  However, most of the ones previously available for free can be found at the XERB radio web page listed on the LINK above. 

Doug Allen who painstakingly mixes all the "new" Wolfman shows for syndication has a nice site called Wolfman Jack.Org. Comment: Last time I checked the site it was "Under Construction" but keep checking back because there's some excellent content on the site) :


A $15.00 donation will give you unlimited access to tons of airchecks featuring celebrity DJs including Wolfman Jack:


Wolfman Jack: EN EL AIRE, Parte 2

On-location during production of American Graffiti, smoking one of his typical non-filtered cigarettes.


WHY I HATE CHER
Hey fellow Graffiti fans this is Part II of my tribute to Wolfman Jack.  Before we get back to the facts, let me briefly share with you some personal reflections.  As a kid, I was first introduced to the Wolfman in the movie American Graffiti.  I'd never heard him on the radio.  At the time I listened to two San Francisco, Bay Area radio stations; KYA and KFRC.  Both played the current popular hits but KYA played the Top 10 every hour.  Due to the popularity of AMERICAN GRAFFITI, (and, perhaps HAPPY DAYS), Bill Hayley's 1955 classic, "ROCK AROUND THE CLOCK" had re-entered the 1974 record charts and was getting a lot of airplay. I loved "ROCK AROUND THE CLOCK" and wanted to have the  AMERICAN GRAFFITI SOUNDTRACK partially because it included this song. Around that time the radio station had a contest.  I was something like the 13th caller on KYA and I won the record of my choice from Tower Records.  My dad was too cheap to actually drive me to Tower Records to pick it up so I had to write them and ask them to send me an album.  The people at Tower told me to list several choices in case they were sold out of my first pick.  I listed the AMERICAN GRAFFITI SOUNDTRACK as my first choice and BILL COSBY'S GREATEST HITS as a second choice.  The day that my record finally came in the mail I was thrilled. I opened the package only to be completely dumbfoundead because the record store had sent me the album, FOXY LADY  by Cher.  WTF?  I hadn't even listed this as a choice.  I wanted that Graffiti soundtrack so bad and instead I get an album that I'd never heard of by Cher.  Even if that Cher album was decent, (which it wasn't, It didn't even have one of her hits like Gypsies, Tramps & Thieves or Half-Breed), I would never have appreciated it because it would always remind me of what I wanted but didn't have; The AMERICAN GRAFFITI SOUNDTRACK. To this day I experience extreme displeasure if I happen to hear Cher's music.

Anyways, eventually my dad bought the Graffiti soundtrack on 8-track so he, I mean we, could listen to it in the family Chevy pick-up truck.  I can still see the multitude of tiny blisters on the label caused by the heat generated from excessive playing.  I absolutely loved the portions that had Wolfman talking on the phone to people.  The music played afterwards was almost secondary.  I just really loved the Wolfman parts.  Because I had never heard him on the radio, his voice and personality was new to me. Wolfman was funny, mysterious, and personable. So, that was my introduction to the legendary DJ. Unfortunately, after that he was never quite as good.  He could never ever be as cool or live up to the reputation that I had built in my mind. Eventually when I did hear him in radio syndication playing "Strawberry Letter 23" by The Brothers Johnson or saw him on The Midnight Special  introducing Helen Reddy it just wasn't the same.  So, its in honor of the earlier years of Wolfman Jack's career and the earlier years of our lives that I dedicate this second installment of WOLFMAN JACK: EN EL AIRE. Enjoy!

