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Wolfman Jack
Born Robert Weston Smith
January 21, 1938(1938-01-21)
Brooklyn, New York, U.S.
Died July 1, 1995 (aged 57)
Belvidere, North Carolina, U.S.
Occupation Radio personality
Spouse(s) Lou Smith
Children Joy Rene Smith (deceased)
Tod Weston Smith
Parents Anson Weston Smith and Rosamund Small

Wolfman Jack was a gravelly-voiced, American disc jockey who became world famous in the 1960s and 1970s, and whose real name was Robert Weston Smith (January 21, 1938 – July 1, 1995).

Contents

Early career

Smith was born in Brooklyn on January 21, 1938, the younger of two children of Anson Weston Smith, an Episcopal Sunday school teacher, writer, editor, and executive vice president of the Financial World, and Rosamund Small. His parents divorced while he was young. To help keep him out of trouble, his father bought him a large transoceanic radio, and Smith became an avid fan of R&B music and the disc jockeys who played it, such as "Jocko" Henderson of Philadelphia, New York's "Dr. Jive" (Tommy Smalls), the "Moon Dog" Alan Freed, and Nashville's "John R." Richbourg, who later became his mentor. After selling encyclopedias and Fuller brushes door-to-door, Smith attended the National Academy of Broadcasting in Washington, DC. Upon graduation (1960), he began working as "Daddy Jules" at WYOU-AM in Newport News, Virginia. When the station format changed to "beautiful music," Smith became known as "Roger Gordon and Music in Good Taste." In 1962, he moved to country music station KCIJ-AM in Shreveport, Louisiana to be the station manager as well as the morning disc jockey, "Big Smith with the Records." He married Lucy "Lou" Lamb in 1961, and they had two children.[1]

Disc jockey Alan Freed had played a role in the transformation of black rhythm and blues into rock and roll music, and originally called himself the "Moon Dog" after New York City street musician Moondog. Freed both adopted this name and used a recorded howl to give his early broadcasts a unique character. Smith's adaptation of the Moondog theme was to call himself Wolfman Jack and add his own sound effects. The character was based in part on the manner and style of bluesman Howlin' Wolf. It was at KCIJ that he first began to develop his famous alter ego Wolfman Jack. According to author Philip A. Lieberman, Smith's "Wolfman" persona "derived from Smith's love of horror flicks and his shenanigans as a 'wolfman' with his two young nephews. The 'Jack' was added as a part of the 'hipster' lingo of the 1950s, as in 'take a page from my book, Jack,' or the more popular, 'hit the road, Jack.'"[2]

In 1963, Smith took his act to the border when the Inter-American Radio Advertising's Ramon Bosquez hired him and sent him to the studio and transmitter site of XERF-AM at Ciudad Acuña in Mexico, a station whose high-powered border blaster signal could be picked up across much of the United States. In an interview with writer Tom Miller, Smith described the reach of the XERB signal: "We had the most powerful signal in North America. Birds dropped dead when they flew too close to the tower. A car driving from New York to L.A. would never lose the station."[3] Most of the border stations broadcast at 250,000 watts, five times the U.S. limit, meaning that their signals were picked up all over North America, and at night as far away as Europe and the Soviet Union. It was at XERF that Smith developed his signature style (with phrases like "Who's this on the Wolfman telephone?") and widespread fame. The border stations made money by renting time to Pentecostal preachers and psychics, and by taking 50 percent of the profit from anything sold by mail order. The Wolfman did pitches for dog food, weight-loss pills, weight-gain pills, rose bushes, and baby chicks. There was even a pill called Florex, which was supposed to enhance one's sex drive. "Some zing for your ling nuts," the Wolfman would say.[4]

