Our local public radio station (which full disclosure impels me to mention that I am employed by their 24-hour classical sister station on a part-time basis) is advertising a special which airs this weekend on “border radio”— that is, a collection of stations located just over the Mexican border which during the 1950ies and 1960ie— joyfully free of FCC restrictions on power restrictions… or practically any other kind of restriction— blasted the very latest rock, and the most daring DJ commentary, on stations so high-powered they could be heard all the way into the deep mid-west… and probably on peoples’ fillings, too.

My parents were… umm, kind of stodgy about radio entertainment, and Mom kept the radio at home always tuned to the venerable Los Angeles classical station, with the result that I may have been the single “ most totally clueless about popular music” military broadcaster trainee ever to graduate from DINFOS. I knew about Elvis, and the Beatles, of course— JP played the “White Album” incessantly, and the Beach Boys were omnipresent in California… and I rather liked Simon & Garfunkle, but everything else… major unexplored territory there. Except for obscure and weird stuff like… umm, classical music. And the Bonzo Dog Doo-Dah Band. JP was a fan. I actually won money in tech school, betting on the existence of a band called the “Bonzo Dog Doo-Dah Band”. (They had a single in the AFRTS library— my winning move, going to the index file and triumphantly producing the card for “I am the Urban Spaceman”.) Otherwise, popular music, country music, all the rest of it was pretty much new news to me. I could be really open-minded about it all, which turned out to be a good thing, in the long run. DJ’s with strong personal inclinations about genre, decade and groups sometimes had a problem when it came to being ecumenical. (Weekend jazz… no problem. Midnight AOR.. no problem… just give me a couple of bottles of extra-strength Anacin. Afternoon drive-time… eh, no problem.)

So I managed to get to that point in my life without ever having heard of Wolfman Jack, the king of the border radio personalities. Raunchy, borderline profane, very funny, the Wolfman was about the most daring DJ in the regular weekly AFRTS package of radio programming for a good long time, which might have seemed even longer to station managers gritting their teeth and crossing their fingers that there might be nothing potentially offensive to the host nation in his show… this week, anyway. Master-Sgt. Rob, the first station manager that I worked for, at FEN-Misawa had been around for at least fifteen years before that. MSgt. Rob was one of the old-timers, who had served tours in South-East Asia, a clannish set loosely known as the “Thai Mafia”… so many of them had passed through a tour of duty at Udorn. Thailand’s reputation as a sort of sexual Disneyland dates from that time— although I swear Scouts’ honor, (fingers crossed here) that military broadcasters contributed very little to that. (Military broadcasters tended to be a little odd. I’d be willing to take bets that many of them had some degree of Ausburgers’ Syndrome). The Thai government was and is extremely embarrassed about this reputation, and sensitive of slight against national honor. So late one night, MSgt. Rob happened to turn on the radio, and of course, the Wolfman was on, and the first words MSgt. Rob heard was a joke:
“What’s brown and lays in the forest?” And the Wolfman answered his own question in that deep baritone that seemed especially made to relay the punch-line of raunchy jokes. “Smokey the Hooker!”

MSgt. Rob was aghast, horrified, and already mentally packing up the station, in the full expectation of a firm but diplomatically worded request from the host nation by mid-morning the next day at the very latest, to fold up the radio station and depart, bag, baggage, staff and pre-recorded programming at all. But nothing was ever heard, in the wake of that tactless and potentially offensive host nation sensitivity— probably not the first and definitely not the last. And over most of the rest of the time that I was a military broadcaster, Wolfman Jack cheerfully and profanely trod heavily along the line and frequently well over it, of what was acceptable, and what might conceivably ignite the wrath of the host nation and the higher command— neither of them bodies, in my experience, noted for a robust sense of humor, or sense of indulgence. I remember with particular pleasure, a skit on a episode sometime in the mid-80ies, called “Beat the Press”… where representative reporters from the usual press beat were queried as to their preference— “I like it on my tushie!” was one response— and flogged, quirted, and beaten with the method of their preference, all with appropriate sound effects.

We all agreed, with degrees of horror and amusement that it was a very good idea that local nationals who were likely to take offense at this sort of thing and kick up a fuss with their government representative did not understand enough slangy, colloquial English to even be, actually offended.

The saving grace of Wolfman Jack in the AFRTS radio package: so much of his comedy was so slangy, allusive, so obscure, the material that doesn’t make it into the English language textbooks; that a lot of the hair-trigger offended brigade never even realized what he was going on about. For this a lot of AFRTS staffers thanked their personal Deity, every week.
He was eventually dropped from the package— a short, terse note from the AFRTS programming center, sometime in the early 1980ies to the effect that “quality concerns” had let to his banishment. Naturally, we all said; “Yeah… of course. (Wink, wink.) So what was it really?” We assumed– based on past experience, that some host nation offense was to account for this. Nothing in the dreadfully efficient AFRTS rumor-mill circuit shed enlightenment, until I was bidden to attend an AFRTS programmers’ conference in 1985. The outlets, worldwide, were bidden to send representatives—mid-ranked NCOs who had the responsibilities for doing the actual radio and TV programming at their respective stations.

I am fairly certain that this conference sunk my so-called career as a military broadcaster, due to blunt and straightforward answers to a lot of questions asked of us by the high and mighty. I was in a cranky mood, and not inclined to be tactful or considerate of repercussions. During that conference, though, I did meet up with an old friend, Alice from my DINFOS class, who had finished up eventually as a civilian employee of the programming center in LA. She was the tech who was responsible for editing Wolfman Jacks’ last couple of seasons of shows for AFRTS. And I was surprised as all, when she confirmed that yes, he was bagged from the AFRTS package for quality matters; at the end of it, she could hardly edit 5×55 minutes worth of air-able materiel a week for a show, from what he left on tape, when he came in to the AFRTS programming center to do a weeks’ worth. Were we all surprised to learn this— we all thought sure he had been dumped for something much more offensive.
So sad, really; he went out with a whimper of poor broadcasting quality, and not the bang of really pissing off some host nation.

Comments closed.