Sunday, March 9, 2014


  Just as they were beginning to break into the arcade's pinball machines to steal money for gas, car club hoods, The Pharaohs, are caught off guard by the sudden presence of the proprietor.  Not wanting to create trouble, Curt (Richard Dreyfuss) covers for the three hoods, by telling the proprietor that they’re his friends.

Back in 1972, when George Lucas was directing American Graffiti with a very limited budget, (approx. $750,000) nobody could guess that one day some Graffiti fans would dissect each image of the movie to point out the smallest goofs and anachronisms. But they do. And we have. In today’s entry of Kip’s American Graffiti Blog contributing writer, Charlie Lecach helps enlighten us on one of the anachronisms in the films: The pinball machines! 

And as you read, remember you can click on any of the  fascinating photos on this page to enlarge them, so as to appreciate their beauty & detail.  And, its all free at no extra cost to you, the dedicated & loyal Kip's American Graffiti Blog reader! 
Director, George Lucas on-location at the miniature golf & arcade in Pinole, CA  circa 1972
There were no sets used in American Graffiti.  Since a major portion of the film’s budget was going towards securing the rights to old rock and roll records, there wasn’t a lot of money to be spent on things such as designing sets.  Filming in real locations was much less expensive. This is one of the reasons every scene had planned to be shot on-location in the San Francisco bay area.  

So, when the crew needed to shoot scene # 48, with Curt and the Pharaohs robbing an arcade, Graffiti’s location manager, Nancy Giebink found a nearby small miniature golf course and arcade (referred to as the "Hole-In-One” in the shooting script) located in the town of Pinole on San Pablo Road.  

As it happens, most of the games in the arcade were typical modern machines found in most arcades at the time.  None of the pinball machines were made before the 1962 time period set in the film. The earliest model game in the arcade was made in 1965. It would have been ridiculous to lose time and money searching for period correct pinball machines, so Lucas chose to shoot the hilarious scene at the location exactly as it was, probably hoping that most film-goers would not notice how new the machines were.

Click to enlarge, or by accident. Whatever works.

With an establishing interior shot of the small arcade, viewers could see the following pinball machines, from left to right (with each brand and year of manufacture):  Wild Wild West (Gottlieb 1969), Royal Guard (Gottlieb 1968), Skyrocket (Bally 1971), Vampire (Bally 1971), Buckaroo (Gottlieb 1965), and Ball Park (Williams 1968).  Below are original brochure and trade-ad art work for the games seen in the film.

Royal Guard (Gottlieb 1968)
Wild Wild West (Gottlieb 1969)

Skyrocket (Bally 1971)
Vampire (Bally 1971)
Buckaroo (Gottlieb 1965)

Ball Park (Williams 1968) 

Much bigger in size, Ball Park wasn’t really a pinball but rather a bat game with a mechanical back-box animation. Baseball before electronics. Of course, car club hoods, the Pharaohs didn’t mind which kind of arcade game they’d rob, period correct or not. As long as they could “take along a little piece of this place” as proprietor, Hank told Curt before saying goodbye…

