SALT LAKE CITY — I lost 50 years a week ago last Saturday.
I was driving in my son Eric’s car, with the radio tuned to a station called 103.5 The Arrow playing classic rock. I wasn’t paying enough attention to remember the song that was playing, but when it ended I heard “Wooly Waldron at the microphone” and, poof, half-a-century disappeared. Just like that.
Suddenly I was a teenager again, a Jordan High Beetdigger, paying 32 cents for a gallon of gas, driving my dad’s Ford Fairlane 500, listening to the Beach Boys and the Beatles and everything else pretty much nonstop on KCPX and KNAK and, when the signal came through, KMUR.
Wooly Waldron was the ubiquitous disc jockey who spun all those records. It seemed like he was always on the air. For all I knew he lived in the radio and never slept.
Hearing his name made me feel ageless.
When I got home, I looked up the website for 103.5 The Arrow and there he was, big as life, listed as “on air talent.” I called the station. Could I talk to, uh, Mr. Waldron? Sure, they said, and gave me his number.
• • •
Turns out Wooly Waldron doesn’t live in the radio. He lives in the south end of the Salt Lake Valley in a nice comfortable house on a cul-de-sac, where we talked one afternoon at his kitchen counter about life, longevity and rock ‘n’ roll — but mostly rock ‘n’ roll.
My first question: You must get recognized a lot by people like me?
“Yeah, but less and less,” he said, “It used to be that it was 40-year-old people, then 50-year-old people, now it’s 60-year-old people, but it’s still fun. I get email and stuff at the station all the time from people who have been out there the whole time, listening.”
My next question: Is Wooly Waldron your real name?
Waldron is legit, he said, but “Wooly” is a name he gave to himself after he’d been DJing about five years. “Everybody had a nickname,” he said, remembering contemporaries like Skinny Johnny Mitchell and Big Daddy Bill Hesterman and the nationally-renowned Wolfman Jack, so when a song called “Wooly Bully” by Sam the Sham & the Pharaohs rocketed all the way to the top of the charts in 1965, he decided to play the record for three straight hours on the air and coronate himself “Wooly” Waldron.
(For the record, his given name is Gary.)