In my last post I wrote about my road trip to and from Las Vegas in which I happened to listen to an hour or two of right-wing radio. This prompted Verdon to comment about a childhood memory of being able to pick up a Mexican radio station from his home in the Southwest.
When it comes to matters of the radio the ultimate source to turn to is my best friend, and occasional guest-blogger, Jeff Mazzei. Jeff was the program director for WCBS FM for over thirty years, and he knows radio like Charles Dickens knew adjectives.
Enough of my needless prattling. I give you…Mr. Mazzei.
Guest blogging for Keith Saunders is like going to a concert expecting Cedar Walton to play only to find out that it’s Bill Walton. But I’m here to expand on the subject of scanning for distant AM signals which is a subject dear to my heart having spent decades in the business.
Growing up in New York City, nighttime scanning for distant AM signals was great sport in the Marble Hill Projects. For music, we loved WKBW from Buffalo which had an out-of-control nighttime disc jockey named Jack Armstrong. But the real thrill was CKLW from Detroit which understandably had the inside track to all the new Motown releases, and we all felt as if we had the underground r & b pipeline to Motown a week ahead of everyone else. In the summer, we scanned baseball games from Boston, Baltimore, Cleveland, and Cincinnati to go with the Mets & Yankees.
But on the west coast, they had a unique scanning experience. In the U.S. & Canada, the legal power limit for an AM station is 50, 000 watts in order to protect stations from interfering with each other within a reasonable distance. Mexico was never interested in such good will, so their legal limit is 250,000 watts.
One such station was XERB in Rosarito Beach with a 250,000 watt transmitter near San Diego. This was the station that hired Wolfman Jack who became a radio icon with his unique brand of announcing. He was not only a wild man on the air, but he exposed the west coast audience to r & b records that were never played on most west coast top 40 stations, and it was not uncommon for Wolfman to say hello to his listeners in Portland and Vancouver.
XERB actually had offices in Chula Vista, California and on Sunset Boulevard in Los Angeles. They also made money by selling time to pentecostal preachers who solicited donations. One such preacher, Reverend Ike, had the sales pitch, “The worst thing you can do for the poor people is to be one of them, so send me your donations!”
I had the pleasure of working with Wolfman Jack (or as his co-workers called him, “Wolfie”) in New York at WNBC. The real life Wolfman Jack was not unlike his on-air persona, but it was more low-key. It alway amused me that this wild man of the airways with the zany moniker of Wolfman Jack actually had the most mundane of real names—–Bob Smith.
Sadly, both Wolfman Jack and XERB have passed from the scene, and CKLW in Detroit no longer is spinning Motown exclusives, but scanning never dies. There are still baseball games hiding up there somewhere on a hot summer night. It just takes a little patience and a talented wrist. Scan it!!