~ FINE ~

Thursday, February 13, 2014


Hey welcome back to Kip Pullman's American Graffiti Blog. I trust everyone had a decent holiday and you're well rested and have already gotten back into the groove of the daily grind. This month were gonna get a small taste of some of the early sounds of Rhythm & Blues/ Soul radio that disc jockey, Wolfman Jack helped make popular in the mid-1960s and early-1970s.  We've got some record surveys and very rare air-checks you can't find anywhere else.  Gonna blow your mind, baby. Most pix & surveys on this page can be enlarged for your pleasure by clicking on them. Soooo... let's get this party started!!
Wolfman burps on the telephone operator as he segues into "Gimme Shelter" by The Stones!!!
I Passed out seven times when I first heard this clip.
In the mid-1960s Bob Smith aka Wolfman Jack was working as the manger of a small daytime-only radio station, KUXL, 1570 in Minneapolis, Minnesota. As manager, Smith helped station operator, Marvin Kosofsky change the programing from strictly religious to a more youth-oriented format: Rhythm & Blues.  The station broadcast continuous tapes of religious preachers during the mornings but from 1:00 in the afternoon until sundown KUXL played R & B records from the likes of Ike & Tina Turner, B.B. King, and The Four Tops.  The station also sponsored dances & concerts featuring performers such as The Temptations, Jimmy Reed, and Jr. Walker.  Even though he was the manager, Smith never broadcast from the Minneapolis station as Wolfman Jack during the time that that he was there.
KUXL R&B Hit List, November 1968
Here's a rare KUXL air-check with DJ, Admiral Richard E from 1967 (provided by Curt Lundgren)
KUXL Super Soul Thirty,  July 1972 
Opening of Wolfman's XERB show segues into "Chain of Fools" by Aretha Franklin
Aware of  the immense popularity of the tiny station, Smith got dollar signs in his eyes and decided to apply the exact same format of paid-programming mixed with current R & B to take over the high-powered, 50, 000 watt Mexican station, XERB, 1090 AM. The transmitter sight for the station was located near the costal resort city of Rosarito Beach in the Mexican state of Baja California which is about 10 miles south of the California, U.S. border.  Helping with the new adventure were KUXL disc jockeys, Art Hoehn (a.k.a. Fat Daddy Washington) and Ralph Hull (a.k.a. Preacher Paul Anthony and The Nazz).  At first, beginning in late-1965, they operated the "Big X" from Minneapolis, then relocated to offices in Los Angeles, California in 1966.

A copy of  the station's 1966 schedule. Turf Craft racing results & Glory Bound Train were (unannounced) paid advertising income for the station.
The station’s new format was a complete success. XERB had been a Country music radio station before Bob Smith & company took over.  The new "Super Soul" format was quite an exciting change, and on top of it all, they had the mysterious and outrageous, Wolfman Jack howlin’ and prowlin' over the airwaves for 6 hours every single night. Have mercy!!! 

 "Ain't it Funky, Now," by James Brown, 3:01: Phone Call, "Secret Agent Spy Scope" (original phone call which was later edited and used in the film, American Graffiti), segues into "Key to the Highway" by Freddie King (circa 1970-71).
XERB Record survey July 1967   Compare this "Soul Monster" record survey to that of KRLA's Top-40 survey also from July 1967 (further below)
Wolfman waxes poetically over "Let's Get it On" by Marvin Gaye (1973)
A March 1969 QSL post card from XERB engineers confirming that the recipient had indeed heard the station.  To get a QSL card from XERB (or any radio station) a listener would need to send a reception report to the station giving information about what they heard & the reception conditions.
XERB RECORD SURVEY, October 7, 1967. Although the XERB transmitter towers were in Rosarito Beach, in the Mexican state of Baja California, the station operated as though it were a local Los Angeles/Hollywood station and used many local L.A. sponsors. 

Radio ad for a free autograph picture of Wolfman & an XERB record survey
XERB Super Soul-21 Survey, May 10, 1969
Wolfman gets heavy with "Hey Big Brother" by Rare Earth (1971)

XERB Bill Harris SOUL SURVEY, Dec 22, 1969
 In the 1960s and early-'70s, the number-one radio station in the Los Angeles market, was KRLA, 1110 AM. The station boasted a high-powered 50,000 watt signal during the day which was reduced to 10,000 watts in the evening. The popular station KRLA was blessed with some extremely talented on-air talent including: The "Real" Don Steele, Casey Kasem, Bob "Emperor" Hudson, Dave Hull "The Hullabalooer," and much later, Wolfman Jack (1984-87).
 XERB’s primary local daytime competition with a similar R & B format was the Los Angeles soul station, KGFJ 1230 AM, but in the evening only XERB, with it's far-reaching, 50,000 watt signal bouncing across the ionosphere, could be heard throughout most of North America, west of the Rocky Mountain range. After a couple of years XERB's R & B format eventually became more inclusive of Top-40 rock found on other LA stations such as KRLA.  For a little over five years XERB, with Wolfman Jack at the helm, was the hip station to listen to at night.
This KGFJ Top 25 Rhythm & Blues record survey from the beginning of 1967 shows "(I Know) I'm Losing You" by The Temptations holding fast at number one for the second week in a row. One of the station's DJs, Magnificent Montague later joined the lineup at XERB.

