March 9, 2009

How Paul Wells became The Lobster on the radio

It was an accident. Not planned, but with a lot of twists and ties to people, music and culture that reinforces the idea that nothing is really an accident. If someone asks when time is short, I’ll just say, “Gamma Rays like The Incredible Hulk.” If that works for you, then stop ready this blog entry now…

I went to college at the City University of New York branch, CCNY, in the middle of Harlem in Manhattan. I was a freshman sitting in the student lounge when the DJ on the Student radio station, WCCR, read a PSA about joining the club. There was no communications or broadcasting department at CCNY at the time.

It cost me $2 to join, and I started doing my own shows, progressing from a Jazz and Blues DJ to a Rock DJ as the music of the late sixties became more vibrant and experimental.

As a college radio reporter, I bought myself a portable Sony TC 100 Cassette Recorder and a microphone. There’s a bootleg tape made of Procol Harum on August 1, 1969 in Central Park. I never sold a copy of it, but it got circulated and treasured by collectors. In the late ’70s at a friend’s house in Redwood City, CA, he started to tell me about this really great Procol Harum concert he had a copy of. I asked him if the mix was a little loud on the guitar. He said yes, and I told him that was because I was sitting in front of Robin Trower about 20 rows back. Now we get to the Lobster part…

The winter after Woodstock, my friend Mac had just quit the house band at Grossinger’s Hotel in the Catskill Mountains. He didn’t have a car, but had some stereo speakers up there he wanted to retrieve and sell.

Mac asked me for a ride. Since three friends and I were going for a ride on Friday night, and we needed a destination, if Mac wanted to hang with us and do what we were going to do, we’d go where he needed to go.

Along the way, we listened to the AM radio (My Dad’s ’65 Buick Skylark didn’t have FM) and that tape of Procol Harum. While the instrumental “Repent Walpurgis” (based on a classical music theme) was playing as we drove, it sounded like a lobster to my friend David, who was riding shotgun.

When we got to the house where Mac’s speakers were, Dave sat down at a typewriter and started to write a poem called “The Mighty Lobster” It was about going out on missions like the Lafayette Escadrille fighter pilots in World War I.  He wrote about a vision of a lobster turning dials and pushing buttons, while music was playing.

We drove back, first stopping as a pilgrimage to Yasgur’s Farm, the sight of Woodstock. It was late at night, and what had been a muddy hillside was covered by crystal icy snow shimmering in the moonlight. It truly felt as if something magical happened there.

When we got back safely to The Bronx, it was about dawn. Dave read the poem to us, and knowing I was buying a Ford Econoline 200 Supervan with windows all around, he suggested I name it “The Mighty Lobster.” Since I ordered a blue one, I said we’ll call it “The Mighty Blue Lobster,”  which became the name of my radio show.

Back to my senior year in college. I was an English Major with Journalism by then, having dropped the plan to become a Veterinarian. My brother at this point was a graduate student at Stanford. I visited him and my sister-in-law in late October. Riding around Menlo Park on a bicycle wearing a t-shirt in the warm California sun convinced me to move out West. A second visit in February was the clincher. By that time, there were five FM Rock Stations in the Bay Area. Two in San Jose, KSJO and KOME…three in S.F., KMPX, KSAN and KSFX.

I resigned from all my courses at CCNY and finished my Senior year at WCCR. By this time, I had sold the lobster van to my Uncle, who was a contractor on Long Island. Working in the wholesale used car business, I was given a check to pick up a Volvo 164 at a Ford dealership in Monticello NY, close to where Woodstock had been held. I took a bus up there, pretty toasted from being out late the night before. While I road north, I was trying to remember the Hog Farm name for former Beat Poet “Tongue Dancer” Hugh Romney. He had made the famous “Breakfast In Bed for 400,000,” but I couldn’t remember…finally thinking I had the “heebee geebees” I realized that was close. Heebee geebee, oobie doobie…wavy GRAVY!!! It was like magic words. Once I was able to say his nickname (given to him by B.B. King after Woodstock, I felt better. I got off the bus at the dealership on Hwy 17B, and picked up the car. It only had 1800 miles on it. It seems a guy bought it but couldn’t handle a clutch, so he traded it for a Mustang with an automatic transmission. This Volvo was battleship gray with red leather seats. The sticker was still in the window, and plastic still covered the seats, doors and rug.

