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Wolfman Jack, 1090 XERB Rosarito, Baja California | 1967

Wolfman Jack at WKIS Orlando


Born Robert Weston Smith, “Wolfman Jack” (or just “The Wolfman”) was perhaps best known for his exciting broadcasts in the 1960s at XERF Ciudad Acuña, Mexico, beginning in 1963. That was his first taste of Mexican radio and after a few months of that, he returned to the States to program little KUXL in Minneapolis, but nothing there could fulfill the excitement of running a 250,000 watt ‘border blaster’ station, so it was back to Mexico, this time to run 1090 XERB. Rosarito, where the actual transmitter was located, was said to be a 10 minute drive to the U.S. border crossing at Tijuana and it was rumored that Wolfman did his shows from Mexco, but fact is, when he did shows on XERB, he actually recorded them ahead of time from an office he opened in Los Angeles and the tapes were sent south of the border for airplay. And, XERB, while a Mexican station beaming it’s programming to Southern California, was no border ‘blaster’. Yet, even with a top output of only 50kw, at 1090, it’s directional signal due north (to protect KAAY Little Rock*) covered all of the Los Angeles and San Diego metro area like a blanket, along with all the ships at sea and beyond, at night.

Those were the conditions under which Wolfman Jack first became famous. It is this station upon which the movie American Graffiti was based. Wolfman would stay at XERB until 1971, when the Mexican government changed their broadcasting regulations, banning Protestant preachers and their ministries – and the subsequent revenue they were generating – from Mexican stations which were located in a predominantly Catholic region. With the loss of funding, XERBs days as an English language rocker for Southern California were doomed.

Wolfman arrived in New York in 1973 to do the night show on 66 WNBC, competing with Cousin Bruce Morrow at WABC. That lasted about 10 months until Morrow was lured away from WABC.. to do the WNBC night show! And the rest, as they say, is history.

* See corrections in comments below.

This recording is from Wolfman’s second year at XERB, sometime in 1967.


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8 Comments


  1. Some corrections:

    XERB at 1090 wasn’t protecting KLIF, which was at 1190. The directional signal protected KAAY, Little Rock, Arkansas, also at 1090. XERB still managed to cover the 11 western states, a chunk of Mexico and the 2 western Canadian provinces at night.

    The transmitter at Rosarito is a ten minute drive south of the US/Mexico border at Tijuana…but it was more than 2 hours from L.A., where Wolf recorded the shows. They were sent down to the transmitter by bus or UPS and played 24 hours after they were recorded.

    Wolf did the shows in real time live to tape. Callers always sounded confused because they’d have the radio on and Wolf would sometimes be talking on the air while talking to them on the phone.

    XERB changed call letters to XEPRS (“Express”) in 1971, but Wolf stayed until April 15, 1972.

    His next stop wasn’t WNBC, but KDAY, Santa Monica. He was there the Monday after his final XEPRS show and stayed for a year.

    Wolf was never much of a factor in L.A. while at XERB (his last showing in the ratings was a 1.0, putting him in 21st place in his timeslot, in 1968). Part of the problem was that XERB was mostly preachers and horse racing when Wolf wasn’t on…there was no consistency or recycling of audience.

    But at KDAY, he was #9 with a 3.0 in fall, 1972…putting him only a point behind KHJ from 7-Midnight. And this was a mellower Wolfman, playing an album-leaning Top 40 format.

    Wolf got the job as the announcer for NBC-TV’s “The Midnight Special” while working at KDAY. That relationship expanded as his one-year deal at KDAY expired with the network offering him the WNBC, New York gig. His first show there was just before the premiere of “American Graffiti”

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  2. Another factor that likely hampered Wolfman’s ratings in LA was KNX 1070. I don’t know about 1971, but I do know that when I head up to LA now, it’s nearly impossible to hear 1090 because KNX bleeds all over it.

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  3. MGD: A lot of that bleed has to do with KNX’s HD signal and narrowband recievers. In 1971, neither of those was a factor. 20khz was sufficient separation even with a pocket transistor radio.

    XERB’s biggest problem was a lack of consistency. Tune in for Wolfman even 5 minutes early and it was horse racing or fire and brimstone. Tune in 5 minutes early for Humble Harve on KHJ and you got The Real Don Steele.

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  4. MGD: What you’re hearing now is a combination of splatter from KNX’s HD signal and modern narrowband AM recievers. Neither a factor in 1971, when 20khz was sufficent separation even on a pocket transistor radio.

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  5. This was Wolf at his best, before he went more mainstream. All the calls from Watts, etc.He’s funny as hell with callers, had a way of just making fun of callers without being cruel. Plus all the snake oil, and stuff he was selling. Love the breaker “XERB playing 1090 over Los Angeles” One of the all time greats, nobody else could do what he did.

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  6. I listened to Wolfman on XERB many times in those days from the Pasadena area and, regardless of the technology in the 1960’s, there was a lot of “bleed” from KNX. But, after a steady diet of KHJ and KRLA, that just added to the strangeness of the broadcast. Definitely the most interesting sound on the radio dial.

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  7. hey everybody need a taste of the wolfman go to xerb1090.com lots of airchecks there including this one classic wolfman jack jb

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  8. YEA! Summer of 67, cruising Imperial Beach, So Cal in a 1959 Pontiac vista cruiser. The
    Wolf Man howling from everybody’s rides. Smiles on faces everywhere. “life was good!”
    The Wolf, great friends and lota clean surf, make for fantastic memories, that still plaster
    a big (cheese) smile on my face, And that was 47 years ago. The memories remain, but
    TIMES HAVE CHANGED !
    Steve 3/17/2014

    Reply

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