'Midnight Special's Wolfman Jack: The DJ Who Howled

By | December 30, 2017

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Wolfman Jack on 'Midnight Special,' late '70s. (Photo by Gary Null/NBC/NBCU Photo Bank via Getty Images)

A radio DJ born in Brooklyn, Wolfman Jack was a wildman of the airwaves whose famous gravelly voice and high-energy antics made him one of the most famous disc jockeys of all time. In his prime radio years, Wolfman Jack was a national DJ, broadcasting from a station with the most powerful signal in North America; his show could be heard in Los Angeles, New York, and everywhere in between. While most radio DJs, even very successful ones, remain disembodied voices to their listeners, Wolfman Jack managed to get out from behind the microphone, becoming a TV personality (on Midnight Special) and an occasional movie actor (in American Graffiti and other films).

Wolfman Jack Gained Fame Broadcasting From Mexico

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The Wolfman was born Robert Smith in Brooklyn, New York, and he was a fan of radio and DJs from a young age. He graduated from the National Academy of Broadcasting in Washington, D.C., in 1960. From there he had a string of jobs and alter egos -- in Newport News, Virginia, he broadcast as "Daddy Jules," but when the studio changed format he became "Roger Gordon and Music in Good Taste." In Shreveport, Louisiana, he worked at a country music station as "Big Smith With The Records," but began developing a much better character -- Wolfman Jack.

As Wolfman Jack, Smith went to work in Mexico at XERF-AM, a "border blaster" station that sent out a signal at five times (or more) the strength allowed in the U.S. Thus, a radio station situated south of the border could reach much of the continental U.S., and even other continents at night. He spun the latest vinyl in rock and roll on a nighttime radio show in Mexico. Soon he moved back to the States but continued to send taped broadcasts back to Mexico to be aired.

He was somewhat of a pioneer in this field because it was like no other radio program known in the States at the time. Given the fact that the show was broadcast from Mexico, he was not governed by the same rules that American radio stations were required to adhere to. Moral standards were much more relaxed in Mexico at the time.

He was able to do things other disc jockeys couldn’t get away with. The Wolfman was known to howl and bark out lewd, crazy statements and orders to his listeners. Despite this, he was still being heard on the radio.