|Wolfman's Publicity Photo, early 1970s.|
Thursday, April 17, 1975. A sunny spring day in Roanoke that would end with the biggest party ever at the WROV studios as the world's most recognizable disc jockey, Wolfman Jack, would have a two-hour turn in the air chair at 15th & Cleveland.
Wolfman Jack, real name Robert Weston Smith, was a hoodlum in his Brooklyn, NY neighborhood in the late fifties. To keep him out of trouble his dad gave him a radio, and soon he spent evenings listening to DJs who played rhythm and blues.
|The Wolfman is SMOKIN' in the WROV Air Chair.|
He eventually got a job in Nashville at WLAC, several other announcing jobs followed, and by 1960 he'd become interested in "border" radio stations in Mexico which could broadcast a 250Kw signal back to the US. He became general manager of XERF, south of Del Rio, TX, a station which featured "faith healing" preachers who sold bogus medicines that were illegal in the U.S. When many of the preachers didn't pay their bills, Smith replaced them on the air with a lewd R&B show hosted by his new alter-ego, Wolfman Jack. He once recalled that he'd played "the Wolfman" with his sister's kids and this led to his air name.
He soon left XERF and headed west to XERB in Tijuana, a station that covered the L.A. market, where he told listeners to "get nekkid" and dropped sound effects of wolf howls into records. He recorded his shows in L.A. then had the tapes delivered to the transmitter in Mexico and soon was a legend in the western U.S. He became America's first syndicated disc jockey. And he reached superstar status when he played himself in the 1973 movie American Graffiti. This led to his becoming the co-host of NBC's live music show The Midnight Special that aired Fridays after Johnny Carson.
|American Graffiti featured this classic scene starring the Wolfman.|
Wolfman was seen and heard everywhere in the 1970s, TV, radio and several records including Flash Cadillac's Did You Boogie With Your Baby and the Stampeders' version of Hit The Road, Jack. The Guess Who's tribute, Clap For The Wolfman, was a top ten hit in 1974. So the following spring when the Guess Who toured with Wet Willie, they invited Wolfman to join them. To promote the concerts, the Wolfman was frequently showing up in cities the nights before the concert dates and appearing for a few hours on the local top forty radio stations.
Roanoke was no exception, so the day before the tour's Roanoke stop on Friday, April, 18, word went out that the Wolfman would be stopping by WROV. Pat Garrett, then a student at Cave Spring High School, recalls "I was friends with the WROV guys, was the high school correspondent from CSHS and had done a lot of photography at the station. When I got home from school that day my mother told me that Bart had called—not something that happened everyday so I knew something special was going on! I called the station and was told to grab my camera, lots of film, and get down there at seven o'clock because they were going to have a very special guest. After arriving I learned that Wolfman Jack was coming to the station and being a young kid and aspiring radio DJ, I about freaked out."
|Larry Bly with the Wolfman.|
The station was filled with guests, insiders, and WROV personalities past and present. Fred Frelantz was there with his wife Beverly. Gary E. Cooper was there. Chuck Holloway, who was doing the 7 - midnight shift at the time, knew enough in advance to invite his parents and his sister to come up from Bedford. Dave Hunter, Rob O'Brady, Rich Randall, Larry Bly and Vince Miller were all on hand. Also several advertising clients including Chuck Poss from The King's Inn, an Air Force recruiter who regularly bought time on the station, and more.
A big sign had been made and hung on the control room door that said "Caution! Live Wolfman In Studio!" Owner Burt Levine was there and was in such a festive mood that he'd sent someone out to buy several half-gallons of booze and mixers which were placed upon GM Don Foutz's desk. The party was there and waiting to happen. But Wolfman, who was supposed to arrive well ahead of his scheduled "show time" of 9:00 PM, didn't. With Chuck promoting a "live Wolfman show" at 9:05 after the news and the clock slowly closing in on 9:00 those in attendance (especially the management and sales staff of the radio station) started getting kind of nervous and wondering if Wolfman would be a "no show."
|Wolfman at WROV: Telling the audience "when you love you live!"; Rob & Bart cut up; Gary Cooper looks on.|
But then, precisely at 9:00, Wolfman—not unlike every other radio personality who shows up for work with five seconds to spare—arrived in the station parking lot in a limousine and came in the front door saying "Hi! How are you all!" as he was led to the control room where he took his place behind the board with Bart, Chuck and Larry standing by to pull his music, commercials and mind the programming and transmitter logs. The crowd became ecstatic and followed him into the control room where everyone stood around cheering as he did his show which opened with Wolfman yelling "You and Me and ROV!" over the intro of the Rolling Stones' Brown Sugar.
Wolfman answered the phones, pumped his arms in the air, smoked cigarettes and the crowd loved it. Wolfman used all of his famous lines such as "Hey baby! When you love you live!" and Chuck's dad kept shouting "GO GET 'EM WOLFMAN!" and the rest were loving every minute of it. But the party was to get even bigger. Wolfman, completely ensconced in the moment and basking in the adulation, popped open the mike and started telling the audience to "Come on down here and party with the Wolfman!"
|Rich Randall poses with Wolfman at the front desk, where he sat and signed autographs after his show.|
Several hundred listeners began showing up, some made it inside the building, others only as far as the parking lot where the broadcast could be heard emanating from the building's air monitors and car radios. But they were there and whooping it up along with the rest of the crowd.
Wolfman was only supposed to stay for an hour but was having such a good time that he stayed for two, wrapping up his show at 11:00. When done, he slowly made his way through the crowd, signing autographs and posing for pictures. He spent a few minutes sitting at the WROV front desk where he continued posing and signing. Then off he went.
He later ended up at The King's Inn with several of the WROV staffers from the party. At the station, things wound down and those who remained worked on cleaning up. Chuck finished his show and Rich came on at midnight. It was truly one of those magical times that seem to spontaneously happen a few times in life and become life long memories.
|Wolfman hugged Chuck on the way out, escorted by the crowd and Dave Hunter (right).|
Pat recalls "I wasn't old enough to drink and was probably one of the only sober people in the building that night. I took lots of photos of the Wolfman and the goings on in the rest of the building. The one thing I most remember about the night was Bart. Usually, all of the other DJs and wanna-be's like me followed Bart around like little ducks in a row. But on this night, Bart was following Wolfman and Fred Frelantz around the way we all usually followed him. So many big names were there. It was surreal."
Vince Miller remembers: "You know I think that night could be made into a play. You had all these egos and personalities changing with the wind. Grownups acting like children and children acting like babies. I had never seen Bart respond to the presence of anyone, but he was like a kid with Wolfman." Everybody was like a kid with Wolfman. You had to have been there or, at least, listened to it on the air. Another day in the life of Roanoke's rock & roll history and 1240 WROV.
Mike Ives of the Roanoke Times & World News covered the Wolfman's visit. Click the images to read the article from The World News, April 18, 1975: