Radio's Version of Reality TV

Mar 18, 2020

Rose Dawn's popular astrological readings are promoted on this poster from the Border Radio Research Institute's Facebook page.
Credit Border Radio Research Institute / Facebook

Hi, I’m Valerie Mendoza, a Radio Reader from Topeka. I’m halfway through Border Radio by Gene Fowler and Bill Crawford and wanted to share some thoughts.

One of the things I like the most about the book is learning about radio personalities from the 30s. I was intrigued by why they went onto the radio, why they felt the need to go to the US/Mexico border to broadcast, and the types of shows and entertainers they played on air.

While the stories of the men behind the stations such as Dr. Brinkley and how their border blasters came to be was interesting, I most enjoyed reading about the on-air talent. I could imagine that these were the singers, psychics, and pitchmen that Jeannie and her family listened to in our earlier Radio Reader selection, Stormy Weather. I saw how Edward R. Morrow’s live WWII broadcasts compared to these other radio shows and why his type of news was different and ground-breaking.

One crooner who I enjoyed reading about was Slim Rinehart. Slim sang for XEPN in Eagle Pass, Texas and his story begins on page 111 of the book. One critic described Rinehart as “the greatest cowboy singer I’ve ever heard in my life.” After his first week on the air Cowboy Slim, as he was known, received more mail from fans than all the other acts on the station combined. Cowboy Slim had fans in South Dakota and all over the East Coast due in large part to the power of the frequency of the XEPN broadcast. 

The story of Rose Dawn also caught my attention. She “divined the signs of listeners’ horoscopes, told fortunes by mail and on the air, and sold instructions in fortune telling,” (55). She was known as the Star Girl of Radio Station XERA. She, along with her lover, Koran, headed an organization known as the Mayan Order. For a $2 enrollment fee and $2.50 per month members learned ancient Mayan wisdom that helped them obtain their desires.

Apparently, this organization lasted into the 21st century! Rose Dawn proved to be so popular across the country that she earned several thousand dollars a week through these and other  ventures which she advertised on her show.

I find it interesting from a modern day perspective that sounds waves from the border were heard all over the country. Cowboy Slim and Rose Dawn also remind me of radio versions of reality tv. 

However, since the book was about border radio, I would have liked to learn more about entertainers who sang in Spanish and were of Mexican descent. I want to know more about the Mexican engineers and station managers such as L.D. Martinez of Monterrey, Mexico who became the station manager for XED across the border from McAllen. Shortly after he was hired, Martinez promised the McAllen Rotary Club “to promote friendship and understanding between the two nations, (146). Or Néstor Cuesta who was a radio engineer for XERA in Del Rio in the late 1930s and many other border stations throughout his career. I wanted to know more. What did you think? Let me know on our Facebook page, HPPRradioreaders.