Wolfman Jack

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

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 Rosamond 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/1050 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 XERF 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]

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