~ FINE ~

Wednesday, December 25, 2013


The little red sports car spun out of control, breaking through the guard rail and crashing onto the rocks below. A fireball not unlike a nuclear explosion. But a moment later, the KING stepped unhurt from the flames, one arm around a beautiful blonde and holding a big bottle filled with pills of all kinds. And he winked and he waved and he shook when he laughed and he said, “I’m alive, I’m alive.” And the KING shall come when the KING comes.  

♬  ♪  ♬   MERRY CHRISTMAS!   ♪  ♫  ♬



Sunday, December 22, 2013


On December 23, 1955 this picture and the following text were printed in a local San Francisco newspaper:
J. C. Bonzani, manager of Bank of America's 16th and Mission branch, holds his hands to receive 20 Christmas Club Savings Plan books from Mrs. Dorothy Gregory, a Mels Drive-In employee. Looking on is Raymond E. Walker, fountainman at the drive-in, who likes the Christmas Club idea so well he makes collections each payday from 20 fellow workers and takes the money and their club books to the bank.

The Christmas Club used to be a staple in American banking, which in retrospect seems crazy.  Customers gave the bank money every month.  The bank paid them little or no interest and would not let them take out their money until December 1st.  In addition, there were many fees and other restrictions, including substantial penalties for early withdraw.  And yet, Americans would cheerfully put their money in these ridiculous Christmas Club accounts even though those same dollars could have been earning interest in a regular savings account. So, why did people do this? Because Americans assumed if their money was in a regular account they would spend it.  So, they were essentially asking the bank to tie their hands. Makes sense, right? 


Wednesday, December 4, 2013


Where are all the customer's cars?  Probably at McDonalds. By the time this pic was taken eateries like McDonalds were heavy competition for Mels and similar restaurants.  Circa early-1970s.
Welcome back to Kip Pullman's American Graffiti Blog where we get the truth on all things Graffiti related.  Contributing writer, Charlie Lecach recently sent me a newly acquired newspaper picture of the first Mel's drive-in right before it was demolished. This inspired me to make another attempt to put to rest an often printed historical inaccuracy. This one in particular is, of course, about The Mels Drive-in featured in the 1973 classic, American Graffiti. Let's discuss the lie first, then we'll clarify with the truth afterwords. The popular fabrication goes something like this: The Mels drive-in featured in the film had been closed down for some time and was about to be demolished in 1972 but was reopened briefly just for the production of the film and then razed by the time the movie hit the theaters. Pardon my language but, BULLSHIT! This folklore has been repeated so many times as though it were a well-established fact. I believe Michael Karl Witzel's popular 1994 book, The American Drive-in is partly to blame and may possibly be the original source from which this rumor is based. In it, he says,
"As colorful marquees were scheduled for removal, it appeared to many local enthusiasts that Mel's success story was about to end. [sic] The original Mels burger spot came to [Director, George Lucas's] attention and was leased prior to its demolition. Crews descended on the site and soon it was over again. Mels was back in business, immortalized in 35mm."
 Then  Witzel erroneously states,
"As the bulldozers razed the last remnants of the historic drive-in and trucks carted off the debris, American Graffiti opened in theaters."
In the author's defense, he may have been speaking metaphorically about the ending of an era, blah, blah, blah. The whole thing has a nice poetic ring to it.  The problem is however, that many have taken these words literally and rephrased them and turned them into "fact."  Do a quick Google or BING web engine search and you'll find similar statements all over the web.   Even the Mels Drive-in website has quoted Witzel's book in their history section. Oy Vey!

The restaurant shines beautifully at night in American Graffiti.

Donna Wehr  c. 1972
But, as the saying goes; A lie no matter how many times you repeat it is still a lie. As I've explained here before on my blog: The truth is that in 1972 when the location manager for American Graffiti, Nancy Giebink was scouting for a drive-in building to be used in the film the Mels Drive-in restaurant located at 140 South Van Ness San Francisco, CA was very much open for business.  This has been substantiated by Dennis Kay, the former director of operations for Fosters West, the owner of Mels in the early-1970s. Kay was responsible for making the arrangements for filming. Kay recalled, “We only closed for business on the nights of filming and re-opened the next day. Weeks after filming was completed, they called and said some film had been lost on the cutting room floor, so we had one more night of filming.”  American Graffiti was first released in August 1973 and Kay remembers the restaurant continued to remain open for several more years after the film's initial release.  For more on this see Part 2 of my article, Mels Drive-in The True Story.

