|Radio Station Letterheads and QSL Cards-Page 10|
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This page is dedicated to two notorious quacks, John Brinkley and Norman Baker, who used the fledgling medium of radio to hustle their bogus medical practices and their other commercial enterprises.
In doing so, they both made fortunes, and in no small measure helped to define the technique and scope of mass marketing that is so familiar today. And, though it was by no means intentional, they helped to shape the laws and regulatory structures that govern broadcasting and medicine to this day. One example mentioning Dr. Brinkley is this 1934 document (pdf format) from the FCC website.
They lived lavish, colorful, and defiant lives. They were hugely popular. Though the harm they did through their fraud can never be discounted, they were icons of their age, freewheeling spirits the likes of which we will probably never see again.
For more information on these (and other) fascinating characters, I heartily recommend the book Border Radio by Gene Fowler and Bill Crawford, published by the University of Texas Press.
|XER "Non Verification" Letter (735 kHz, 500 KW), Del Rio, TX, 1935|
|This interesting letter was
received from the flamboyant Dr. John Romulus Brinkley in 1935. Apparently, not
all stations welcomed feedback from their listeners.
Dr. Brinkley's primary claim to fame was a sexual "rejuvenation" treatment for men which depended on the implantation of tissue taken from the sex organs of male goats.
The new medium of radio was perfectly suited to Dr. Brinkley, and he was very successful using it. He started his own station, KFKB ("Kansas First, Kansas Best"), in Milford, Kansas in 1923. His programming was a blend of hillbilly music, fundamentalist religion, and promotion for his medical miracles.
The AMA went after his medical license, and competing radio stations went after his broadcast license and, after a barrage of lawsuits on either side, he lost both. He fought back by running for governor of Kansas in 1930, as an independent write-in candidate. He may actually have won, but a large number of ballots conveniently "disappeared". He even got a significant number of votes in Oklahoma!
Brinkley relocated to the border town of Del Rio, and acquired a site just across the Mexican border in Villa Acuņa. There he was to build his "border blaster", a high powered radio station just out of the reach of the US regulators. XER began operations in the fall of 1931, with a power level of 75 KW at 735 kHz.
He also moved his "hospital" from Kansas to Del Rio (as seen in the letterhead), which was actually the Roswell hotel.
After some trouble with the Mexican government, a reorganized XER raised its power output to 500 KW in 1935. A revised directional antenna system eventually raised the effective power output to 1000 KW, and the station became XERA.
Eventually, his empire was brought down by the IRS, the AMA, and US Government pressure on Mexico late in 1939. XERA was silenced by the Mexican government amid accusations that the good Doctor was a Nazi sympathizer. His health rapidly failed, and he died early in 1942 while under indictment for mail fraud.
KTNT Letterhead "Know The Naked Truth", (1170 kHz 5KW), Muscatine, IA, 1930
Norman G. Baker was a natural showman and entrepreneur, who worked as a mentalist on the vaudeville circuit, started a successful company building air-powered calliopes (the Tangley Co.), operated an art school, and eventually started a radio station (KTNT) in 1925. His empire grew, with the opening of the KTNT Cafe, a gas station, a mail order and retail business, and the populist TNT magazine, the slogan of which was "The Naked Truth".
He was relentless in his attacks on the moneyed establishment, the fat cats of government, print media, broadcasting, and medical industries. The radio audiences loved it.
The Baker Hospital in Muscatine, IA, claimed to be able to cure cancer, and it was promoted with great fanfare on KTNT in a series of public "mass healings". The AMA went after Baker, and the FRC (Federal Radio Commission) went after KTNT, pretty much in concert with their attacks on Dr. Brinkley. Baker responded with an unsuccessful lawsuit against the AMA.
In mid-1931, KTNT lost its license, and Baker followed Brinkley down to Texas, where he began to build a cross-border radio operation which would be XENT. His 150 KW flamethrower went on the air in 1933 with the same sort of programming that made KTNT so popular, and so hated by the establishment.
He also took to broadcasting anti-Jewish pro-Hitler diatribes directed at the medical establishment that was trying to shut down his cancer clinics.
The FRC secured a conviction of Baker in 1937 (later overturned on appeal) of violating broadcast rules which prohibited the use of a transmitter on foreign soil to circumvent US rules and standards.
Baker's empire finally crumbled when, in 1941, he was convicted of mail fraud and sentenced to four years in Leavenworth. XENT passed into other hands, and Baker lived out his life in luxurious obscurity. He died in 1958.