Down On The Border

20 Nov

Wolfman Jack’s autobiography “Have Mercy” is a great read.

It’s quite a story.

I was lucky enough to meet Wolfman once, right after he finished a show on WSM.  He was genuinely nice and very down to earth guy.

Wolfman was really two people.

Bob Smith businessman and Wolfman Jack entertainer.

Much of his career was actually spent managing radio stations in Shreveport and Minneapolis.

He played country songs as Bob Smith in Shreveport.

The Wolfman idea was perfected in a production room.  He believed a crazy jock playing R&B on a powerhouse would be a huge hit.

He was the guy who brought XERF back to life and created a whole different side to border radio.

The story is loaded with gun battles in Ciudad Acuna Mexico home of XERF.

The worst that ever happened to me was seeing bullet holes in the front doors of the Capitol Music Hall one night .

I’d gone to make sure the theater had been locked after the Jamboree.

The WWVA studio was just off the lobby of the Music Hall.  It had bullet proof glass.

But there it was, big as life a bullet hole in the glass of the theater door.

I quickly checked the doors and slipped back behind the safety of the studio glass.

Wolfman wasn’t so lucky.

The station was physically located in Mexico and after a dispute with ownership he and a partner took control.

The actual owner was not terribly happy about it, and a gun battle ensued.

The story is a little more complicated than that, but you get the idea.

The XERF engineers ran off the intruders but not before being pinned down for a while by gunfire.

The machine gun that Wolfman bought in San Antonio and smuggled across the border didn’t work.

Border radio has quite a history.

Most of it began in the 1930s with Dr. Brinkley whose specialty was goat gland surgery.  The surgery was performed to help men with a ‘flat tire’ get back in the game.

In other words Brinkley’s surgery was an early form of Viagra.

He began in Kansas and later lost his station license and moved to Del Rio using XERA on the Mexican side as his radio station.

Soon XERA was one of the most powerful stations in the world and because there was no treaty between the US and Mexico it could run at high power.

Brinkley was eventually shutdown.  He wasn’t truly a medical doctor, let alone a surgeon.

The AMA thought it was a bad idea for him to perform surgery.  But not before he became very wealthy and famous through his clinic and broadcasts on XERA.

XERA or XERF as it later became programmed lots of preachers.  Its 250,000 watts were heard throughout the US, Canada and parts beyond.

Reverend Ike was one of the many heard on the station.

The preachers raked in the money.

Bob Smith raised the rates, they kept paying.

It was at XERF that Wolfman Jack become well known, later moving on to other border stations.

Smith made up stories when people would stop at the station to see Wolfman. Telling them things like he’s a porn star and lives in Mexico City.

For several years Wolfman was a mystery, somewhat like he was portrayed in American Graffiti.

There are a couple of excellent books about border radio.

First is Wolfman’s “Have Mercy”.  It is the story of his life and career and written just before his death.

Border Radio by Gene Fowler and Bill Crawford tells the story of Brinkley and others who were heard on the Mexican powerhouses.

XERF still comes in here at night.  It has much less power.   The days of the crazy preachers are gone.

Today the programming is in Spanish and of public service in nature.

Many of the Mexican stations are heard here at night including XEB and XEWA, stations with long and proud histories.

It’s possible to hear them in much of the US at night.

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Posted by on November 20, 2008 in Radio History, Radio programming


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