Mackenzie Phillips on-location in the Mels' parking lot c. July 1972

The, now legendary, eatery first opened it's doors for business on December 23, 1947 and remained open and standing for almost 29 years before it was finally demolished sometime in the Fall of 1976.  That would be about two years before Graffiti was re-released in theaters with 3 additional scenes and the soundtrack re-mixed in Dolby stereo, with the advertising slogan, "American Graffiti is back!"  Ya know, it's amazing the way historical trivialities such as these can get distorted.  If historians can't even get small details like these right, it kind of makes you wonder about the reporting accuracy of big things like the United States astronauts going to the moon. Who knows,  maybe the Apollo missions were really just weekend benders in Las Vegas.

This Kodak Instamatic camera photo appears to give credence to the fact that the patronage of a business that reportedly once was so busy it required 5 policemen directing traffic had really thinned out by the mid-1970s.. BTW: The parked CHP car appears to be a 1974 or '75 Dodge Monaco.  (Thanks Thom Soncrat & Jay Sparks!)

Oh, I almost forgot, I mentioned the photo of Mels that Mr. Lecach shared with me at the beginning of the post which inspired me to write this...well, here it is:

Caption on back of photo reads: 
Mels Drive-In in San Francisco which served 3,000 meals a day during the 1950s and '60s, is pictured shortly before it was turned into a parking lot. The change mirrors a national trend away from curbside dining. AP Wire photo. 1976

And here, 10 years later (1986) is the Milner coupe in the former Mels Drive-in parking lot

✶ FINE ✶

Matchbook cover   c. 1972
The buggy design on this book of matches also appeared on the drive-in's menus and can be spotted on the talk boxes in American Graffiti.
  • American Graffiti Filming Locations (June - August, 1972). Petaluma California's Salute to American Graffiti.
  • Old, Traditional Drive-in Yields to Fast-Food Site. Lawrence Journal World. Nov 17, 1976. 
  • Witzel, Michael Karl. The American Drive-In: History and Folklore of the Drive-in Restaurant in American Car Culture.  Motorbooks International; 1st Edition September 1994.

Saturday, November 23, 2013


In his latest film "This is Long Beach" award winning filmmaker Brian Darwas shadows three generations of custom car & hot rod aficionados, The Long Beach Cavaliers.  Each generation, from the 1940's to present, recounts detailed memories and pays homage to the cars that bonded them in a lifelong brotherhood all while chopping a 1947 Ford in Brad Masterson's Kustom's car shop in historic Lynwood, California.

Check out the promo for this exciting new film!:


Four questions about This is Long Beach

Q: What prompted you (Brian Darwas) to make a film about the Long Beach Cavaliers?

A: History is a big part of hot rod and custom car culture, and I wanted to make a film that was rich in that history.  The Cavaliers are one of the oldest car clubs (est. 1947) that managed to survive through the ups and down of it all, so naturally they were a perfect fit.

Q: What was the filming process like?

A: I just sat each generation of the club down in front of the camera and let them reminisce about what life was like as they were growing up in Long Beach, and how the car culture of Southern California played such an important role in their lives.

Q: What was your favorite thing about making this film?

A: Just getting to hear real stories from real people that lived it.  Seeing these guys speak so fondly of a time period that I've only read about was really an awesome experience.

Q: And your least favorite?

A: Nothing, I enjoy being able to make movies and sharing them with the world.


Thursday, October 31, 2013


HAPPY HOWL-O-WEEN!! Welcome back once again to Kip's American Graffiti Blog. Last time you and I met I had posted my conversation with Wolman's long-time writer, Frank "Mars" Cotolo. You can read that fascinating (and extremely popular) interview here: THE WORD FROM MARS Pt. 1.  Tonight we celebrate this holiday with another Wolfman-related post.  This time I'm sharing an exclusive unabridged, comprehensive, conversation with Wolfman Jack's longtime Engineer/Producer and good friend, Lonnie Napier.  Lonnie began working for Wolfman Jack in 1970 and remained with him, working in various capacities until the time of his death in 1995.  In my interview with Lonnie, I focused mainly on the most fascinating aspect of Wolfman's history, which was when Wolfman was in a transitional stage in his career and beginning to take the leap from mysterious cult figure who broadcast from someplace in Mexico to an International superstar with a syndicated radio show and the host of TV's, The Midnight Special.  These days Lonnie produces the radio program, American Country Countdown (ACC) hosted by Kix Brooks  Related links can be found at the bottom of this post.


