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From very early on, the Hex plan for American Artifacts was to release three PDFs and then collect them into a single print edition. Now that all three PDFs are out, we’re hoping to release the book at Archon in October. Instead of just collecting the three existing volumes, we decided to add some new material, including new artifacts, a complete timeline, and a shiny new cover by Jeffrey Johnson. Wolfman Jack’s Lost Broadcast is one of my new entries for the omnibus edition. This is the first draft, so it might undergo some changes and corrections before the final book.
Wolfman Jack’s Lost Broadcast
Robert Weston Smith, better known to the world as Wolfman Jack, made a name for himself in the early 1960s broadcasting on XERF-AM, a Mexican “border blaster” station whose powerful transmitter allowed the station to be picked up throughout the United States. Smith broadcast live for less than a year before switching to pre-recorded shows when he moved to Minneapolis to run a radio station there. One of those early live shows, on November 23rd, 1963, is the show that became known as the “lost” broadcast. People who attempted to tune in that night heard only strange interference or dead air. Everyone who tried to call the station to find out what was going on was met with a busy signal.
Wolfman Jack and his crew distinctly remember their preparations from the broadcast, including a long discussion about how to best address the Kennedy Assassination. They also remember broadcasting a show that night, but nobody involved has ever been able to recall any specific details. The show was recorded on two different machines, but both tapes only emit strange beeps, static, and buzzing when played back. The crew wrote it off as a perfect storm of technical difficulties and fans blamed the weather or assumed that the Wolfman had suspended his broadcast in the wake of a national tragedy.
The Lost Broadcast was mostly forgotten until a few years later when people started picking up bits and pieces of it on their AM dial. Some of the people who have heard it claim that there are specific clues that identify what they heard as being from the Lost Broadcast. Some, like the music in rotation or the products Wolfman was pitching, are inconclusive; Others, like explicit mentions of the time and date or talk about the assassination, provide more solid proof if the listener can be believed. Given one of the key players involved, that may be a considerable “if.”
The earliest alleged incident of someone hearing part of the Lost Broadcast was revealed by Robert Anton Wilson in a zine published in 1968. In the article, Wilson recounts one of the earliest “crank” letters (of the kind that would later inspire the Illuminatus! Trilogy) he received when he started working at Playboy. The writer of the letter claimed that he was close to perfecting a time travel device based on information from a Wolfman Jack interview of William Faulkner that he’d recently heard while driving through Kansas. The letter writer sought Playboy’s advice on whether he should use the device to stop the Kennedy assassination, noting that Faulkner (who died in 1962) seemed unwilling to address the possibility when Wolfman Jack brought up the possibility.
On its own, Wilson’s account of a bizarre and impossible Wolfman Jack broadcast could be written off as a prank. But those who travelled in the right circles had heard similar stories before and, given the tiny circulation of the zine, it’s highly unlikely that later claims were inspired by Wilson’s story. If the stories are to be believed, Wolfman Jack’s November 1963 broadcast revealed accurate information about Martians and Venusians years before their existence on Earth became public knowledge, predicted the assassinations of Robert Kennedy and Martin Luther King, Jr., explained that the decline in the number of hobos over the last few decades was a threat to our very reality, and featured the song “Helter Skelter” five years before it was recorded, among many other things. One internet blogger who collects Lost Broadcast stories has speculated that if all of the accounts are true, the complete broadcast would have to be nearly two weeks long. With Wolfman Jack slowly fading from the collective memory and the decline of AM radio, new reports of Lost Broadcast experiences have grown rarer, but they do crop up occasionally.
The Lost Broadcast is primarily a tool that the GM can use as a call to adventure or a way of providing important information to the PCs. Any radio can suddenly start broadcasting a segment of the Lost Broadcast that reveals just what the characters need to know. PCs who have heard stories of the broadcast could also decide to actively seek it out. This can involve using magic to untangle the broadcast from the Songlines, building a scientific device to unscramble the ruined tapes (if they can be found), or just driving around with the car stereo tuned to static on the AM dial.