1/17/2020 – Fungry Like The Wolf(man)
Once again we find ourselves back for another The Public Records’ installment of the weekly album of the week. This week we’re going to take a little bit of a different approach than the usual artist and album. First, we will present for your listening entertainment a three disc compilation of a massive variety tracks from a variety of different artists. ‘Why’?, you may ask are we featuring a compilation of different genres and musicians as the weekly selection. ‘Good question’, we will answer; for it is not this compilation that we are featuring, rather it is the person who compiled this compilation that we are featuring – the original DJ himself, Wolfman Jack.
The Wolfman wasn’t always so scary, in fact he was born under the quite normal moniker of Robert Weston Smith in 1938 in New York City. His parents divorced while he still a youngster and his father hoping to keep him out of trouble gave him a Trans-Oceanic radio to occupy him. Robert, able to reach many stations around the region and up and down the east, fell in love with R&B and many local DJs of the time. After finishing high school, he went to the National Academy of Broadcasting in Washington D.C.
Upon graduation in 1960, he landed a job in Virginia at WYOU and went by the handle ‘Dr. Jules’ and when the station changed what it played, he had no problem changing his persona and stage name to fit in with the programming. In 1962, he moved to KCIJ/1050 in Shreveport, Louisana where he broadcast country music.
With this change of venue came a need to change his name. Radio DJs had been around for awhile and there were many cool ones; ‘Jocko’ Henderson from Philadelphia, Tommy Smalls aka ‘Dr. Jive’ out of New York City, and the Cleveland, Ohio based Alan ‘Moon Dog’ Freed, who had had an influential role in the metamorphosis of R&B into rock’n’roll. These were all regional DJs that Robert listened to as a child; however, due to US regulations on wattage usage, that’s all they were ever able to become. Yet, while growing up in where he did, Robert was able to listen to all them and it was the weirdness and innovations of ‘Moon Dog’ that influenced him most. Basing his new persona a mashup of both Alan ‘Moon Dog’ Freed and the blues musician Howlin’ Wolf, the beginnings of ‘Wolfman Jack‘ was born at his new station.
In 1963, the Wolfman was picked up by Inter-American Radio Advertising and sent to XERF-AM in Ciudad Acuna in Mexico. Mexico had less regulations than the US and didn’t mind using ‘border blaster’ radio towers broadcasting and 250,000 watts. Not only would this allow access to Mexico, but the whole of the United States, and at night it would reach Europe and the Soviet Union (as well as kill birds that flew too close). This also gave DJs a whole new market, the entire country.
Mexico was also not as uptight as the United States when it came to advertising and so these border stations would make their money advertising all sorts of goods and renting airtime to preachers, psychics, and whoever else was willing to pay. These lax regulations also allowed Wolfman Jack to develop uninhibited. He advertised sex-drive ‘enhancing’ Florex with the catch phrase ‘Some zing for your ling nuts’ (tame today, but shocking in 1963), he would tell his audience to get naked, and squeeze and twist his ‘knobs’. This grew him an increasingly larger dedicated audience.
He then moved to XERB in Rosarito Beach Mexico located only ten minutes from the Tijuana-San Diego crossing. After having been in Mexico for only 8 months, he was asked to run KUXL in Minneapolis, Minnesota and so he moved once again. This didn’t stop or slow him down. He would continue to record his zany shows as Wolfman Jack and mail the tapes back to Mexico where XERF, his original station, would broadcast them. After only a few years, Minnesota proved to be boring and so The Wolfman moved back to Mexico, this time to run XERB himself. He opened an office for them in Los Angeles on Sunset Boulevard where he would follow the Minneapolis model of recording shows and shipping them back to Mexico.
While working in LA, he met and befriended Don Kelley who convinced him that he could be more than just a DJ. Kelley soon became Wolfman’s manager and partner and they began working on creating a more mainstream version of himself. Happy accidents happened again in 1971 when the Mexican government decided that non-Catholic Christianity should be banned from the airwaves and the massive revenue from the Pentecostal preachers renting air time dried up. Wolfman Jack moved to the Los Angeles station KDAY 1580 and began selling his shows to stations across the country and his older shows to oldies stations. This made him the first syndicated DJ and starting in 1970 he got a job with Armed Forces radio and at his zenith, he was heard on thousands of radio stations in over 50 countries. He was also a film and TV star thanks to his partnership Don Kelley and was often playing himself or versions of himself in numerous movies and shows.
Wolfman Jack died from a heart attack in 1995 shortly after completing a weekly broadcast at the young age of 57.
Our compilation, ‘Wolfman Jack presents 45 of The Best 45’s’ (Fairway Records, 1977) is a three disc set of a wide selection of early rock’n’roll which is of course best enjoyed with Wolfman Jack’s cocktail of choice; whiskey.