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Wolfman Jack: Popular Radio DJ of the 1960s and '70s

Thelma is an award-winning non-fiction writer who enjoys writing about people and events in American history.

Wolfman Jack

Wolfman Jack

Who Was Wolfman Jack?

If you were a teenager during the 1960s, you need no further introduction to the identity of the legendary radio disc jockey, Wolfman Jack. However, younger generations may not have a clue about this cultural icon that presided over the radio airwaves with his gravelly voice and ability to howl like a wolf.

His real name wasn't Jack at all—he was born Robert Smith in 1938 in Brooklyn. He realized early on he needed to create a radio persona and style if he was to capture an audience in the competitive world of 1960s radio. In those days, popular DJs had exciting and memorable nicknames like Hound Dog, Boppin' Bobby, Johnny Rabbitt and Boss Jock to name just a few. The name Bob Smith just had no pizzazz.

Bob Smith before he became Wolfman Jack

Bob Smith before he became Wolfman Jack

From Bob Smith to Wolfman Jack

Adopting the name of Wolfman Jack wasn't enough to get the airtime and exposure he was seeking. He needed to have a gimmick that young radio listeners of the day would remember and try to emulate. Along came his famous wolf howl.

But his on-air package wasn't quite complete yet. He needed a style that was all his own that had not been heard before during those "all American, Mom and apple pie" days of the 1960s. He needed to be risque but not raunchy. He needed to make you want to listen to his show but be daring enough to make you think you shouldn't listen to his show.

For those reasons, the first of the "shock jocks" was born. Wolfman urged his listeners to get naked! He told his audience to "put your hands on the radio and squeeze my knobs". Yes, he developed a provocative style that made you tune in to see what outrageous thing he would say next. His alter ego was now complete! Plain old Bob Smith was now Wolfman Jack!

Wolfman's First Night on Radio WNBC (1973)

"Take your shoes off, turn off the lights and call the law!"

— Wolfman Jack during his first show on WNBC

National Fame

The Wolfman worked at many radio stations during his career which began in the early '60s at WYOU-AM in Newport News, Virginia where he was known as "Daddy Jules".

His nationwide notoriety began at XERF-AM in Mexico where the radio stations were not governed as strictly as they were in the United States. That station had a signal that was so strong it could be heard across most of the US. It was said that a car driving from New York to California would never lose the broadcast. Today that is a common occurrence with satellite radio but in the 1960s it was quite a phenomenon. At night an AM radio station can be heard for great distances and it was reported that Wolfman Jack could be heard in Europe. The Mexican radio stations became known as "border blasters".

On Screen: TV and Movies

Wolfman syndicated his older radio shows and sold them to stations across the United States. Armed Forces Radio entertained the troops, including soldiers serving in Vietnam, with his programs. At the peak of his radio career, he was heard on more than 2,000 radio stations in 53 countries.

Wolfman Jack had become a cult figure but his manager and partner knew he was capable of being more than a mere disc jockey. He helped to transform Wolfman into an entertainer that also performed in television and movies.

In 1973, he portrayed himself in the hit movie American Graffiti. It was directed by George Lucas, who had grown up listening to Wolfman on the radio. More movie and television roles followed, including an appearance on the popular TV show Married with Children in an episode titled Ship Happens.

Clip From "American Graffiti"

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The End of a Legend

Sadly, Wolfman Jack passed away at his home in Belvidere, North Carolina, in 1995 at the age of 57. Prior to his death, he authored an autobiography, Have Mercy: Confessions of the Original Rock and Roll Animal. In 1996, he was posthumously inducted into the Radio Hall of Fame.

Wolfman's daughter, Joy Rene Smith, followed her father's footsteps and became a disc jockey known as "Joy Jack". Sadly, just three years after her father's death, Joy was killed in a car crash and is buried next to Wolfman at the family estate in Belvidere.

Typical Sign-Off by Wolfman Jack

Memories of Wolfman Jack

In those days radio was like magic. And Wolfman Jack was part of that magic. You could lie in bed at night listening to him on your transistor radio from the "border blaster" station in Mexico and create an image in your mind of what this strange man with the frightening wolf howl looked like

That anonymity was part of the mystery and appeal of Wolfman Jack. After the movie American Graffiti, he assumed more of a high profile publicly due to fan pressure. Fans weren't disappointed as his appearance fit the persona with his devil-like goatee, dark hair, sideburns and bushy eyebrows.

But for many, listening to Wolfman was somehow different once you could put a face with the voice. He sounded the same but the mystery was gone. You no longer imagined him as part man and part wolf. The wolf howl just didn't give you goose bumps any longer.

Wolfman Jack broke the mold. He changed the stereotype. He was revolutionary in a time when music was revolutionary because it was the beginning of rock and roll. His voice, his howl and the music he played could touch your very soul.

Those carefree days of cruising in your car with Wolfman Jack are just fond memories from a simpler time. You can still enjoy watching the movie American Graffiti for a nostalgia jolt and reminisce when you hear the Wolfman’s raspy voice. It would be nice to go back in time and hear that scary howl, like the words written on his tombstone say, “One More Time”.

Grave of Wolfman Jack in Belvidere, North Carolina

Grave of Wolfman Jack in Belvidere, North Carolina

How do you rate Wolfman Jack as a rock 'n' roll DJ?

© 2013 Thelma Raker Coffone

Please share your comments about Wolfman Jack

Laura on April 24, 2020:

I would watch wolf man jack on television every Saturday morning. I was born 1969.

