Dr. John R. Brinkley


Border Radio Quackery!

The 1920's were known for their extravagance, flappers and flaming youth. But what if the flame was running a little low? Dr. Brinkley had just the thing for you (males): transplant a few slivers of randy goat gonads into the woeful subject's scrotum and ta-dahh - rejuvenation! With this simple procedure, Dr. Brinkley built himself an empire, and in 1923, he began his infomercials - always laced with Biblical references - over KFKB, the first radio station in Kansas. More than 3,000 letters a day eventually started pouring into little Milford, KS, prompting Brinkley to finance a new post office. By 1929, KFKB had won a gold cup as the most popular radio station in America.

When Brinkley tried to get the station's power boosted to 5,000 watts, he met with some opposition from a rival ststion, owned by the Kansas Star, which started to run a series of exposees on the good doctor. But the Supreme Court of Kansas brought him down, saying "The licensee has performed an organized charlatanism.. quite beyond the invention of the humble mountebank."

Not to be disuaded by this, Brinkley started a write-in campaign to support himself for Governer - in fact, he received the largest number of intended votes for governor of Kansas and even carried some counties of Oklahoma! However a great number of his ballots were invalidated and perhaps suspiciously disposed of.

Brinkley scratched his goatee and looked South of the Border. He sold KFKB for $90,000 and relocated to the sleepy border town of Del Rio, Texas. Right over the border in Villa Acuña, Mexico, Brinkley built a transmitter with 300 foot towers. Out of the range of American restriction, the station, XER, started broadcasting with a power of 75,000 watts, with a remote studio linked by phone lines to Rosewell Hotel - Brinkley's new headquarters - in Del Rio. The station started operating on October 21, 1931, with gala celebrations in both towns.

XER was not just hours of pseudo-scientific lectures from Dr. B - it brought in stars of country music of the day: Singing cowboys, fiddlers, a Mexican Studio Orchestra and many guests.

Meanwhile, it was election time back in Kansas. Thanks to XER's amazing coverage, Brinkley could be heard straight up to Chicago. Brinkley returned to Kansas and installed a $10,000-a-month phone line to his transmitter back in Mexico. He ran as an independent, but ended up third when the tally was counted.

When he returned to Texas, his busy Mexican lobbyists succeeded in allowing him to boost power to 500,000 watts, which would make XER the most powerful radio station in the world. Brinkley wanted to use this as a bargaining chip to get back to Kansas... but he ended up having to burn his bridges there when some of his doctors at the Brinkley clinic, which was still located there, decided to go independent. He simply razed the clinic and transplanted his operation to Del Rio. He also opened a new clinic in San Juan for the treatment of "piles, fistulas, colitis, and diseases of the female and male rectum." XER was refurbished and rechristened XERA with its power boosted to an aether-shattering 1,000,000 watts. This signal mashed everything in its path and could be heard in New York and Philadelphia - sometimes to the exclusion of all other channels!

In spite of his success - in the depths of the Depression no less - the US Government and the IRS were after the doctor for back taxes, and as 1939 drew to a close, an agreement was worked out with the government of Mexico. XERA was closed down, and in a melodramatic manner , Dr. Brinkley suffered a severe heart attack, eventually forcing the amputation of his leg in 1941. He grew weaker and weaker and passed away on May 26, 1942.

"Q: What's the fastest thing on four legs?
A: A goat passing Dr. Brinkley's hospital!" - contemporaneous joke.

- Henry Lowengard, copiously excerpting from the wonderful

Border Radio
by Gene Fowler and Bill Crawford
Texas Monthly Press
Also recently reprinted by Limelight Press and available in the WFMU Catalog!

Return to the Lives of the Great DJs Homepage
©1996 wfmu.org