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Wolfman Jack

From Academic Kids

Robert (Bob) Smith was born on January 21, 1938 and became world famous in the 1960s and 1970s as a disc jockey using the stage name of Wolfman Jack. He died on July 1, 1995 and a memorial has been dedicated to him at Del Rio, Texas, USA.

Contents

Brief biography

Robert (Bob) Smith known professionally as Wolfman Jack, was born in Brooklyn, New York, USA. He first came to prominence in 1962 as the howling wolfman disc jockey who broadcast live from the studio of XERF in Ciudad Acuņa, Coahuila, Mexico. XERF was one of the Mexican border blasters that transmitted with power that was far in excess of the licensed commercial radio stations in the United States.

Early career

Bob Smith was a fan of disc jockey Alan Freed who helped to turn African-American rhythm and blues into Caucasian rock and roll music. Freed had originally called himself the Moondog after hearing the name used by someone else. Freed not only adopted this name but used the recording of a howl to give his early broadcasts a unique character. Bob Smith also adopted the Moondog theme by calling himself Wolfman Jack and adding his own sound effects.

Once Bob Smith found fame he stuck with the name Wolfman Jack and attempted to mask his true identity in order to create public interest in his radio character. The hip, sexually suggestive Wolfman Jack persona allowed Smith to ignore the prevailing racial segregation of American radio.

Radio career

According to former disc jockey Don Logan, Bob Smith's career began on KCIJ-AM, a daytime station in Shreveport Louisiana. In Shreveport Gordon McLendon owned KEEL-AM as a part of his very successful group of stations which was challenged by a KREB-AM, a new station formed by Larry Brandon from the defunct KENT-AM. A radio "war" for the same listeners took place, in which Brandon ultimately lost and KREB also went off the air.

Larry Brandon then made a deal with attorney Arturo Gonzalez in Del Rio, Texas, who operated the Inter-American Radio Advertising, Inc. sales agency for XERF from his law office on Pecan Street. XERF was one of the Mexican border blasters that transmitted with power far in excess of the licensed commercial radio stations in the United States which were limited to 50kW on AM. XERF had a 250kW RCA transmitter that broadcast on a clear channel from Ciudad Acuņa, Coahuila, just across the Rio Grande river from Del Rio.

Larry Brandon bought all of the available night time hours and with Don Logan, Buddy Blake and Bob Smith began making prerecorded radio shows on 10 inch, one hour tapes which were then mailed by Brandon from Shreveport to Gonzelez in Del Rio who had them delivered to Ciudad Acuņa for airplay. According to Logan these programs replaced the preachers and went out from 6pm to 6am, but Logan also says that only six hours of programming was recorded per day and leaves the impression that the tapes were repeated.

Brandon's programming on XERF reached Shreveport which according to Logan presented a conflict of interest for the people who were making them. However, it was on these taped programs that Bob Smith began to morph into Wolfman Jack in order to conceal his real identity from the XERF listeners and from his daytime employers at KCIJ-AM in Shreveport. Logan says that when Smith began to create his gravely voiced character of Wolfman Jack to which he added a howl, he told Bob Smith:

That howl of yours would wake a dead man and that dead man might be Hank Williams and he, sure as hell, doesn’t want you "Howling at the Moon."

Again according to Logan, the taping came to an end when Brandon began offering XERF listeners an autographed picture of Jesus. It was then that Bob Smith took off from Shreveport to visit Arturo Gonzalez at his law office on Pecan Street in Del Rio. It was Gonzalez who sent him across the border each day to do live programs from the studio of XERF at Ciudad Acuņa for Inter-American Radio Advertising, Inc., which Gonzalez operated from his law office.

Wolfman Jack's program was broadcast to much of the United States and into Canada. He played whatever music he liked, regardless of the performer's ethnicity. Any night a listener might hear a mix of blues music, rockabilly, doo-wop, zydeco, rock and roll, jump blues, rhythm and blues or jazz.

He frequently punctuated his broadcasts with howls, which, along with his gravelly voice, made him instantly recognizable. His style was borrowed from both Alan Freed and bluesman Howlin' Wolf. Many listeners assumed that Bob Smith was African American, though in fact he was of European descent.

His career from 1962 to 1964 in Ciudad Acuņa was not without incident because he twice found himself involved in gun play during which victims died. Due to the lawlessness of the area Bob Smith, after a brief detour to a Minneapolis station, took himself and his character of Wolfman Jack towards the West Coast and XERB, another border blaster that could reach Los Angeles, California.

Cameo in American Graffiti

Only in 1973 by appearing in the George Lucas film American Graffiti, did Wolfman Jack allow the public to see him. His broadcasts tie the film together and a main character catching a glimpse of the mysterious Wolfman is a pivotal scene.

Television career

Bob Smith appeared in several films and television shows as Wolfman Jack. They included The Midnight Special; The Wolfman Jack Show, and Galactica 1980 in which he interacts with the alien robot Cylons). He also furnished his voice in the 1974 Guess Who's tribute, the top 40 hit single, "Clap for the Wolfman".

Radio Caroline

When the one surviving ship in what had originally been a pirate radio network of Radio Caroline North and Radio Caroline South sank in 1980, a search began to find a replacement. Due to the laws passed in the UK in 1967, it became necessary for the sales operation to be situated in the USA. For a time the manager of Wolfman Jack acted as the West Coast agent for the planned new Radio Caroline.

As a part of this process Wolfman Jack was set to deliver the morning shows on the new station. To that end Wolfman Jack did record a number of programs which were never aired due to the failure of the station to come on air according to schedule. (It eventually returned from a new ship in 1983 which remained at sea until 1990.) Today those tapes are traded among collectors of his work.

Death

Wolfman Jack died of a massive heart attack in Belvedere, North Carolina, on July 1, 1995, aged only 57. A memorial was dedicated to his memory at Del Rio, Texas, where he first began his career as Wolfman Jack.

External sources

  • The Wolfman Jack Online Museum (http://www.wolfmanjack.org/)
  • "Wolfman Jack's old station howling once again." – Dallas Times Herald, January 2, 1983. – Article about Bill Mack and the restoration of the old RCA 250kW transmitter by Mike Venditti .
  • Technical details of the XERF transmitters (http://www.broadcast.net/pipermail/broadcast/2003-July/175481.html) – Bob Smith mentions his visit to the station in the late 1970s and gives specific details of the CCA 50kW transmitter and the RCA 250kW Serial Number XERF IIRC transmitter and the 3 diesel generators that were used to create the XERF signal.
  • Dedication of the Wolfman Jack Memorial in Del Rio, Texas (http://www.nya.us/wolfman.html) – Shown in this montage of pictures is a group shot that includes Arturo Gonzalez. The caption identifies him as "the former owner of XERF".
  • "Del Rio to Honor Wolfman Jack" – San Antonio Express-News, June 16, 1995. – Article describing how Bob Smith (Wolfman Jack) came to Del Rio, Texas, to meet Arturo Gonzelez at his law office on Pecan Street and wanting to know who was the owner of radio station XERF. Arturo Gonzelez who was 94 in 1995, recalls his first meeting with Bob Smith in 1963.
  • Don Logan describes how Bob Smith became Wolfman Jack (http://www.dandydonlogan.com/)
  • Border Radio, by Fowler, Gene and Crawford, Bill. Texas Monthly Press, Austin. 1987
  • Big Beat Heat (Alan Freed and the early years of Rock & Roll), by Jackson, John A. – Schirmer Books, New York. 1991. ISBN 0-02-871155-6
  • Mass Media Moments in the United Kingdom, the USSR and the USA (includes details of XERF in 1984), by Gilder, Eric. – "Lucian Blaga" University of Sibiu Press, Romania. 2003 ISBN 973-651-596-6
  • Wolfman Jack and the Gun Battle in the Mexican Desert (http://www.freeenterpriseland.com/BOOK/WOLFMAN.html) from FreeEnterpriseLand.comde:Wolfman Jack
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