_________________________________________________________________
And now, on with the show...





XERB Phone Call from girl in Norwalk, CA


WOLFMAN DOES LUCAS

Wolfy & Lucas picking his favorite "wolfisms."
After disposing of his remaining interests in XEPRS in early April, Wolfman immediately began working for KDAY 1580 in Santa Monica, CA. It was during this time that he was asked to be in American Graffiti. George Lucas was a huge Wolfman Jack fan and evidently, without talking to him, had planned on having him in his new feature film.   According to his biography, when Wolfman went to Universal Studios for an interview, his radio show had already been written into the script.  In his biography he explained, "On almost every page I kept finding the oddest thing-‘Wolfman says this…’ ‘Wolfman says that…’" he remembered.  He was thrilled with the prospect of being in the film. Although his biography claims he first read the script when he went to Universal Studios, the writers of the film remember things differently. In the book, Classic American Films: Conversations with the Screenwriters, the husband and wife team, Willard Huyuck and Gloria Katz told editor, William Baer, "George said take it to the Wolfman and it turned out he was broadcasting two blocks away from where we were living in Echo Park. So we drove over, gave him the pages, and he read it with tears in his eyes. He said it was absolutely wonderful."  Eventually, Wolfman agreed to play himself in the low-budget feature for $1,000 a day.  It was not much money for such a famous icon but in 1972 he was barely getting by on his annual KDAY salary of $18,000 and he needed to pay back some large debts that he had incurred while at XERB.  And, besides, he thought being featured in the film would be great publicity.  He couldn't have been more right!

Wolfy & George Lucas pose by the '32 coupe at the Avco Cinema Center Theater Press Screening, 1973

Incidentally, there are more than a few discrepancies between what is written in Wolfman's biography and the way things actually happened. For example, he takes credit for making up one of his lines in Graffiti: On page 226 Wolfman states, "One improvised thing I can take credit for out of that whole great picture: the bit where I hand him [Rick Dreyfuss] a Popsicle and say, Sticky Little Mothers, ain't they."  Sticky little lie is more like it. One only has to look at an early draft of the script to see that this line is clearly written into the text way before filming took place.  In fact, more than half of what was written for Wolfman in the original script was cut from the film partly because his performance was so awkward and he kept flubbing his lines.  When recalling Wolfman's delivery of what they had written for him,  Huyuck says, "I don't think Wolfman quite pulled it off.  But the feeling's still there, and Rick [Dreyfuss] found ways to make it work."  That's right, Katz agreed, "but Rick helped.  He ad-libbed things and tried to loosen up the Wolfman."  Regardless of the writer's criticism, I think most would agree that the scene turned out really well.


Wolman’s radio show is the backbone of American Graffiti. In the Lucas biography, Mythmaker co-producer, Gary Kurtz told the author that when Wolfman used to broadcast out of Mexico the signal would often fade in and out.  "He was an ethereal presence in the lives of the young people," Kurtz said, "and, it was that quality that we wanted and obtained in the picture."  Because every teenager in the film is listening to his show on their car radio at the same time, the radio program acts as a thread tying the individual stories together.  Most of the DJ's patter that is heard on car radio speakers throughout Graffiti was taken from tapes that were originally broadcast between 1966-71 on XERB.  George Lucas and Wolfman listened to hours of tapes of his old radio shows and picked out dedication requests and ad-libbed bits to use on the soundtrack.  Only about 10-20 percent of the Wolfman's show was new and recorded expressly for the film.

The KRE studio in Berkeley, CA doubled as XERB
Radio station KRE in Berkeley, California leased out one of their studios for the night to allow Lucas and crew to film the pivotal sequence where Curt visits the Wolfman at his radio station, XERB. Although Wolfman's appearance is brief he plays a pivotal role in the movie.  Sound designer, Walter Murch has pointed out that Wolfman in the story is like the wizard in The Wizard of OZ.  The important deity-figure that the protagonist seeks out winds up being just a little man in a booth, twiddling some knobs.  And, in both films the larger-than-life figure helps the lead character to reach their destiny.  Whereas, the wizard provides Dorothy with a way to return home, Wolfman acts as a catalyst for Curt to leave home. In the moment that he realizes the pot bellied, middle-aged station manager is really Wolfman Jack, Curt finds the courage to face an outside world.