XERB was the original call sign for the border blaster station, which was branded as The Mighty 1090 in Hollywood, California. The station boasted "50,000 watts of Soul Power." That station continues to broadcast today with the call sign XERB. XERB also had an office in the rear of a small strip mall on Third Avenue in Chula Vista, California. It was not unlike the small broadcast studio depicted in the film, American Graffiti. It was located only 10 minutes from the Tijuana-San Diego border crossing. It was rumored that The Wolfman actually broadcast from this location during the early to mid-sixties. Smith left Mexico after eight months and moved to Minneapolis, Minnesota to run station KUXL. Missing the excitement, however, he returned to border radio to run XERB, and opened an office on Sunset Boulevard in Los Angeles area in January 1966. The Wolfman would record his shows in Los Angeles and ship his tapes across the border into Mexico, where they would then be beamed across the U.S.[5] In 1971, the Mexican government decided that its overwhelmingly Catholic citizens should not be subjected to proselytizing and banned the Pentecostal preachers from the radio, taking away 80 percent of XERB's revenue. He then moved to station KDAY-FM in Los Angeles, which could only pay him a fraction of his former XERB income. However, Smith capitalized on his fame by editing his old XERB tapes and selling them to radio stations everywhere, inventing rock and roll radio syndication. He also appeared on Armed Forces Radio from 1970-1986. At his peak, Wolfman Jack was heard on more than 2,000 radio stations in fifty-three countries.[6] The Wolfman was paid handsomely to join WNBC-AM in New York in August 1973, and the station did a huge advertising campaign in local newspapers that the Wolfman would propel their ratings over that of their main competitor, WABC-AM, which had "Cousin Brucie" (Bruce Morrow). The ads would proclaim, "Cousin Brucie's Days Are Numbered," and they issued thousands of small tombstone-shaped paperweights which said, "Cousin Brucie is going to be buried by Wolfman Jack."[7] After less than a year, WNBC hired Cousin Brucie, and Wolfman Jack went back to California to concentrate on his syndicated radio show. He moved to Belvidere, North Carolina, in 1989, to be closer to his extended family.[8]

Film, television, and music career

In the early days, Wolfman Jack made sporadic public appearances, usually as a Master of Ceremonies (an MC) for rock bands at local Los Angeles, California clubs. At each appearance he looked a little different because Smith hadn't decided on what "The Wolfman" should look like. Early pictures show him with a goatee; however, sometimes he combed his straight hair forward and added dark makeup to look somewhat "ethnic". Other times he had a big afro wig and large sunglasses. The ambiguity of his race contributed to the controversy of his program. It wasn't until he appeared in the 1969 film A Session with the Committee (a montage of skits by the seminal comedy troupe The Committee) that mainstream America got a good look at Wolfman Jack.

Wolfman Jack released two albums on the Wooden Nickel label: Wolfman Jack (1972) and Through the Ages (1973).[9] His 1972 single "I Ain't Never Seen a White Man" hit #106 on the Billboard Singles Charts. In 1973 he appeared in director George Lucas' second feature film, American Graffiti, as himself. His broadcasts tie the film together, and a main character catches a glimpse of the mysterious Wolfman in a pivotal scene. In gratitude for Wolfman Jack's participation, Lucas gave him a fraction of a "point"—the division of the profits from a film—and the extreme financial success of American Graffiti provided him with a regular income for life. He also appeared in the film's 1979 sequel More American Graffiti.

Subsequently, Smith appeared in several television shows as Wolfman Jack. They included The Odd Couple; What's Happening!!; Vega$; Hollywood Squares; Married… with Children; and -- most notoriously -- Galactica 1980.[10] He was the regular announcer and occasional host for The Midnight Special on NBC from 1973 to 1981. He was also the host of his self-titled variety series, The Wolfman Jack Show, which was produced in Canada by CBC Television in 1976, and syndicated to stations in the US.

He promoted Clearasil and Olympia beer in radio and TV commercials in the '70s. In the '80s he promoted the "Rebel" Honda motorcycle in television commercials.

Listening to Wolfman Jack's broadcasting influenced Jim Morrison's lyrics for The WASP (Texas Radio and the Big Beat) song.

He also furnished his voice in The Guess Who's 1974 tribute, the top 40 hit single, "Clap for the Wolfman". A few years earlier, Todd Rundgren recorded a similar tribute, "Wolfman Jack", on the album Something/Anything?. Canadian band The Stampeders also released a cover of "Hit the Road Jack" in 1975 featuring Wolfman Jack; the storyline of the song involved a man named "Cornelius" calling Jack on the phone, telling him the story of how his girlfriend had thrown him out of the house, and trying to persuade Jack to let him come and stay with him (at this point, Jack ended the call). His voice is also featured in the songs "Don't Call Us, We'll Call You" by Sugarloaf (Billboard HOT 100 peak #9 in Mar 1975) and "Did You Boogie (With Your Baby)" by Flash Cadillac & the Continental Kids (Billboard HOT 100 peak #29 in Oct 1976).

A clip of a 1970s radio advertisement featuring Wolfman Jack urging registration with the United States Selective Service (aka "the draft") is incorporated into the Depeche Mode cover of the song "Route 66". Those radio advertisements were extracted from half hour radio programs that were distributed to radio stations across the country. His syndicated music radio series was sponsored by the United States Air Force, designed as a weekly program-length public service infomercial to promote the benefits of joining the Air Force. The series ran from 1971 until 1977.

In July 1974 Wolfman Jack was the MC for the Ozark Music Festival at the Missouri State Fairgrounds, a huge three-day rock festival with an estimated attendance of 350,000 people, making it one of the largest music events in history.

In 1985, Wolfman Jack's voice is heard several times in the ABC made for TV Halloween movie "The Midnight Hour". Jack recorded several bits for the movie and is seen at the beginning of the movie as an extra. The song "Clap for the Wolfman" is heard during the movie as well.

In 1986, Wolfman Jack appeared as the "High Rama Lama" in the CBS animated special Garfield in Paradise

In 1989, he provided the narration for the US version of the arcade game DJ Boy. His voice was not used in the home version of the game, due to memory limitations.

In 2008, Lou Lamb Smith released "Wolfman Jack: Greatest Bits & Ringtones" on CD featuring clips used in the syndicated Wolfman Jack Radio Program. [1]

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 US. 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 heart attack in Belvidere, North Carolina, on July 1, 1995. The day before his death, he had finished broadcasting his last live radio program, a weekly program nationally syndicated from Planet Hollywood in downtown Washington, D.C. Wolfman Jack said that night, "I can't wait to get home and give Lou a hug, I haven't missed her this much in years." Wolfman had been on the road, promoting his new autobiography Have Mercy, The Confession of the Original Party Animal, about his early career and parties with celebrities. "He walked up the driveway, went in to hug his wife and then just fell over," said Lonnie Napier, vice president of Wolfman Jack Entertainment.[11][12]

Parody

In the show Upright Citizens Brigade, Episode 03x01, "Costumes", a woman puts Wolfman Jack novelty bells on everything in the house.

In the Ray Stevens song "The Moonlight Special," Wolfman Jack is parodied as Mr. Sheepdog.

In the skit "Wolfman" on the Adam Sandler album Shhh...Don't Tell, a man pretends to be Wolfman Jack because he is in denial about his sexuality.

A character by the name of "Wolfbane Jack" appeared on the children's television show "The Electric Company".

On the Canadian children's show The Hilarious House of Frightenstein, the show's creator Billy Van played "The Wolfman", a lycanthropic disc jockey (a literal "wolf-man") for radio station EECH, with a voice and mannerism clearly modeled after Wolfman Jack.

A Wolfman Jack functionary ("Wolfguy Jack") appears as the owner of a 1950's-themed diner in the Simpsons episode "Take My Wife, Sleaze". Wolfguy Jack has a lover named Honey who physically resembles Candy Clark's character in American Graffiti. After howling like a wolf, Wolfguy complains that doing the voice hurts his throat. The business closes a week after Homer and Marge win a motorcycle in a dance contest. As Wolfguy locks the door for the last time, he remarks to Honey that "We still have each other", then turns around to see he is alone, and howls again.

Jerry Thunder, the radio station DJ from That '70s Show, is based on Wolfman Jack.

Sesame Street released a video compilation of rock songs (most were parodies of actual rock hits modified, of course, for preschoolers) hosted by "Jackman Wolf", an anthropomorphic purple wolf who always wore sunglasses.

