August 14, 2021



(ABC, September 8-October 20, 1984)
Dick Clark Productions, DiC Enterprises
Wolfman Jack – Himself
Robert Vega – Ricardo
Siu Ming Carson – Sarah
Noelle North – Sunny
Frank Welker – Bopper
Jason Bernard – Mr. Morris
            Wolfman Jack was actually Robert Weston Smith from Brooklyn, New York. He grew up listening to the radio and pretending to be the DJ. At the age of 16, he decided to meet one of his idols: prominent DJ Alan Freed, who broke down racial barriers by getting kids of all races to listen to the same music and helping to spread the importance of rock and roll. Smith not only met Freed but got a gofer job at the theater where Freed did shows. After attending the National Academy of Broadcasting in Washington, D.C., Smith got a job at WYOU (now WTJZ) in Newport News, Virginia. It was there he began experimenting with on-air personas. His first was “Daddy Jules”, a tribute to the Black DJs who influenced him in his early years and played R&B. When the station changed formats, he became “Roger Gordon and Music in Good Taste” and played classical. After moving to KCIJ (now KOKA) in Shreveport, Louisiana he became “Big Smith with the Records”, playing current hits.

Wolfman Jack.

            It was at KCIJ that Smith developed his most famous persona: Wolfman Jack. The name was derived from Freed’s original persona “Moon Dog”, after New York street musician Moondog, that was accompanied by the recording of a howl, as well as Smith’s own love of horror films and often playing the role with his young nephews. The “Jack” portion came from hipster lingo. The mannerisms he adopted we modeled after bluesman Howlin’ Wolf. It wasn’t until he moved to XERF (now XHRF) in Ciudad Acuña, Coahuila, Mexico that Wolfman Jack became a household name. XERF was what was known as a “border blaster” radio station; powerful enough to transmit across North America and, at times, even Europe and the Soviet Union. It was also known as “pirate radio” as they didn’t have to pay FCC licensing fees or royalties. Border stations made their money by taking 50% of whatever products were sold, and Wolfman’s show was done as a giant overnight infomercial pitching various products with breaks of rock ‘n’ roll and R&B music (many of which were songs banned on more conservative stations). He refined his persona into a risqué exuberance, encouraging listeners to “get naked” or “lay your hands on the radio and squeeze my knobs” and punctuating his banter with howls. His signature gravely voice (reportedly achieved with a shot of whiskey) helped him further stand out from the other DJs on the air.

Wolfman leaning into his love of horror.

            Part of Wolfman’s popularity stemmed from his anonymity. Nobody knew what Wolfman looked like—not even Wolfman. When he did eventually start making public appearances, Wolfman would look different each time (hairstyles, types of facial hair, tone of his skin, etc.) as he decided on what the Wolfman would be. It wouldn’t be until 1969’s A Session with the Committee that his audience would get their first major glimpse of the Wolfman. Upon moving to Minneapolis, Minnesota to run KUXL (now KDIZ), Wolfman continued to broadcast on XERF via taped shows. Eventually, this would lead to Wolfman becoming one of the first rock and roll syndicated programs as he sold edited versions of his Mexican radio tapes to radio stations everywhere.

            While Wolfman’s notoriety and popularity grew to where he was recording and producing his own albums and appearing in television programs and films, his biggest break came from his appearance in George Lucas’ second film, American Graffiti. Lucas was a fan of Wolfman’s radio show and included him as the ever-present DJ in the film. Because of the film’s enormous success and the deal Wolfman made to star in it, he ended up earning a regular income for the rest of his life. This move into the mainstream seemed like a betrayal of his rebellious origins to many longtime fans, but people continued to listen and the work continued to come in.

Promo art featuring Ricardo, Sarah, Wolfman, Bopper and Sunny with some of their featured musical acts.

            In 1980, Wolfman made the leap into lending his voice for animation. His first outing was as the opening narrator for The Fonz and the Happy Days Gang, which starred his American Graffiti co-star Ron Howard. So, it was only natural for Wolfman to be tapped as the central character to Dick Clark’s attempt to capitalize on the popularity of MTV and further expand his music-based empire. Wolf Rock TV. Co-produced by Dick Clark Productions and DiC Enterprises, Wolf Rock TV found Wolfman Jack as the host of a rock music TV program. Aiding him were three teenagers: Sarah (Siu Ming Carson), Sunny (Noelle North) and Ricardo (Robert Vega), along with their pet breakdancing parrot, Bopper (Frank Welker). Always on their case to make sure episodes were ready to air in time was the stuffy station manager Mr. Morris (Jason Bernard), who didn’t approve of Jack’s style or music choices.

Ad for the Saturday Morning Preview Park special.

            Wolf Rock TV debuted on ABC on September 8, 1984, after appearing the night before on the ABC Saturday Morning Preview Park special. The series was a hybrid of animation and live-action, featuring actual music video clips as well as interviews with the musicians themselves and factoids about the music. Unfortunately, banking on the combined power of the growing MTV generation and the notoriety of Wolfman Jack didn’t help the show fare all that well in the ratings. After 7 of the planned 13 episodes aired, it was yanked off the air and replaced by the rerun package Scary Scooby Funnies. In 1985, DiC would revisit and revamp the format for another series: Kidd Video. Along with music video clips, the series made heavy use of licensed music and featured live-action music videos starring the fictional band created for the show. It ended up being more successful, lasting 2 full seasons. Wolf Rock TV wasn’t seen again until 1989, when both shows were combined into the syndicated Wolf Rock Power Hour.

A promo for the show featuring Wolfman and more featured video stills.

            Because of the licensed music as well as its overall failure, Wolf Rock TV hasn’t been seen or broadcast since. A rarity for the internet age, no video footage has managed to surface outside of the clips from the preview special and a recording of the theme song. Mentions of it could only be found on DiC’s old website before it was taken over by Cookie Jar Entertainment and  Wolfman’s and Clark’s omitted it altogether. A variety of merchandise, however, has been seen and included puffy stickers and an album and sunglasses mounted on a headband by Gordy International; an LCD watch by Elgin National Industries; a coloring book by Golden; and a carry tote. Animation cels have also been found available online.

A young Wolfman at the microphone.

            After a storied career in radio, Wolfman performed what would be his last show from the Hard Rock Café in Washington, D.C. On July 1, 1995, Wolfman returned home where he died suddenly from a heart attack. Five years later, Wolfman Jack Licensing was formed and began digitizing all of Wolfman’s old tapes. Wolfman continues to be broadcast around the world through the digital files’ distribution.
“The Video Nappers” (9/8/84) – UNAVAILABLE
“Bad News Birds” (9/15/84) – UNAVAILABLE
“Bopper Goes Ape” (9/22/84) – UNAVAILABLE
“The Nerds Who Fell to Earth” (9/29/84) – UNAVAILABLE
“No Time for Sarge” (10/6/84) – UNAVAILABLE
“Rockin’ Robot” (10/13/84) – UNAVAILABLE
“Wolfman’s Granny” (10/20/84) – UNAVAILABLE

No comments: