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Behind The Mic: John Wooley

Writer, journalist, novelist and western swing devotee John Wooley needs no introduction. Whether you remember reading his entertainment writing in Tulsa World, have one of his novels on your shelves or tune in to Swing On This on Saturday evenings, John is no stranger to our city.

Asking John about his career and time in public radio is like opening an encyclopedia. He is full of stories, histories and anecdotes of a life well-lived — all of which reflect the city he has called home for more than four decades.

John never strayed far from radio throughout his career. In college, John worked at his university’s rock ‘n roll radio station, where during the Vietnam War, John read his own draft number over the air. In 1971, John found himself aboard the USS New Orleans to Vietnam playing tunes on the radio for the ship’s 2,000 Marines as the radio station’s program director.

Upon returning to the United States, John worked at various stations to support what he calls “his writing habit.”

And while many know John as a writer, we public radio listeners know him best as our Saturday evening host, spinning western swing records and tunes.

In October 2003, Swing On This first hit the airwaves as the state’s first exclusively western swing radio show.

A flyer from John's live broadcast of Swing On This in 2012 with The Tulsa Playboys

“It's a wonderful kind of music,” says John about the western swing music he shares with listeners on Public Radio Tulsa. “It’s danceable and has elements of jazz and pop and blues and rhythm-and-blues and south of the border music and fiddle music and big band music.”

“It's just an amalgam that Bob Wills put together when he came here to Tulsa,” John says. “Western swing is to Tulsa what jazz is to New Orleans or Kansas City. It didn’t start here, but this is where it disseminated.”

“It’s our music.”

And over his nearly 20 years doing this show, John has never run out of music. He searches through his wealth of CDs and records along with new swing music for each weekly show — and there are always listeners for western swing.

“You really do see all ages. You go [to listen to western swing music] and you see little kids on the dance floor [along with] people who may remember dancing to Johnnie Lee Wills in the Fifties,” John says.

To prepare for a show, John has a simple method.

“I always know I'm going to start with Bob Wills. And there's always going to be what we call a glass lifting song, which is a drinking song. And then after that, I just fill in the blanks.”

Over the years, John has heard from listeners all over the country who love his show — “glass-lifters” who are devoted to tuning in on Saturdays.

“It’s been a great blessing,” John says gratefully.

Stan Paregein Sr.
John posing with his book and Stan Paregein in 2012

Beyond the studio, John keeps busy with various writing and filmmaking projects. He is currently working on a documentary about Tulsa horror movies from the 1980s — a subject which has always fascinated him and his writing.

Before joining the Tulsa World, where his beat became country music and horror movies, John wrote for horror movie magazine Fangoria, which sent him to the set of Texas Chainsaw Massacre and to Jamaica to cover the film Popcorn. He has also written many horror novels.

And John’s long, successful writing and creative career continues.

If he’s not in the studio putting together Swing On This, you’ll find John working on another fascinating project, listening to Sixties Bubblegum music or flipping through an old Hollywood fiction paperback.

You can listen to John’s show Swing On This on KWGS 89.5 FM on Saturdays at 7 p.m.

Julianne joined Public Radio Tulsa in June 2022 as Development Associate. She wear many hats at the station — connecting with listeners, writing PRT's newsletters, planning events and doing digital behind-the-scenes.