William Aycock on September 18, 2018:

As I child in the 60's, and then into the 70s, I always listened to the Wolfman. I heard him while in the Air Force in Europe as well. He, along with Casey Kasem are radio legends that will never be forgotten.

Thelma Raker Coffone (author) from Blue Ridge Mountains, USA on February 19, 2017:

Roy, every time I get a reply to this article, it brings back my own memories of the Wolfman. Thanks so much for reading and taking the time to contact me.

Thelma Raker Coffone (author) from Blue Ridge Mountains, USA on February 02, 2017:

Roy he was definitely one of a kind! Thanks for reading my article.

Roy Patterson on February 01, 2017:

Use to listen to Wolfman Jack on the mighty 1090 AM out of Mexico when I lived in San Diego. The best ever.

Thelma Raker Coffone (author) from Blue Ridge Mountains, USA on August 02, 2015:

Essie he was quite a character! Love listening to old recordings of his voice.

Essie from Southern California on August 02, 2015:

I agree with drbj.....what a delight catching up on some Wolfman Jack nostalgia!! I always like the song, "Clap for the Wolfman"!

Thelma Raker Coffone (author) from Blue Ridge Mountains, USA on August 25, 2014:

Bet it was really something to see! You have had some great experiences. We are fortunate in that also.

Sondra Rochelle from USA on August 25, 2014:

Several years ago my husband and I were lucky enough to get free tickets to see Wolfman Jack along with several 50's groups at a casino celebration in Biloxi. WHAT a night that was! He was as good as ever, and so were they!

Thelma Raker Coffone (author) from Blue Ridge Mountains, USA on October 14, 2013:

Tom I bet you enjoyed meeting that crazy guy! Thanks for your comment.

tom frizzell on October 13, 2013:

I met wolfman at an carshow in kcmo in the early 80's. ray farnner kar show;

Thelma Raker Coffone (author) from Blue Ridge Mountains, USA on October 12, 2013:

shannonc I bet trick or treating at the Wolfman's house was really special. Thanks for sharing your memories of him reading stories to your class. I would like to visit the Belvidere area some day as I have read it is very nice. Thanks for your comments and I'm glad you liked the tribute!

Thelma Raker Coffone (author) from Blue Ridge Mountains, USA on October 12, 2013:

Bob C thank you for taking the time to read my article about the "Wolfman" and for leaving me such a nice comment. He was such a funny man and played some great songs that you could actually sing along with. Thanks for sharing your nice memories with us!

shannonc on October 11, 2013:

I am way to young to have listen to wolfman jack on the radio, but I do have my own memories about him. I grew up about 8 minutes from his home in Belvidere and remember going to his house trick or treating on halloween. Also he did a reading for the kids at our local library when I was about 7. The way he read the true story of the 3 little pigs was awesome and something I will never forget. I saw the accident his daughter was in as it happened at the end of my road that I lived on it was tragic. This is an absolutely wonderful tribute to wolfman Jack.

Bob C on October 11, 2013:

Just out of college, my first wife and I lived in Los Gatos California in the mid-sixties. We began a tradition of driving east through the night, across the desert in order to go skiing at China Peak near Fresno.

What kept us awake? The Wolfman! God, we loved that show! Couldn't hear him at home. We sang all night as he spun the hits, and laughed and laughed at his outrageous humor.


Thelma Raker Coffone (author) from Blue Ridge Mountains, USA on May 14, 2013:

Lindacee he certainly was a radio icon. He and his daughter both died much too young. Thanks for adding your comments to my hub. By the way, I enjoy following you!

Linda Chechar from Arizona on May 14, 2013:

This Hub brings back memories, Thelma. I was a bit too young to remember Wolfman Jack from his border blaster days, but did listen to his syndicated radio program in the 70s. He was a radio icon.

Thelma Raker Coffone (author) from Blue Ridge Mountains, USA on April 22, 2013:

Crystal probably the same person as Wolfman did some commercials also. Thanks for your nice comments. You and I are fellow Georgians! I am in the north Georgia mountains.

Crystal Tatum from Georgia on April 22, 2013:

I remember a Wolfman from television commercials when I was a kid, but not sure if this is the same guy. A great profile. Voted up and interesting.

Thelma Raker Coffone (author) from Blue Ridge Mountains, USA on April 16, 2013:

Paul you are probably thinking of Dick Biondi. He is also in the Radio Hall of Fame. He was the first DJ in the US to play a Beatles record on-air! If you google his name you will find him on Wikipedia.

I really appreciate your kind comments and for sharing my article with your followers. Thanks so much!!!

Paul Richard Kuehn from Udorn City, Thailand on April 16, 2013:


This is an absolutely awesome hub about "Wolfman Jack." I enjoyed the WNBC video very much. I can't remember listening to “Wolfman Jack" before I went away to college in 1962. What I do remember is listening to a disc jockey out of Chicago in the late 50s and early 60s by the name of Nick Biondi/Bionti. He was quite a bit similar to "Wolfman" but without the howl. I remember listening to him on WLS. It is said that he got kicked off the radio in the early 60s by making the comment that "if girls' skirts keep getting any shorter, they'll have to start combing their hair and wearing 'l______k." Voted up as awesome and sharing with followers.

Thelma Raker Coffone (author) from Blue Ridge Mountains, USA on April 15, 2013:

Thanks drbj. Researching for this hub brought back a lot of fun memories!

drbj and sherry from south Florida on April 15, 2013:

Thelma - You made Wolfman Jack come alive with this interesting tribute. Thank you.

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