Ricky Dreyfuss & Wolfy between takes.
There was very little pre-promotion for American Graffiti.  However, for a preview screening on May 15, 1973 Universal Studios executive, Ned Tanen called Wolfman and asked him to pack the house at The Writer's Guild Theater in Beverley Hills.  Wolfman got on the air at KDAY and helped them draw a big crowd of young people.  Most of the cast attended the screening, and apparently the crowd loved the movie.

At the premier of American Graffiti with Kim Fowley who produced the 3 Flash Cadillac tunes for the film.

AMERICAN GRAFFITI IS A SUCCESS

When Graffiti was officially released in theaters on August 1, 1973, Wolfman had moved to the East Coast and was working at station,  WNBC. He spent his time and some of his own
money helping publicize the film by making promotional appearances and setting up giveaways for albums, posters, and other items.  As we know, American Graffiti went on to become one of the most profitable films in Hollywood history.  George Lucas was grateful to those that helped make the film a success and showed his gratitude by sharing the wealth.  After the film made $20 million in profits Lucas and co-producer, Gary Kurtz generously began sharing a small percentage of the film’s profits with its stars including Wolfman.  For the first few years after Graffiti was released Wolfman would get royalty checks for about $175,000 every six months.  After a few checks he was able to pay back his debts incurred while at XERB.  At the time of his death he was still receiving periodic residual checks.

Wolfy, & Graffiti stars, Cindy Williams & Paul LeMat at the press screening for the film.
WOLFMAN IN SYNDICATION


1975 trade ad for syndicated shows
There's no question he was extremely busy.  In the same year he filmed his appearance in Graffiti he had joined KDAY and under the guidance of manager, Don Kelley, he began expanding the distribution of a daily 3-hour syndicated radio program available once a week to six times a week in stereo or monaural versions.  Wolfman didn't spend time recording new shows for distribution but simply re-edited old ones. Just as in Graffiti he had a whole refrigerator full of melting Popsicles, Wolfman, in real life, had a whole warehouse full of dissolving radio shows on reel-to reel tapes. These old XERB recordings were re-cut to fit any town in the United States, at anytime. Wolfman hired 18 year-old Lonnie Napier to review tapes of old shows and edit out any comments that specifically stated a time and place.  Napier explains, "I was taking all the time elements out.  Nothing could say 'night time,' nothing could say 'Los Angeles.'  'I'm down here on Wilshire Blvd., It's cold-it's hot!'  It all had to be real generic," he explained.  Wolfman's syndicated program was first picked up in Honolulu, then Tulsa, Oklahoma.  Because of his appearance in Graffiti, Wolfman's status was elevated from cult hero to international superstar, thus causing his pre-recorded shows to spread like wildfire across the nation.  Finding an accurate amount for the number of radio stations that aired Wolfman's syndicated shows at one time may never be known.  The number quoted by Wolfman in different interviews and press releases was never the same, but, there can be no denying that the number was huge.  In 1981 he told a British journalist, "I've got 200 markets in the U.S. on radio, 50 in Canada, plus a French show in Europe."   "I have about 30 people working with me," he explained, "people who duplicate the tapes for my radio shows and ship 'em out." 


U.S. Air Force recruiting show
His most popular shows through the years included "The Wolfman Jack Show," with researched current hit music; "Wolfman Jack's 'Graffiti' Gold," showcasing hits from the '50s through the '70s;  and "Wolfman Jack International," which aired worldwide on the Armed Forces Radio Network for 16 years, (1970-86).  In addition to his regular shows, Wolfman began a recruiting public service program for the US Air Force. This entailed constructing half-hour shows that sounded similar to a regular Wolfman broadcast with current music but after about 2 songs into the program he would pontificate the virtues of the military and attempt to persuade young people to enlist.  For many years the show was distributed monthly for free, in a 2-lp box set format, to top 40 radio stations, public schools, and colleges across the United States. Nowadays, some of these box sets can often be found for sale on E-bay.
 