Wolfman Jack USAF Halloween Show circa 1975

KIP: I know that Wolfman Jack only had a few close friends and you and his long-time writer, Frank “Mars” Cotolo were two of them. The three of you used to work hard and hang out and were really close from what I understand. How did you first become involved in working with the world’s greatest DJ?

NAPIER: I grew up in San Diego, California (CA) and I had always wanted to work in radio. When I was in high school I had a friend, Rich whose dad worked at XERB.  Wolfman broadcast his show on XERB, 1090 AM and manged the station [1965-71.] He helped me get a job for a company called Turfcraft that announced horseracing results over the air on XERB. 

Trick-or-Treat bag
KIP: How did that work?

NAPIER:  They were located in a small apartment in San Ysidro, CA [a border town between CA and Mexico] They’d buy racing results from around the country and then announce them over the air on XERB.  It was a funny thing. We recorded our voice over a telephone line down to the station in Rosarito Beach, Mexico. The engineers would run a special effects tape of a horse race behind us while Leo McFadden would read from a sheet saying, “They’re rounding the first turn,” and telling the locations of the horses on the track. This was probably illegal by Mexican standards. They made money on the sly buy having a guy sell the names of a couple of supposed winners to people and Wolfman got a cut. There was no real science to it. Just handicapping.

KIP: I presume the guy selling "guaranteed winners" knew the outcome of the race because Turfcraft had already gotten the results??

NAPIER: It was kind of a scam. They said they guaranteed a winner and probably 75% of the time they were right. You got a free tip for another race if they were wrong. The big deal was that they'd pick horses that were a lot better than the other horses.

Reasonable facsimile of XERB schedule from 1966.  Both Turfcraft Racing Results & Glory Bound Train were paid programing.

KIP: At the time the actual XERB recording studio was located over 130 miles north in Los Angles.  At what point did you transition from working at the tiny apartment in San Ysidro to the actual Los Angles XERB studio and meet Bob Smith aka Wolfman Jack?

NAPIER:  Well, I worked for Turfcraft for about 3-4months before they told me they could no longer afford to pay the $50per week they had been paying me. Someone suggest calling Bob Smith to see if he needed anyone to work for him in Los Angeles. A call was made and he said, “Send ‘em up,” so on Monday I drove up to Los Angeles to meet him. This was around the year 1970.  The studio was at 4007 West 6th Street near Western Ave.  I remember there was a billiard parlor next door. 

KIP: Do you remember what the, now legendary, XERB studio looked like?

NAPIER: Yes, I do. The upstairs office where I first met the secretary, looked like a Mexican brothel [laughs]. Actually, the whole place had dark wood paneling on the walls and had these fancy red candelabras on them. All the furniture was dark wood with red velvet seat covers.  So it, by all definitions looked like a Mexican brothel.   


KIP: That must've made quite an impression on you as a young 18yr-old kid.  Did that intimidate you?

NAPIER: Yes. Absolutely, I was shocked.  Well, I waited, what seemed like 2 hours before the secretary at the time, Renee Pinsky finally told me he was there.  I knew he was in the building long before she told me that he had arrived because I could smell his pungent cologne in the place.

KIP:  So, his scent preceded him.

NAPIER: Yeah.  Exactly.  So, Renee eventually said, you can go downstairs and talk to him now, so I did. He shook my hand and was very casual and seemed slightly more concerned with the studio equipment that was being installed, rather then learning about my qualifications.  At the time he was installing the first 16-track studio ever built.  That was a big deal.  Ya gotta understand that this was a guy who came from nothing.  Ya know, he was a poor New York kid who had nothing and then all of a sudden he was making thirty-five or forty thousand dollars a month living in Beverly Hills.  In his mind he was a hero.

KIP:  He’d come a long way.

NAPIER:  Yeah.  Absolutely.  It had nothing to do with the fact that the house he had in Beverly Hills had snakes all over the place. And, it wasn’t really Beverly Hills, it was Los Angleles, but you had to go through Beverley Hills to get there. It seemed like he used to like to display his wealth.  He was the first person I knew who had a car phone.  He used to let me drive his huge convertible Lincoln Town Car and it had a phone in it. [Laughs].

