Saturday, June 25, 2022

Detroit Time Capsule Searching for Its Audience

Detroit Time Capsule
(DTC) is a collection of 75 of my best Detroit Fornology blog posts gleaned from over 500 posts written over the last decade. DTC tells the story of the city's origin with the arrival of Antoine Cadillac in 1701 to the revitalization of Detroit as one of America's "comeback" cities of the twenty-first century. Each compact entry is three to five pages long for easy, convenient reading.

Published in 2022, this anthology is a trip down memory lane for Baby Boomers in the Greater Detroit area, and an entertaining historical survey for younger Detroiters or recent arrivals to our city of events and people that left their mark on Detroit.

People like Father Gabriel Richard, "Mad" Anthony Wayne, Henry and Edsel Ford, Joe Louis, Berry Gordy, George Pierrot, Mort Neff, Bill Kennedy, Soupy Sales, Edythe Fern Melrose (Lady of Charm), Ollie Fretter, Martha Jean "The Queen," Connie Kalitta, Alex Karras, Leaping Larry Chene, and Shirley Muldowney to name a few.

These posts originally appeared in my Fornology blog but have since been updated and reedited for this edition. As I pull the plug on my blog in the next year or so, this collection will become a collectors' item that includes topics and information you would be hard pressed to find anywhere else. My blog posts will fade into cyberspace, but the book will endure. Makes a great gift for former Detroiter's too.

My Amazon Author Page

Saturday, June 18, 2022

The Elusive Purple Gang--Radio Free Flint Podcast

 The Elusive Purple Gang recounts Detroit's violent Prohibition gang and their meteoric rise and fall. 

This Radio Free Flint podcast is hosted by former Genesee County [Michigan] prosecutor Arthur Busch. His podcasts are committed to public service and social justice. 

Arthur Busch --Radio Free Flint

Busch shares the voices of America's rust belt, their blue collar values, and their way of life. Enjoy my interview with this skillful moderator. 

The Purple Gang's Rise and Fall

Monday, June 6, 2022

WXYZ's Fred Wolf and his Wacky Wandering Wigloo

"Master of Sparemonies," the "Old Percolator," "Swampy Joe," and "King of Detroit Morning Radio," Fred Wolf.

Pioneering Detroit WXYZ sportcaster Fred Wolf was born in Poughkeepsie, New York on May 26, 1910. When Fred was six-years-old, his father died. Fred's mother remarried and the family relocated to Detroit in 1920. The young boy grew up to be a gifted athlete courtesy of the Detroit Recreation Department and their community sports programs. 

Fred played baseball when he attended Cass Technical High School and had aspirations to play in the major leagues. As with most high school athletes, that dream never materialized. After high school, Fred studied engineering in a Ford Trade School apprenticeship program.

At the age of twenty, Fred worked as a pinsetter and began to bowl on a league. Within a year, he bowled his first perfect 300 game, he was hooked on bowling and became instrumental in popularizing what was once a pastime into a professional sport.

After Wolf completed his Ford apprentiship, he was hired in 1934 to work in Chrysler Corporation's engineering department. By World War II, he rose through the ranks to become a superintendent at the Chrysler tank plant in Warren, Michigan, where he supervised 450 employees. While at Chrysler, Wolf was captain of the Tank Arsenal team in their company's ten-team bowling league. Other team names were Dodge Main, Super-finishers, and De Soto Engineers, etc. 

Fred also bowled on a the Stroh's Keglers team in the industrial league where he was their strongest bowler. On April 29, 1941, he won the individual competition in Detroit's American Bowling Conference out of a field of 32 of the city's top bowlers. He bowled 647 [three game total] while the next best competitor totaled 619. Fred clearly had found his groove.


On August 14, 1944, at the age of thirty-four, Wolf hurt his back playing softball which forced him to retire from the semi-professional bowling circuit. He was made manager of the Stroh's Keglers and introduced the bowlers over the public address system and reported scores. Norman White of radio station WJR asked Fred if he ever thought about doing a bowling show on radio. "What would it take?" Fred asked. White answered, "Get a guest, write an interview. Write the whole show--opening and closing--but leave two spots for commercials."

While recuperating from his back injury at home, Fred was listening to the World Series on the radio and wondered outloud to his wife Emily if a bowling tournament could be broadcast the same way. "Why not?" Emily answered. 

Fred shopped the idea around to Detroit radio stations before finally being accepted by WXYZ-Radio beginning his long broadcast career. His first weekly show was named The Ten Pin Talker. It was only fifteen minutes long, sponsored by E&B breweries. Wolf reported bowling scores from around Detroit and profiled top bowlers. Broadcasting opened up the bowling and the professional sports world for him.

Radio's The Ten Pin Talker led four years later to television's Make It and Take It, a program where local bowlers would try to make some of bowling's most difficult combinations for cash. Following the success of that program, WXYZ gave Wolf a bowling series called Bowling Champions in 1950. Wolf began live, lane-side broadcasting which became popular locally.

Championship Bowling title card

In 1956, the American Broadcasting Company, WXYZ's parent company, asked Wolf if he would like to announce a coast-to-coast program called Championship Bowling for ABC Sports. That program began a twelve-year national run which did much to popularize bowling nationwide and advance the sport.