With Lonnie Napier who spent more than 20 years working as producer for WOLFMAN JACK
LOSING CONTROL

One of the drawbacks of being syndicated was that he didn't have the freedom to play whatever music he wanted to as he once had when he was broadcasting from the "border blasters." In 1980 he told interviewer, Brian Dallas Day how when he took over radio station XERB in the mid-1960s he could do what he wanted. "I was never plagued by ego-trip program directors or formula rock and roll radio stations, I was always a personality doing my own trip, ya know." When Jack had broadcast from Mexico he could segue records any way he wanted.  For example; he would spin a current Marvin Gaye record one minute, the next an up-tempo jazz instrumental by Jimmy McGriff and then close out the set with a classic 1950s oldie such as I Only Have Eyes For You by The Flamingos. Even when he was on the air from 7:00pm to midnight, at station WNBC in 1973 he had total creative control over what he could play and say for about the first 6 months he was there. No program director or general manager could  interfere with his decision.  Much to the dismay of he and his fans, in order to stay on the airwaves of commercial radio Wolfman had to change his "anything goes" style and play current popular music as determined by the sometimes bland Top 40 music charts.   He once told a British newspaper writer, "I want to stay in syndication so there are rules and regulations that I have to comply with," he said, "and a lot of control of the music is out of my hands. [But,] They haven't been able to control my mouth."  However, Wolfman even had to censor his suggestive language.  On mainstream radio he could no longer ask female callers, "Are your little peaches sweet?" Certain terms that were once part of the Wolfman lexicon had to be eliminated to comply with FCC regulations at the time. "I'm gonna have to cut some of that stuff out," he regrettably told Creem magazine in August 1972 when he was working at KDAY and his syndicated show was just beginning to take off.  "They won't let me say whizz or boogaloo anymore." It's too bad. He was once the outlaw boss of Border radio, but became legit and wound up bowing down to the demands of the marketplace by way of play lists determined by audience research, consultants, and computer software. 

WOLFMAN ON NATIONAL TV
Both a Culture Club and Rolling Stones video can be seen in this 1984 clip of Wolf Rock TV
Woflman & Bopper
Once Graffiti, was a hit Wolfman Jack quickly became a household personality and was no longer associated with just the radio.  Soon, anyone with a TV set knew who he was. In 1973 he began an eight-year stint as host of NBC-TV's The Midnight Special, a late-night, weekly 90 minute program of recorded performances from various pop entertainers.  He had his own short-lived variety TV show which was broadcast in Canada during the mid-1970s. And, he reportedly made close to 80 guest appearances on various TV shows; his first was The Odd Couple (1973) and his last was Married with Children (1995). He also made a couple of cameos in B-movies such as "Hotel Hell." Various tributes to the Wolfman entered the pop charts including, The Guess Who's, "CLAP FOR THE WOLFMAN," "WOLFMAN JACK" by Todd Rundgren, "HIT THE ROAD JACK" by The Stampeders, and "DID YOU BOOGIE WITH YOUR BABY ?"  by Flash Cadillac which featured voice-overs by the hairy one himself.  In 1984 there was even a Saturday morning Wolfman Jack cartoon series, called, WOLF ROCK TV. The cartoon was about station manager, Wolfman Jack who oversaw 3 kids as they operated a rock TV show featuring real live action videos.  Later, In 1989, the Dick Clark produced cartoon ran in syndication under the title, Wolf Rock Power Hour.