KIP: It was all about appearances.  Speaking of which, there are very few pictures of him from that time period. He was refusing interviews and wouldn’t allow any photographs taken of him.  So tell me, what did he look like when you first met him in 1970?  Did he resemble a typical businessman?

NAPIER:  He looked like a really hip celebrity. He had a puffy pompadour, with a goatee. He was wearing wild clothes including a big shirt with puffy sleeves, tight black pants, Italian boots, and had on gold bracelets and sunglasses.

KIP: Cool.  Was he still going by his birth name, Bob Smith at the time?

NAPIER:  Yes he was.  In fact, for the longest time I called him Bob.  I had a hard time with his new manager, Don Kelley who said from now on we’re going to call him, “Wolfman.”  I had a hard time switching over and just calling him Wolfman.  It was uncomfortable for me ‘cause I always knew him as Bob.  So, anyway, at the interview he asked me if I knew anything about editing tape, which I did and then after a few other questions he said, “You’re hired.”  

Performing live circa late-1960s

KIP:  What did he hire you to do?

NAPIER: The first thing he had me do was editing the 100s of recorded phone call requests he received everyday.  He had two rather large AT&T phone answering machines-they were like recorders.  Anytime somebody would call they had his voice on there saying, “Hey, this is Wolfman tell me what you wanna hear, what your name is, where you’re calling from, blah, blah, blah.” He also asked the caller to leave their name and number and Wolfman might call them back and record the conversation to be aired at a later date.  So there were two of them and we’d take them off put them onto the tape machine and edit them down. 

KIP:  So you’d take the recorded messages on the phone machine and transfer them on to the large reel-to-reel tapes?

NAPIER: We had a way of going from the phone machine to our reel-to-reel tape recorder. They were all transferred on to 10” reels with ¼” tape. It was mind blowing the number of stacks of recordings- we had. 

KIP:  Wasn’t this back in the day where you would hand edit the tape by marking the ends of the tape you wanted to cut out with a grease pencil and then use a razor blade to cut the tape and then use editing tape to tie the two ends back together?

NAPIER. Yes. It was time consuming but Bob showed me a quick way to edit them by using the distance between your elbow and hand as a measuring device.

1960s Bumper Sticker

KIP:  Many of these phone calls you edited were not to be aired locally on XERB but were used for the syndicated shows that Wolfman was just starting to market.  So you wouldn’t want to have someone listening to his show in Nebraska with a phone call from someone stating she was from San Diego or someplace in California. His syndicated shows were supposed to create the illusion that wherever the show was aired-it was live, is that correct?

NAPIER: Absolutely.  The whole idea was I was setting them up for syndication for a company they started called AUDIO STIMULATION. I was editing the calls so that they could be played at any part of the country and sound local to that area.  I would edit out all the information that said where the caller was from as well as edit out any time elements or temperature indications.  It had to be very generic. And, then I had to put leader tape between all the phone calls.  I also edited phone calls to be  broadcast on XERB. 
Trade ad for his syndicated show
KIP: So he initially hired you to help him move into the syndicated market.

NAPIER: Well, yeah for very little money. And, he knew I had a passion for radio. He loved that fact, because, he was a guy who, as a kid, had a passion for radio.

KIP: He saw some of himself in you?

NAPIER: Yeah, that’s what he saw.  I mean, the first time I came to work, I worked for four day straight without a break.

KIP: That’s dedication. That’s passion.

NAPIER: Yeah, he walked in and I was asleep on the tape machine, ya know.  So, he knew he had a guy with a work ethic as opposed to some guy [who might be thinking] “How the hell do I get out of here?” It’s what I wanted to do.

KIP: Do you recall the first stations to pick up his syndicated show?

NAPIER:  The first two stations to pick up the Wolfman show in syndication were KPOI in Honolulu, HI, and KQEO in Albuquerque, NM. 

Lonnie & Wolfman at WNBC.
KIP: A couple of years later you edited some of the tapes of XERB phone calls that were included in George Lucas’ nostalgic classic 1973 film, American Graffiti. There are many cool phone calls with occasional references to certain California towns. For example, one caller refers to being from Little Rock, California, “Way down in the Valley.” Some of them were even included in the double soundtrack album. 