In the early days of television, bowling was a winter sport, so the WXYZ station manager asked if Wolf could report on something besides bowling. Soon, he was reading baseball scores, announcing boxing and wrestling matches, commentating at golf tournaments, and hosting the popular Hot Rod Races from the Motor City Speedway where midget race cars competed in 25 lap races, and as an added bonus, there was a demolition derby event which Detroiters took an instant liking to.

Demolition Derby Carnage

While Fred Wolf was pioneering television sports programming, he was also a WXYZ-Radio morning deejay beginning in 1950 until 1965. His show was broadcast from 6 until 9 am every weekday morning. WXYZ-Radio originally broadcast from the Mendelssohn Mansion on East Jefferson Avenue. 

To gin up interest in his early, music radio program, Wolf asked the station manager if he could have an eight-by-ten foot broadcast booth built three feet off the ground in front of the mansion. He also wanted it to have large windows on three sides so motorists and pedestrians could see him spin records. It was a quirky idea, but the mini radio studio was paid for in radio endorsements for Peterson glass and Chaplow Lumber Company, so the project was given the go-ahead. 

Fred christened the booth "Wolf's Wacky Wigloo." It became an overnight sensation drawing in 35% of the morning radio audience. People drove by the Wigloo on their way to work and honked. Wolf told a reporter for the Detroit Free Press, "I like broadcasing from the Wigloo. I can see my listeners drive or walk by. It is more interesting than working in an enclosed studio."

WXYZ had outgrown its downtown studios and urban renewal was about to decimate the Black Bottom area where the studio was located. The station decided to build something they called Broadcast House in Southfield, Michigan. The radio station was slated to move into their new digs in June 1959. Wolf realized he was losing his Wacky Wigloo in the demolition process. On a personal note, he did not want to drive to Southfield from Grosse Pointe Woods. He would have to get up at 3:00 am to make it to work.

As he had done with the original Wigloo, Wolf came up with an original idea. He asked McDonald Trailer Sales if they could modify a thirty-foot trailer and replace the back end with glass on three sides. The station would install the turntables and other broadcasting equipment to make the trailer into a mobile radio studio. 

The cost of the trailer would be paid for with radio endorsements. WXYZ management was skeptical but approved the project on the strength of Wolf's popularity and his success bringing in new sponsors and advertising dollars.

Fred Wolf and his Wandering Wigloo.

The first stop for the newly rechristened Wandering Wigloo was the University of Detroit campus on the corner of Livernois and McNichols. Wolf pulled up at various familiar locations around town like the State Fair Grounds, City Hall, Detroit Institute of Arts, the Detoit Zoo, and private businesses, especially car dealerships. The Wandering Wigloo would broadcast from businesses for a week if they bought 5 spots a day of targeted advertising for 26 weeks. The Wandering Wigloo soon proved its worth.

The promotion was so successful that radio stations from around the country sent their people to Detroit to witness this public relations innovation. WXYZ soon built a second trailer for deejay Paul Winter, a third trailer was located in Dearborn, and a permanent broadcast booth was installed at the Sears Shopping Center in suburban Lincoln Park. Radio engineers were doing remote broadcasts from 6 am until 10 pm everyday. 

Everything was fine until a change of management tightened up their radio broadcasting programming. In short, the dee jays were to talk less, run jingle advertisements, and play music taken from a Top 40 play list. This was the radio industry's response to payola scandals in the music recording and broadcast business in the late 1950s. "Pay for Play" was illegal, and the play lists were the only way radio stations could insure against it. AM radio became repetitive and boring.

Wolf, who was generally a team player, let management know he was displeased. "I play happy music for my morning listeners as they get ready for work. I refuse to play rock & roll." Music trends had changed and his show's ratings dropped.

Wolf decided to retire from his morning radio show in August 1965, but Fred was too valuable to WXYZ to let him go, so he was bumped up to Vice President of Public Relations and official Channel 7 spokesperson. Wolf continued to do special broadcasts like the annual Port Huron to Mackinac Island Gold Cup Races and the Buick Open Golf Tournament.


In 1978, a stroke partially paralyzed Wolf and left him unable to speak, though he continued swimming using only one arm. At the age of ninety on August 7, 2000, Fred died in his Grosse Pointe Woods home of complications from a second stroke with his wife Emily by his side. The Wolfs were childless. Fred had a private funeral service and was buried in Roseland Park in Berkley, Michigan.

Emily Rybacki Wolf followed her husband to the grave two years later. At her husband's death, Emily said of him, "Fred was a very upright, kind man and a natural athlete." She must have been a remarkably supportive wife for her ambitious husband who worked long, irregular hours with a punishing broadcast schedule. Whatever they endured together over the years, they were married for sixty-five years. 

Fred Wolf produced over 800 local bowling shows on WXYZ radio and television, including 272 hours of announcing nationwide on ABC's Championship Bowling series. Wolf was a championship bowler in his own right and was inducted into the American Bowling Congress Hall of Fame, the Michigan State Bowling Association Hall of Fame, the Greater Detroit Bowling Hall of Fame, and he served as president of the Detroit Sports Broadcasters Association.

A full accounting of Fred Wolf's awards and honors are too numerous to list here, but one stands out in particular. Fred held the American Bowling Congress' record for the most years between his first 300 game and his second in 1975--forty-four years. I am sure that factoid was a source of merriment at Fred's induction to their Hall of Fame. Fred was a bowling champion to be sure, but there have been many bowling champions before and since. Fred was one of a kind.

Shock Theater and Mr. X