He is parodied in a skit on Marshall Law's (Marshall Law Music) CD "Half Alive & Still Kickin" by Drew Henderson.

In the video game Fallout 3, the radio station DJ "Three Dog" is based on Wolfman Jack, including the characteristic howl.

Legacy

A memorial was dedicated to the Wolfman's memory at Del Rio, Texas, where he first began his career in radio AM station XERB and he was inducted into the Radio Hall of Fame in 1996. He was inducted into the National Association of Broadcasters (NAB) Broadcasting Hall of Fame in 1999.

In addition, Wolfman Jack's widow, Lou Lamb Smith, leased a one- to two-hour syndicated program built from what were thought to be "lost" archives and airchecks of his shows. The airchecks used in the shows date from the 1960s all the way up to his death in the 1990s. About a dozen oldies-oriented stations in the United States and Canada have picked up the show, and air times for the show vary by station.

Beginning on October 31, 2005, a 1960s-themed channel, "The 60s on 6" on XM Satellite Radio, began airing a regular program utilizing airchecks from Wolfman Jack's older syndicated shows. The first show was broadcast in October and was Halloween themed. The promotion for it was the announcement of a Halloween show so special that they were bringing someone back from the dead. It ended with a squeakly coffin opening and then the voice of the Wolfman saying, (paraphrased) "Hi everyone, it's the Wolfman and I am back. Be sure to join me for a very special ghoulish show this Halloween night". After that Halloween show, Wolfman's show was a nightly regular on XM's '60s channel. The XM show currently airs one hour per week at 11 PM Eastern Time and five hours on Sunday night at 7 PM Eastern Time.[13]

As of December 2007, there are also several terrestrial radio affiliates carrying restored versions of Wolfman Jack's programs, with original air dates ranging from the 1970s up until his death in 1995 (one replayed episode, for instance, featured Wolfman Jack discussing the O. J. Simpson murder case). These programs were restored by Douglas Allen Wedge and syndicated between October 2004 and January 2006 by the San Diego, California-based Astor Broadcast Group. These programs are now syndicated by Lou Lamb Smith through Wolfman Jack Licensing based in Hollywood, California and London, UK-based Blue Revolution (see link below).

References

  1. ^ John A. Drobnicki, "Wolfman Jack (Robert Weston Smith)," in The Scribner Encyclopedia of American Lives, Vol. 4 (Scribner's, 2001), p. 581.
  2. ^ Philip A. Lieberman, Radio's Morning Show Personalities: Early Hour Broadcasters and Deejays from the 1920s to the 1990s (McFarland & Company, 1996), p. 58.
  3. ^ Tom Miller. On the Border: Portraits of America’s Southwestern Frontier, pp. 84-85.
  4. ^ Wes Smith, The Pied Pipers of Rock 'n' Roll (Longstreet Press, 1989), p. 272.
  5. ^ Gene Fowler and Bill Crawford, Border Radio (Limelight Editions, 1990).
  6. ^ John A. Drobnicki, "Wolfman Jack (Robert Weston Smith)," in The Scribner Encyclopedia of American Lives, Vol. 4 (Scribner's, 2001), p. 582.
  7. ^ Ben Fong-Torres, The Hits Just Keep on Coming: The History of Top 40 Radio (Miller Freeman Books, 1998), p. 142.
  8. ^ James F. Mills, "Wolfman Turns into Country Gentleman: N.C. Mansion Home to Rock 'n' Roll DJ," Charlotte Observer (Feb. 27, 1994), p. 8B.
  9. ^ Callahan, Mike; Edwards, David; Eyries, Patrice (2005-10-26), Wooden Nickel Album Discography, http://www.bsnpubs.com/rca/woodennickel.html, retrieved 2009-10-03 
  10. ^ Wolfman Jack at the Internet Movie Database
  11. ^ http://www.wolfmanjack.org/wolfhistory.htm
  12. ^ http://www.modestoradiomuseum.org/wolfman%20death.html
  13. ^ XM Satellite Radio

External links

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