NAPIER: Right. Yes, which of course was intentional.  The film takes place in Modesto, CA.

KIP: In American Graffiti the XERB studio is a little barnburner just outside of the kid's small town near some walnut orchards but the kids speculate that he is actually broadcasting from Mexico or from a plane. The writers obviously, took artistic license with this.  To many it implied that he was broadcasting live with a direct signal into Mexico where it would take the weak signal, boost it, and shoot it back up into the Valley.  What’s the real story? For those who don't know, how did that work?
NAPIER: In reality, the shows for XERB were recorded in the Los Angeles (LA), California studio a day in advance.  Each show was on three separate reel-to-reel tapes.  One had the music with Wolfman introducing the songs, another had phone calls, and a third had commercials. Someone would take the tapes to the local LA Greyhound bus station, I think it was on 6th Street, and the tapes would be transported down to San Ysidro.  Someone, like Mario, would pick up the tapes at the bus station and walk them across the border into Mexico. American authorities made a big deal about transporting tapes for broadcast into the country and it took so much time, so rather than deal with that everyday we covertly just walked them across. Once across the border, they were driven down to the XERB transmitter sight in Rosarito Beach where Mario or one of the other 3 or 4 other engineers would arrange the tapes and broadcast them there live.  It had a 50,000 watt signal which, at night  reportedly reached most American states west of the Rockies [mountain range] and as far up north as Canada & Alaska. That’s how that worked.
Publicity still for American Graffiti

KIP: You eventually began engineering and producing his shows and wore many hats.

NAPIER: Oh, yeah, I became Vice-President of the company, I started booking the talent, I started going on the road with him, I booked all his airline flights, his hotels, all the gigs…We were a one trick pony. I mean we did it all from that one spot.  And, then we started using agents and ya know, trying to progress his career as an artist and as a performer.

KIP: You mentioned his manger, Don Kelly earlier. Wasn't he someone who really helped refine the Wolfman Jack character and image?

NAPIER: Before Don Kelly, he had a guy who was leading him into a Red Fox kind of  thing. Do you know who Red Fox is?

KIP: Of course. Fox was on the 1970’s TV sitcom, Sanford and Son, which was pretty tame, compared to his stand-up stage act. He was notorious for using a lot of foul language.

NAPIER: That's right. In the early days Bob saw the Wolfman character as Red Fox.  He was really crass on stage.  He’d come out on stage, and the first thing out of his mouth was, “How all you mother fuckers, doin’ out there?” I mean, he was just looking for shock.  Whereas, Don Kelly wanted him to be wholesome, family entertainment.  So by becoming more refined, more classy he was able to get more work. He eventually booked him into the family amusement park, Knott’s Berry Farm, and then with the band, Guess Who…and the concert TV series, The Midnight Special… that was all Don Kelly.

Performing live circa late-1960s
He evolved. Before I’d met him the Wolfman character had more of a Southern drawl.  You can hear it on some early XERB air checks from1966 back when he first started managing the station. Later he hated listening to his voice on tapes from those early days. But he was literally finding his voice. When I first met him being foul-mouthed was who he was.  I booked gigs for him in the early days with guys who were trying to make it like Tony Orlando and R B. Greaves who sung Take a Letter Maria. Shock was Wolfman’s deal.  I mean, “How you mother fuckers doing?” and “Is that your wife or your girlfriend?” That was his act. It wasn’t a comedy act.  That’s all he had. I think there was one line about,  “One out of three people are ugly and the two people sitting next to you are good looking, so, you’re the one,” Something like that. 

KIP:  How did the crowd respond?

NAPIER: Well, ya know, some women were put out by it, but…it was what it was. We were in Anaheim [CA]. Let’s put it that way.

He’d come out on stage, and the first thing out of his mouth was, “How all you mother fuckers, doin’ out there?”

KIP: Some prefer Wolfman Jack before he became a household name.  Do you have any opinions on the transition that Wolfman Jack made?

NAPIER: You mean, am I judgmental?  No, I think he did what he felt was necessary at that time.  He was feeling that’s what he needed to be to progress his career. And, Don Kelly took it to a whole other level, and once he played that part he became a household name.

