HPPR Radio Readers Book Club

Many things have been suspended as those of us across the High Plains meet the challenges of living in a COVID-19 world.  You may have noticed that we ended the 2020 Spring Read – Radio Waves rather abruptly and that we postponed the 2020 Fall Read until spring. One thing that hasn’t changed is that many of us are still reading!  That’s why we have posted the final Radio Reader BookBytes from Radio Waves and are announcing the upcoming 2021 Spring Read – Cultures in a Common Land.

Please feel free to read and listen to the BookBytes posted below and please pick up your reading glasses to get started on the 2021 Spring Read. Radio Reader BookBytes will begin next January, but we hope you’ll begin reading now!

Through our theme Cultures in a Common Land we’ll explore the ways in which individuals and families whose world views vary widely on many fronts learn to live together – or not. There is a lot to think about regarding the ways in which environment, culture and experience influence the ways in which we interact as well as in which we view our common worlds. This series begins with Barbara Kingsolver’s Poisonwood Bible followed by Anne Fadiman’s The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down: A Hmong Child, Her American Dream and the Collision of Two Cultures. The last book in the series will be Neither Wolf Nor Dog: On Forgotten Roads with an Indian Elder by author Ken Nerburn.

If you’re interested in joining the Radio Readers Steering Committee, serving as a book leader or contributing a Radio Readers BookByte, simply contact Kathleen Holt at kholt@hppr.org for more information.  Become an HPPR Radio Reader today! Click here to join the Book Club—and stay informed by liking our Facebook page!

To download materials from previous seasons of the Book Club, either scroll back through previous listings or visit our archive.


HPPR Radio Readers Book Club is made possible in part by a generous contribution from Radio Readers  Lon Frahm of Colby, KS and Lynne Hewes of Cimarron, KS.  Please join us in thanking them for their support!

Long Live Radio

Oct 16, 2020
Wikimedia Commons

About a month ago, as we were first descending into Covid isolation, I received a text from a friend in Canyon in the form of a simple website link. The link led me to something called the Radio Garden, and more specifically to FM90 in Amarillo, a radio station I DJed on in the mid-nineties.

The Radio Garden is a tool that allows you to play Radio God, in a sense, spinning the earth and listening to radio stations from anywhere on the planet in real time. It was the perfect thing for me, a guy who has moved away from the High Plains to live in Portland, Maine, but still finds himself missing the all-night radio stations of the flatlands.

Spinning the globe on the Radio Garden, I discovered treasure after treasure. As anyone who knows me will tell you, I’m obsessed with winter and cold weather. So, I found myself looking around the icy top of the globe, listening, listening. I listened in to the “Voice of the Common Man” in St. John’s, Newfoundland. On “Apparatio” in Reykjavik, I heard a haunting Icelandic band called Samaris. And I listened to Anarchy and Angels, a radio station in Inverness, Scotland, blasting the Dead Kennedys. The Radio Garden reminded me of just how much I love radio, this scrappy medium that refuses to die.

The 1990s and Pirate Radio

Oct 16, 2020
Colin Dale / Creative Commons

Screaming Lord Sutch broadcast on 194 metres from the south tower of Shivering Sands. According to Bob LeRoi, the transmitter, from a Handley Page Halifax bomber, was powered with a cascade of car batteries, a scaffold pole with a skull-and-crossbones flag as an antenna The transmitter, from a Handley Page Halifax bomber, was powered with a cascade of car batteries, a scaffold pole with a skull-and-crossbones flag as an antennaCredit Colin Dale / Creative CommonsEdit | Remove

This is Leslie VonHolten of Strong City, Kansas, with another HPPR Radio Readers Book Byte. 

Border Radio by Gene Fowler and Bill Crawford is a rollicking, knock-along journey through the early days of radio when innovators, hucksters, scam artists, hillbilly musicians, businessmen, and anyone with gumption could throw their voices onto the airwaves and land in any kitchen and garage in the land. While reading it I found myself laughing out loud, sometimes holding my breath. It’s a super fun read.  

The “sure, whatever, let’s try it” nature of Border Radio also gave me a pang of nostalgia for the early 1990s and pirate radio stations. Remember those? I say that as if they don’t exist anymore—the probably do—but there was a pre-internet, DIY heyday back then.  

Beauty of the In-Between

Oct 16, 2020
Orange County Archives / Creative Commons

I’m Jonathan Baker, a writer from Canyon, Texas, and I’ve been asked to talk a little about this month’s Radio Readers Book Club selection, which is called Border Radio: Quacks, Yodelers, Pitchmen, Psychics, and Other Amazing Broadcasters of the American Airwaves. The book recounts the history of the so-called “border blasters,” radio stations that popped up on the Mexican side of the Texas and California borders in order to evade US broadcasting regulations. Many of these stations were so powerful that they could be heard as far away as Chicago, England, and even Australia, as the AM signals bounced off the Earth’s nighttime atmosphere.

