Glandular

Mar 11, 2020

Dr. Brinkley in surgery at Milford, Kansas
Credit Kansas Memory / Kansas Historical Society

“Border Radio” starts with Dr. John Romulus Brinkley. Brinkley pretty much gave birth to border radio. He is very much a Kansas character, starting his world-renowned clinic and his first radio station in Milford, Kansas.

In 1917, long before Viagra was even a twinkle in some researcher’s test tube and advertiser’s joy, Dr. J. R. Brinkley let the world know about his goat-gland proposition in which he placed slivers of Billy goat gonads into human scrotums. For that restorative operation he was known by some as “the Kansas Ponce de Leon” and by others as a “loquacious purveyor of goat giblets.”

What kind of doctor was he? Johns Hopkins told him he would be a better mail carrier. He started but dropped out of Bennett Eclectic Medical School in Chicago (botanical remedies). Finally, he married a physician’s daughter and, from somewhere, picked up a certificate as an “electromedic doctor.” That got him in trouble, so he spent a full month at the Eclectic Medical University in Kansas City getting a degree (for at least $500, the going price for a degree from EMU in Kansas City).

From that he obtained a license to practice medicine in Arkansas, Kansas, Tennessee, Missouri, Texas and Connecticut. That got him a job as plant surgeon in Kansas City for Swift and Company, which produced meat, including goat meats, which he was told were the healthiest animals they slaughtered.

Next, he struck off on his own to Milford, Kansas, a location central to the US. Milford is north of Junction City on I-70 and straight west of Manhattan, or simply Northwest of Fort Riley.

There, so goes the story, in late fall of 1917, in response to a farmer’s impotence, Dr. Brinkley stated that implanting healthy goat glands would solve the problem. The farmer replied, “Well, why don’t you put them in?” And so, it began.

Wouldn’t you know? That farmer gave birth to a boy, they named Billy “in honor,” said the proud papa, “of the assistance we had received from our four-footed friend.”

It wasn’t long before the word got out. There were testimonials and even honorary degrees, including one from the University of Pavia in Italy. Pilgrims came to Kansas to get the operation, to be revitalized. Brinkley built a new hospital in Milford and refined the science to the best goats, Toggenberg goats, kept in livestock pens next to the hospital.

In 1923, after visiting a radio station in Los Angeles, Dr. John Romulus Brinkley returned to Milford, Kansas to start his own radio station, KFKB at 1050 on the dial. (KFKB stood for either: “Kansas First, Kansas Best” or for “Kansas Folks Know Best”) Three times a day he gave medical lectures on his goat-gland research along with a full line of programming. More than 3,000 letters a day poured into tiny Milford. By 1929 the Radio Times voted KFKB as the most popular radio station in America.

Trouble started when he was allowed to boost the station to 5,000 watts while at the same time a rival station in Kansas City, owned by the Kansas City Star, was denied a power boost. The Kansas City Star ran an expose series on Dr. Brinkley. The Kansas State Medical board revoked his license to practice. The FRC took away his license to broadcast but KFKB kept broadcasting anyway, under appeal of the order.

Hoping to get an advantage, Brinkley decided to run for governor as a write in. He should have won too. Brinkley received the most votes, but election officials voided 50,000 ballots for not having “J. R. Brinkley” written just so. More ballots, it was claimed, were simply thrown away. He sold KFKB and headed for Mexico in 1931, looking to construct a station on the Mexican side of the Rio Grande.

Mexico was eager to develop radio and Brinkley had experience from KFKB. This time his station would be 75,000 watts, fifteen times more powerful than KFKB. He had sold KFKB for $90,000 and hired a construction firm for $30,000 for a new broadcasting building. The tubes for the transmitter were custom made at a cost of $36,000. The antenna was strung across 300-foot-high towers and XER started broadcasting, just across the Rio Grande from Del Rio, Texas.

With that much power Dr. Brinkley could reach out not only to his old audience but to the entire world.  This is Mike Strong, in Hays, for HPPR Radio Readers Book Club.