WOLFMAN THE ROCK STAR 

An ad for his single from his 1972 self-titled album.
Wolfman Jack on 8-Track tape
At the same time he was sending out his syndicated programs, Wolfman released three record albums between 1972-75.  For these albums he had assembled a team of professional studio musicians, including female backup singers, and as lead "singer," Wolfman croaked his way through a variety of styles of music.  His self-titled album was released in 1972 on Wooden Nickel records and produced several singles
including "I Ain't Never Seen a White Man" (penned by Kenny Rogers) which charted on Billboard Singles Charts at #106. Other songs on the album included "Sweet Caroline," "Hey, Wolfman," and "Diggin' on Miss Jones."  His second album on Wooden Nickel records, THROUGH THE AGES was released in 1973. It featured such songs as "The Blob," "One Mint Julep,"  "The Rapper," and "Stagger Lee."  Another Wolfman album, FUN & ROMANCE was released on the Columbia label in 1975. As a novelty, the songs on these albums were fun to listen to, but it convinced the record buying public that Wolfman was a much better disc jockey than singer.  Below you can hear one of the songs from his THROUGH THE AGES album that was released as a single.



LING TING TONG  7" single. 1973

ALL "SOULED" OUT!

Unfortunately, in the process of so much exposure, Wolfman Jack lost some of his hip status and outlaw image.  Being everywhere worked against him.  His credibility was first challenged in the early seventies when he started doing promos for the war effort at time when young people did not respect the U.S. military. Wolfman and rock and roll were a sign of rebellion and doing Public Service Announcements for the Air Force worked to push Wolfman from his cool image.  In addition, many of his fans felt that once he removed the mask and people had a concrete idea of who he was and what he looked like he had lost his edge. Canadian-born Dj, David Hensen, an early fan, was excited once he had the opportunity to actually meet the icon in person, but afterwords he expressed disappointment, "I wanted to keep on believing he was a kind of half-human, half-animal creature."  The illusion had been shattered.  As time went on Wolfman continued to lose credibility with a counter culture that frowned upon his excessive capitalist tendencies.  He spread himself thin by endorsing products, like Clearasil acne medication, making excessive appearances on TV and starring in his own Las Vegas revue.   Bob Smith had transformed the once outrageous, mysterious, and controversial Wolfman character into a tamer personality who could appeal to just about anyone in any market.  He, as some would put it, SOLD OUT.  At one point, the market was over-saturated with products like Wolfman Jack toy guitars and Wolfman Jack doorbells.  It seemed like there was no end to the ways one could make money off the name, Wolfman Jack.

A 1976 sock hop at the Charleston Landing Auditorium sponsored by WCSC-1390
LONG LIVE WOLFMAN JACK

Almost twenty years after his unexpected death in 1995, the Wolfman Jack legacy continues.  To honor his memory, ongoing efforts persist to build a large Wolfman Jack sculpture and a museum in Del Rio,Texas where he first got his start. There's no doubt his legacy is part of rock history.Wolfman Jack was inducted into the National Radio Hall of Fame in 1996, and into the National Association of Broadcasters (NAB) Broadcasting Hall of Fame in 1999. . He continues to find new fans in a career that lasted over three decades as an entertainer.   But, the largest proof of his staying power and popularity is the fact that Wolfman Jack's show is in syndication.
Former radio personality, Doug Allen is responsible for editing these shows.  Allen has access to enormous amounts of old XERF, XERB, and Graffiti Gold shows on reel to reel tapes from which he draws upon to make "new" shows.  The recent editions of the programs, that this writer has heard on local Valley radio, do not re-create the Border radio "X" shows and pale in comparison to an original live Wolfman Jack show when he was at his zenith.  And, even though these broadcasts rely on the use of too many of the same over-played hit songs that any average oldies fan already has in their music collection and has probably heard a zillion times, the shows still can be fun to listen to-and more importantly, they help keep the icon's memory alive.

