Although he’s best known as an author and journalist, having written, co-written, or edited more than 25 books along with spending 23 years as an entertainment writer for the Tulsa World newspaper, John Wooley isn’t a broadcasting dilettante – at least, not quite.
His first steady work in that field came as a rock ‘n’ roll disc jockey on the student-run Oklahoma State University radio station KVRO. That started in 1969, and, among other things, it gave him the singular experience of reading his own draft number over the air during the first Viet Nam lottery. It wasn’t a good one, so, in 1971, he found himself aboard the USS New Orleans (LPH-11), carrying Marines to Viet Nam. (Wooley didn’t carry them personally; they were on the ship.) The 2,000 or so troops and crew needed entertainment on the way, so Wooley became program director and lead deejay for the ship’s radio station. Later, when the New Orleans became the flagship for Operation End Sweep and steamed from the Gulf of Tonkin into Haiphong Harbor to fulfill that duty, Wooley helped create and performed in two closed-circuit television shows, broadcast throughout the ship: The First Annual Haiphong Harbor Trivia Bowl, and The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly, a blatant and fitfully amusing ripoff of Hollywood Squares.
Moving with his new wife back to his home territory of Rogers County, Oklahoma, in the late ‘70s, Wooley supported his writing habit by teaching several community-service classes for Claremore College, including Poetry on the Air, a radio poetry course heard over Claremore station KWPR, “The Voice of the Will Rogers Metroplex.” That brought him to the attention of station manager Mike Warren, who gave him a midday show over the contemporary-country station. KWPR was a dawn-to-dusk 5,000 watter, although it was said the broadcasts sometimes got started a little late because the deejays had to run the cattle out of the studio.
The KWPR job ended with Wooley’s full-time employment as a Tulsa World writer in 1983, but he still found the occasional radio job. He was a member of the ensemble cast for The Corner Booth, a now-forgotten movie- and music-related program that ran on KWGS – his current radio home -- in the late ‘80s, and his play Homicide Highball was dramatized on the same station in 1988. It later was turned into the made-for-TV movie, Dan Turner, Hollywood Detective.
In 1991, Wooley joined Hall of Fame disc jockey and country artist Billy Parker on the legendary Tulsa station KVOO for a long-running show called Wooley Wednesday, which spotlighted western-swing music. The program ran for years under other titles and on other days, until one too many consultants gave a little too much negative advice about “obscure” music.
He was off the air for a couple of years after that, but in 2003 Wooley and his “obscure” music was offered a new home by Public Radio Tulsa’s general manager, Rich Fisher. The fact that Swing on This celebrates its 10th anniversary on Public Radio Tulsa in 2013 should give an idea of how harmonious the pairing of station and program has been, and continues to be.
For his music writing and broadcasting over the years, Wooley has received a number of accolades. He was inducted into the Western Swing Music Society of the Southwest Hall of Fame in 2008 and the Western Swing Music Society of Kansas Hall of Fame in 2004; designated a Western Swing Hero by the Cowtown Society of Western Swing Music in 2003; given the Preserving the Past Award by the Sperry Old West Fest in 2002; and awarded a Certificate of Appreciation by the Western Swing Music Society of the Southwest in 2001, a Certificate of Appreciation and Key to the City by the City Council of Tulsa in 1998, and a Citation from the Oklahoma Legislature in 1997, In 2003, he became the first writer to be inducted into the Oklahoma Music Hall of Fame; in 2006, he was put into the SPOT Music Hall of Fame (sponsored by the Tulsa World newspaper), and in 2009 he was given the Maxine Cissel Horner Spirit of Community Excellence Award by the Oklahoma Jazz Hall of Fame.
In 2007, Wooley served as master of ceremonies for both the West Texas Western Swing Music Festival and the National Fiddler Hall of Fame Inaugural Gala. And in 2011, he emceed and helped produce the first annual tribute to western-swing great Johnnie Lee Wills at the Cain’s Ballroom, broadcast over Public Radio Tulsa as a special live installment of Swing on This.