It was a Saturday, and my boss like to close early. After taking the Subway from the Bronx to the bus terminal in Manhattan,  the ride north and the drive back, he had gone by the time I got back. The car was mine for the weekend. I went home and washed up, heading out for a Saturday night in Manhattan.  My first stop was to pull up at a Flower Stand on the corner of 2nd Avenue and St. Mark’s Place, a few blocks up from Bill Graham’s Fillmore East.  My friend Billy who was working there looked at the car and asked me if it was mine.  I said “No, it’s one from where I work.”  When I turned back and looked at the car, knowing we had bought it for over 2 grand less than the sticker in the window, I said to myself “Well, it COULD be mine.”

Now, at this point, one would wonder, what does this have to do with the nickname? I bought the Volvo and moved West in it. The car came with it’s own tool kit. There was a crescent wrench it it that had a brand on it: “New Lobster.” Here I was, 21 years old, driving across America to start a new life.

Fortunately, for me and my dog Starr, we found a place to live in the Redwoods up in Woodside near Skyline. The five radio stations all were cordially to me, and listened to my tape. Only one Program Director, Doug Droese of KSJO, gave me any encouragement. He said “You have good pipes, hang in there.” I got a job cooking in a nightclub at University and High in Palo Alto, and a midnight Thursday night shift at KZSU, Stanford.

Now, in college radio, everyone had names for their shows…and I knew I wanted to bring back the name lobster somehow. Hadn’t figured it out until I turned the microphone on in KZSU’s tiny 4 x 4 Studio B booth and said “KZSU Stanford 90.1 FM, my name is Paul Wells and the name of the show is The Lobster …Box.” There was a restaurant on City Island called lobster box. You can see in the background in the movie A Bronx Tale. Robert DiNiro plays a bus driver, and the end of the line was right there on the far end of the Island off the Long Island Sound.  A fairly recent picture of me visiting it, holding up a Bass Guitar, is at my Lobster (public figure) Facebook Page.

After starting at KZSU, I began saying Paul “The Lobster” Wells on-the-air. The students and my fellow DJ started calling me lobster because we had a problem with someone stealing records out of the KZSU library. No one knew me very well, and I posted a note in the library titled “Dear Record Rip-off Shithead” and on a whim, signed it “Lobster.”

After a year, and a stint as KZSU’s Music Director, the PD of KSJO gave me a job. I decided to just use “Lobster” on-the-air.  Simple.  It got stuck in my craw.  Fittingly, there’s a chapter in Lewis B. Carrol’s Alice In Wonderland called The Lobster Quadrille. “Tis the voice of the Lobster I heard him declare, and he said woud you, won’t you dance with me.”  It was many years later till I realized that Lobster being a DJ fulfilled David’s vision.

6 Comments »

  1. Great time at the Cohn Winery! The Lobster quiche was delicious…the wine and the great group of people! and especially…thanks for the Doobie Brothers concert Tickets! the lobster Rocks!

    Comment by paula — June 1, 2009 @ 6:09 am

  2. anyone who listened to paul in the 70’s cares.
    Still remember that old tbird with the leaky power steering box.
    Darran, you sucked when you were a kid and you suck now.
    This guy inspired me to use my own mind without being bored while absorbing facts and history.
    Keep it up Paul!
    Shellfish rules!

    Comment by tom — November 14, 2009 @ 12:06 am

  3. I used to listen to you in the early 70’s in the morning at either KSJO or KOME. You introduced all of us to Progressive Rock. Caravan is still my favorite band, you announced the show with the Tubes in 1976. You also played ELP, Yes, and Soft Machine before anyone had heard of Progrock. Thank you Lobster!

    Comment by kevin moore — March 9, 2010 @ 9:13 pm

  4. Glad I found this page because I enjoyed your story. I have been a fan of KSJO and KOME for many years and look forward to hearing your shows now that I know you have a home near me!

    Comment by MrFrendan — May 17, 2010 @ 12:49 pm

  5. Back in the 70’s I called you because you provided gas stations open locations during the gas crisis. I told you I was going to run out of gas and you helped me out by following me to Sunnyvale to make sure o made it home. What a great deed.

    Comment by john basilin — January 17, 2012 @ 5:33 pm

  6. I remember the Journey show at the Santa Cruz civic that you broadcast. I think it was 1977. I also recall I recorded it on cassette tape and played the Hell out of it. Good times. Great music.

    Comment by Pete G. — June 29, 2017 @ 8:29 am

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