Below is the Digital Heritage Moment as broadcast on the radio:
[audio:http://dh.wcu.edu/wp-content/uploads/2010/08/Brinkly60Mx.mp3|titles=Dr John Brinkly]
Dr. JOhn Brinkley essay
John Romulus Brinkley (he later changed his middle name to Richard) was born July 8,
While still a student, Brinkley began dabbling into what was referred to as the “wild side of medicine.” At one point, he and one of his peers injected patients with
Owning a personality which was not easily satisfied, Brinkley sought ways to expand his successes. In 1923, he bought the fourth commercial radio station in the U.S., KKFB in Milford, Kansas. He rapidly built it into a regional presence. “Kansas First, Kansas Best”––”the Sunshine Station from the Heart of the Nation.” KKFB provided weather reports for local farmers, market reports out of
By the end of the 1920s, the American Medical Association was investigating the “doctor” for malpractice. The Kansas City Star had published a series of articles accusing him of fraud and the newly formed Federal Radio Commission was looking into his broadcasting practices. Consequently, Brinkley lost his Kansas medical license in 1929 and his radio station was forced to close in 1930. Brinkley chose politics as a method to fight back. He ran for governor of Kansas on a “vindication” ticket three times in the 1930s, never winning but adding to his notoriety nonetheless. In 1930, he polled a respectable 30.6
Not to be discouraged, Brinkley moved to Del Rio, Texas and built a radio station, XERA, just across the Mexican border – out of reach of the U.S. regulators. Licensed for 300,000 watts by the Mexican government, XERA often turned up its power to 500,000, sometimes 1,000,000 watts ––”the world’s most powerful broadcasting station”, sending a signal across the U.S. into Canada, and occasionally over the North Pole into Russia. Several sources (some as doubtful as Brinkley’s medical claims) report the Russians used XERA to teach English to their spies. XERA’s contributions to early country music were significant. Notably, the Carter Family performed for three years on “Texas Radio” rocketing them to national fame. Waylon Jennings, growing up in Littlefield, Texas, remembered when his father used to pull the truck up beside the house and run a cable from the battery to the radio so he could listen to the Carter Family on XERA. Johnny Cash also remembered hearing the Carter Family (including 10-year-old June, whom he would marry some three decades later) on the border radio broadcasts. Radio shows such as the Grand Ole Opry on WSM Nashville, the National Barn Dance on WLS Chicago, and the Wheeling Jamboree on WWVA Wheeling, West Virginia, popularized “hillbilly music” during the early days, but it was XERA and other “X” stations along the Mexican border that gave the musical style national exposure. Of course, there was also an economic component as well. Audiences heard on-air pitchmen selling everything from Crazy Water Crystals to baby chicks to tomato plants to Last Supper tablecloths to autographed pictures of Jesus.
On one visit back to his native Jackson County in the 1930s,
In Texas, Brinkley added to his medical fortune. He used XERA to urge patients to visit his new clinic or buy a variety of gimmicks, including vials of
Brinkley’s final years came swiftly. He declared bankruptcy in 1941. The following year circulatory problems led to the amputation of one of his legs, and on May 26, 1942, he died in San Antonio of heart failure. Buried in Memphis, Brinkley left behind three daughters by his first wife Sally Wike, whom he had married in 1908 and one son by his second wife Minnie Jones, whom he married in 1913. He also left behind a farm in the Tuckaseegee community of Jackson County. The name “Brinkley” is still visible to passing motorists, prominently inlaid within the stone fence facing NC 107. Further down the road, a granite monument commissioned in the 1930s by the doctor to his Aunt Sally stands guard over the appropriately named Aunt Sally’s curve.
The life of Jackson County’s John Romulus Brinkley is the stuff of Fairy Tales and Big Fish Stories. Not even fiction could have penned a more remarkable narrative.
For more information
- The Wizard of Milford:
Dr.J.R. Brinkley and Brinkleyismby Francis W. Schruben, 1992.
- The Roguish World of Doctor Brinkley by Gerald Carson, 1960.
- Dictionary of American Biography, Gene Fowler and Bill Crawford, 1942.
- Border Radio by Frank Wardlaw, 1987.
- The Bizarre Careers of John R. Brinkley by R.A. Lee, 2002.
- ”Aunt Samantha, First Woman to Record Country Music” by Rose Hooper in The Sylva Herald, February 11, 2001.
- “The Banjo Pickin’ Woman of the Southern Appalachians” by Rob Ferguson inThe Tuckasegee Valley Historical Review, Spring 2003.
- The Goat Gland Doctor: The Story of John R. Brinkley, Joe Schwarcz,
- Medicine: Brinkley’s Trial, time.com
- Grift, Goats, and Gonads, Scott McLemee, chronicle.com
- This Month in North Carolina History at UNC library
Dr.John Brinkley at Wikipedia.org Dr.John Brinkley at Honky Tonks.org Dr.John Brinkley at Museum of Quackery.com Dr.John Brinkley at everything2.com