We'll close this article with the Wolfman saying good night and signing off as he did during his reign at XERB.  To set the scene, just imagine its very late at night and some sexy, jazz instrumental music performed on the B3 organ by Johnny Smith or Jimmy McGriff is playing softly as Wolfman in a relaxed personable, low-key, voice says,"We gotta split, baby.  That's it for another, groovy, groovy, night.  It's been really a pleasure keepin' you company along the highways and bi-ways, man.  And, if I helped to keep you awake just a teeny bit, I might have saved your life tonight.  You never know.  For those of you who wanna dig da Wolfman tomorrow night, I'll be back here same stand, man.  Right here, on the big XERB.  50,000-watt clear channel.  10-90 on yer radio dial.  And, I'll always be lookin' for you, baby.  Hope you'll always be lookin' for me, ya understand?  When you love you live...  Listen, ah, for those of you who live in southern California, now...Don't forget, yours truly, Wolfman Jack will be back on the air right here on the big XERB from two until six o'clock in the afternoon.  Each and every afternoon, right here, on XERB.  That's where I'm at, baby.  And, for you folks all over the United States, Canada, and Mexico; God bless ya.  Keep yer ears clean.  BYE!"

Wolfman's grave site is in Belvidere Plantation, Belvidere, North Carolina.  At the base of his tombstone are a few famous Wolfman phrases such as, "Owwwww, Are your little peaches sweet?"

 ~ FIN ~


More of Kip's Blog Pages on Wolfman:

REFLECTION ON WOLFMAN JACK: INTERVIEW WITH PRODUCER LONNIE NAPEIR

THE WORD FROM MARS: INTERVIEW WITH LONGTIME WRITER OF THE WOLFMAN JACK SHOW, FRANK "MARS" COTOLO



BIBLIOGRAPHY:
  • Baxter, John.  Mythmaker: The Life and Times of George Lucas.  Avon Books, Inc. New York. 1999.
  • Cuddon, Sarah (3/21/2008). What Makes Wolfman Great.  BBC News Website: http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/uk_news/magazine/7307738.stm.
  • Dallas, Karl Dallas. Wolfman Jack - The 1980 Interview. Karl Dallas Day Blog. http://karldallasday.wordpress.com/2013/07/20/wolfman-jack-the-1980-interview/ Retrieved 1/11/2014
  • Fowler, Gene and Bill Crawford. Border Radio.  Limelight Editions, New York. 1987, 1990.
  • Memories of XERB. Discussion Boards.  Radio Discussions.com. First post: /10/05/2006. Retrieved 3/20/2013
  • Taylor, Chuck.  (2005). Wolfman Jack is Back.  AllBusiness.com
  • Tickell, Paul. November 7th, 1981. New Musical Express p.11. Website Radio Caroline Story-the 80s. <http://www.offshoreechos.com/Caroline%2080/Press%20Reports-17.htm>  Retrieved 12/1/2010.
  • Tiegel, Eliot. XERB Sharpens R&B Format. Billboard Magazine. January 28, 1967. 
  • Twin Cities Radio Timeline.  St. Louis Park Historical Society website: <http://www.slphistory.org/history/radio.asp>   Retrieved 10/6/2010.
  • Tyler, Tim.  Wolfman Jack Finally Shows his Face. Creem Magazine. August 1972.
  • "The Making of American Graffiti." (Supplementary documentary by Laurent Bouzereau). American Graffiti. Dir. George Lucas. DVD. Universal Studios, 1973; dist. Universal Home Video, Inc., 1998.
  • Wolfman Jack and Byron Laursen.  Have Mercy! Confessions of the Original Rock 'n' Roll Animal. Warner Books, New York 1995.
  • Wolfman Jack and the Border Blasters. Rick Everett. CD.  Air-Check Factory.com. 2002.
  • XERB 1970.  Comments page. Reel Top 40 Radio Repository.   First post: 4/18/2001.  Retrieved 3/20/2013.  http://www.reelradio.com/comment/comment.cgi?wmxerb70~Wolfman+Jack,+XERB,+1970~../pf/index.html. 
Additional NOTES:

"Airplay, the Rise & Fall of Rock Radio" DVD (2008)  [Photograph] composite photo of Wolfman in front of X station circa 1964.

"Rock 'N' Roll Invaders, The AM Radio DJ's" DVD (1998) Winstar Home Entertainment. [Photograph] Young Bob Smith in studio.