KIP: Oh, yeah.  He even had that cartoon in the mid-eighties of him, Wolf Rock. At one point, you didn’t even have to have a radio to know who Wolfman Jack was.  

NAPIER: Exactly. As far as having an opinion about that: I mean, that is what he wanted at that time. 
Rehearsing for his musical, I SAW RADIO circa 1975
KIP:  I asked Wolfman’s writer, Mars Cotolo this next question recently but I’ll ask you too.  When we heard a 6-hour syndicated Wolfman Jack show on the radio, did it take you guys a whole six hours to originally produce that show?  He did so many shows I just can’t imagine him sitting there through each song for the full time.

NAPIER:  No.  It took about an hour and a half on average.  We would just enjoy ourselves and have fun and record all the stuff.  He didn’t listen to all the music but there were certain songs that we did live that he wanted to play. For instance, he loved Bill Deal & the Roundels’ “May I,” so he’d want to drum along to the beat on top of the phonebook.

KIP: I loved it when he would do that.   

NAPIER: Sly & the Family Stones’ “Dance to the Music” was another one he loved to play along with so we would add that to the show and mix it live.  It was all mixed live.

KIP:  Did you add things like the trademark wolf howl and snippets of his voice exclaiming, “Have Mercy!” or “Oh my!” over portions of the music to make it sound as though he was actually doing those things live?

NAPIER: Yes. We added all that stuff including the jingles and things, all that.  Radio was not as sophisticated at that time. Now it really is a lot more detailed.

Catch of the day.  Lonnie (center), Wolfman & friend.

KIP: It’s been about 18 years since Wolfman passed.  Is there anything specific about him that enters into your awareness when you hear his name?

NAPIER: First, I still talk to him.  I talk to him and say, “Can you believe what it’s become?”  Umm, because I know he would be totally blown away by what’s going on today in radio. He would still be the person that he was.  There would be no changing that person.  Secondly, I don’t think anybody has done for him what needs to be done for his legend.

At the dentist circa 1977.  Photo: Julian Wasser
KIP: Yes, I concur!

NAPIER: Here’s a guy who all he had to do was howl, and people loved him!  That was his content.  And, now everybody else has to at least say the time temp and weather, or whatever.  All he had to do was howl, and people would like him. They were like, “Oh my God, did you hear what he just said?”  I don’t think there is anybody who has taken his career and done it justice.

KIP: I’m so disappointed when I listen to the re-treads of his show that they broadcast in syndication now.  I’m happy that his memory is being kept alive but the shows have no personal continuity and really don’t have the rhythm of the way he really used to do a show. 

NAPIER:  He did all of those shows with me but some kid came in and re-edited those shows. He doesn’t get it.  He didn’t or doesn’t understand.  I can understand re-recording the music from our shows because the records we used had scratches and pops but what they don’t understand was the magic that was created. So, they can do that all day long but they will never ever craft the magic that was Wolfman. And, that comes from living, breathing, and being Wolfman.  Just listening doesn’t do it. And, Frank “Mars” Cotolo can vouch for that much. We did whatever we wanted to do based on what Wolfman wanted.  I mean, he was the boss.

KIP:  He definitely had the magic and people like you and Mars were able to help Wolfman bring that magic to us.  You brought the party to us.  Even when I listen to old Wolfman air checks from XERB and WNBC these days it puts me in a good mood.

NAPIER:  Nowadays everybody is going, “What kind of age to age do you have?” And uh, "How many breaks per hour?" and “How many songs do you play?”  Ya know, they’re going in to all that.  That’s not what real radio is about. Listening to Wolfman Jack was like having a party with a personal friend.  The experience was very positive, very upbeat.  In fact, that was the whole concept. Wolf and I would get into to the car and we had oodles of cassette tapes of his shows and when we wanted to feel good we would pop in one of those tapes.  When we’d get on our fishing boat we’d put on one of those tapes and we would immediately feel good.  That is what the whole concept was: To make you feel good.  Wolf would say, “Listen to how happy we sound!” And, that’s what it was all about. It’s pretty simple stuff.

✌   FINE   ✌

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Currently Lonnie Napier produces the award winning, national syndicated radio program, American Country Countdown (ACC) hosted by Kix Brooks.