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Border Radio: Quacks, Yodelers, Pitchmen, Psychics, and Other Amazing Broadcasters of the American Airwaves, Revised Edition Paperback – March 15, 2002

4.6 out of 5 stars 17 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

Review

This book adds immeasurably to our appreciation and understanding of the power the aural medium possesses to mirror and shape culture. (Christopher H. Sterling and Michael C. Keith Communication Booknotes Quarterly 2005-07-00)

About the Author

Gene Fowler is a freelance writer in Austin, Texas.

Bill Crawford is a writer in Austin with an interest in Texas history.
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 371 pages
  • Publisher: University of Texas Press; Revised edition (March 15, 2002)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0292725353
  • ISBN-13: 978-0292725355
  • Product Dimensions: 6 x 1.2 x 9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (17 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #825,505 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
We're all familiar with infomercials promising miracle diets, TV preachers promising salvation, and e-mail spam promising riches. Although their transmission means are modern, the scams themselves aren't new. They were a born out of the radio age, through stations sometimes called "border blasters." These were high-power AM broadcasters set up just over the Mexican border to beam music, medical miracles and merchandise to the U.S. in a way never heard before on domestic radio.
BORDER RADIO is a wonderful history of the border blaster stations. Fowler and Crawford have compiled an exhaustive history of the stations and personalities in a way that captures the flavor of the times. Some of the radio personalities, like the Goat Gland Doctor, were outright frauds, others, like Wolfman Jack, were the purveyors of the exciting, underground culture of rock-and-roll. All hawked their wares on the border stations, making an impression on American broadcasting, popular music, advertising and merchandising that is still felt today.
Superbly detailed, BORDER RADIO covers the evolution of the medium from the early days of the 1930s when hillbilly music and medical quacks ruled the airwaves, to its demise in the 1960s when television and broadcasting treaties silenced the border stations for good. If you love radio and Americana, you won't be able to put this book down. Highly recommended.
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Format: Paperback
Most books about US radio history are written like a doctoral thesis or ex-dj's gossip gabfests. The non-fiction book tells true tales of tall characters, with enough information sprinkled through to make radio geeks interested. If this were fiction, you'd swear the characters were invented by Kinky Friedman. After reading several books on radio history in recent years, this stands as one of the most informative and entertaining.
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"Border Radio . . ." was featured on the radio program "Fresh Air with Terri Gross" and the interview with the author piqued my curiousity enough to buy the somewhat hard to find book.

While most of us born later than the 1960's have probably never heard border radio, we nonetheless have at least heard of it thanks to ZZTop's classic "Heard It On The X". By Mexican law, all radio station call letters had to begin with the letter "X", hence the title. These stations were situated just across the U.S. - Mexican border and blasted the North American continent with as much as 500,000 or even a million watts! Perhaps the funniest part of the story is the anecdotes by people not far from the tower in southwest Texas near Del Rio, particularly who reported picking up transmissions off barbed wire fences, fillings in teeth and, in the last portion of the book that feautures the late Wolfman Jack, his recalling of birds flying too close to the towers and frying in mid-flight!

It's a wonderful history of preachers, the forerunners of today's televangelists, quack doctors, some genuine musical genius, including a young Bob Wills before founding the Texas Playboys and, of course, the Wolfman himself.

Claims of these AM radio giants being heard world-wide can truly be considered a direct ancestor to the world wide web, complete with its own spam in the form of wild commercials and hawking some truly bizarre health products, prayer cloths and just about everything under the sun.

"Border Radio . . . " is well researched and written with obvious great admiration for a lost chapter in broadcast history. A fine read.
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Format: Paperback
Anyone who thinks that instant virility claims and easy money offers got their start with the Internet should read these tales of super salesmen broadcasting from South of the Border at 200,000 watts. Everything from goat gland "male rejuvenation" to religious salvation was available for a price and with little or no FCC interference.

Add in a few "psychics" and some country & western music and you have a formula that the legal stations in the US couldn't (or wouldn't) match. It was outlaw radio.

Go get this book, friends and neighbors, and keep those cards and letters coming in!
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Format: Paperback
This is a fun book for anybody with an interest in the history of radio or of media in general. It describes a lot of the crazy broadcasters, pitchmen, politicians and quacks who, along with a lot of very good musical artists, appeared on the pirate radio stations located just over the U.S. border in Mexico from the 1930s to the 1960s. These stations were able to avoid regulation and use very powerful transmitters, allowing music, political messages or ads for goat gonad transplants and patent medicines to broadcast to huge sections of the U.S. The music played ranged from country, cowboy and Spanish folk tunes, to early rock n' roll. My edition of this book even contains a forward by the legendary Wolfman Jack, who is briefly discussed in the book.

Although some of the political messages being broadcast were quite serious, the book focuses on the wackier side of border radio, devoting significant space to characters such as Dr. Brinkley who transplanted goat gonads into humans as a prostate cure, ex-vaudevillian Norman Baker whose downfall came when his mail-order clerks mixed up the shipments of pile salve and pills being sent to his listeners, and Pappy O'Daniel, a rich flour salesman and sponsor of "hillbilly music" radio programs who successfully ran for governor of Texas. The book also discusses lonely hearts clubs, radio psychics, and radio evangelists (clearly the precursors to today's televangelists).

After reading this book I was sorry that these stations were pretty much legislated out of business by the time I was old enough to tune in, and even more sorry that I couldn't even go visit the border towns mentioned - they sound like wonderful romantic places, but are more likely to be in the news these days for drug murders than anything else.
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