As the title suggests, these stations were home to all manner of kooks and weirdos, as well as some future stars. Perhaps the most famous border radio personality was Wolfman Jack, the legendary rock n’ roll DJ who growled and howled into the microphone for hours every night, scandalizing timid souls in the American heartland. There were also the psychics, like the fortune-teller Rose Dawn, who scandalized Texas border towns by driving around in a pink Cadillac with her live-in lover, a mysterious man known simply as “Koran.” And there were the purported holy men, like prosperity gospel preacher Reverend Ike, who proclaimed himself “the first chocolate minister to preach positive self-image psychology.” And then, of course, there were the doctors, including the renowned Dr. Brinkley of Del Rio, who nightly blanketed a continent with impassioned talks on the healing powers of goat testicles.

Public Domain

This is Leslie VonHolten with another HPPR Radio Readers Book Byte. 

“Quacks, yodelers, pitchmen, psychics, and other amazing broadcasters of the American airwaves.” That’s the subtitle of Border Radio, this fun and expertly crafted history of early radio personalities who broadcasted along the Mexican border. Authors Gene Fowler and Bill Crawford deliver on that title—after each chapter, I was convinced that Wow, that had to be the zaniest character of that era. Only to be shown otherwise in the next chapter. 

In this election year, however, I was especially struck by the story of W. Lee “Pappy” O’Daniel and his rise and fall as the Governor of Texas. I am sure this is a tired tale in the Lone Star State, but up here in Kansas—well, we just haven’t had showmen on that scale. And we even had the Goat Gland Doctor himself, Dr. John Brinkley! But Pappy O’Daniel—he was a cut above on the entertainer front, hands down. His chapter of the book, titled “Please Pass the Tamales, Pappy,” was my favorite. 

An accomplished businessman, Pappy O’Daniel shined bright amid the old, dowdy politicians of his time with his showmanship and his ability to saturate the airwaves. His advertising and his down-home words of insight were set off by the jazzy old-time music of the now-legendary Bob Wills & His Texas Playboys. (At the time, they were the Light Crust Doughboys, because Pappy was in the flour business.) The chapter reads like a rapid river, with Pappy and all of Texas riding the whitecap waves straight to the governor’s mansion. 

While quarantine has seemingly slowed down many of our lives, one High Plains poet and author has been keeping very busy. Tonight at 7pm CT, Amarillo-based writer Chera Hammons launches her first novel, Monarchs of the Northeast Kingdom, with an online reading and discussion—and you’re invited.

What's a Border to Do?

Mar 30, 2020
Wikimedia Commons

“Border Radio” is a riot of a book, covering not only great memories of a time when radio seemingly had more color, more sheer flavor than now, but also an appreciation of the grand irony in real life, no joke writers needed. The border across into Mexico was not just an escape for bandits in western movies. The border was also more than an escape from troubles in the US with a chance to continue or expand whatever had drawn the ire of authorities north of the border. The border was a way to reach across the line of division to work together as combined communities.

Along the way we are given accounts of paired border communities which think of themselves as an entity, divided only by a river and the politics of a line on the map. It is the people who don’t live in those paired communities who tend to believe in large differences, even hostile possibilities

The paired communities themselves come together for mutual financial, social and civic goals. We can ask the purpose of any boundary. Certainly, there is always the need to determine services such as water, sewers, roads and so forth, as well as who pays and how - along with the distribution of services. Those are practical concerns.

Feeling Much Better

Mar 27, 2020
teemus08 / Wikimedia Commons

Take that, you hucksters!  This month, as I thought about trying to come up with something remotely scintillating to say about BORDER RADIO, I had trouble generating much enthusiasm.

Don’t get me wrong:  my problem wasn’t because of the book.  BORDER RADIO is a great read—and certainly a perfect choice for a RADIO Readers book club pick.  The writing is fun and fluid and interesting and entertaining.  The information is perhaps fairly new to many of us, but it might also bring back long-lost memories of hearing Wolfman Jack in the middle of the night, most of us probably not even knowing or wanting to know much about where he was broadcasting from.  We just enjoyed listening to him talk and play music.

The information about Dr. Brinkley, the goat gland man, and other hucksters may have lurked in the back of our memories too—especially if we were from Kansas. Learning about Brinkley’s weird science is both laughable and horrible at the same time.

What Are We EVEN Talking About?

Mar 25, 2020
Wikimedia Commons

This is PJ Pronger from Amarillo with an HPPR Radio Readers BookByte. The third and final selection for this season is “Border Radio” by Gene Fowler and Bill Crawford. Subtitled, “Quacks, yodelers, pitchmen, psychics, and other amazing broadcasters of the American airwaves”, this breezy and easy-reading book focuses on the years in radio broadcasting when people were beginning to see huge commercial potential in it, but regulation was behind the curve.

Lessons from Journalism Class

Mar 23, 2020
Ray Bowers, U S Air Force / Wikimedia Commons, Public Domain

As entertaining and enjoyable as I found Gene Fowler’s “Border Radio” my senses perked up at two different tones of voice on two different stories. One story seemed to have only a single source and the other numerous source documents. One made me suspicious that facts were invented and the other made me suspicious that facts were mangled.

Lessons of History

Mar 20, 2020
Border Radio Research Institute / Facebook

In reading Border Radio from a sociological perspective, I am once again reminded of how media technology interacts with society, shaping and shaped by the cultural trends created by media technology. 

This book is a fun read, as well as being a very useful and interesting review of the history of radio’s evolution, both as a medium and as a social influence. 

Radio's Version of Reality TV

Mar 18, 2020
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.

Stormy Weather for Some

Mar 16, 2020
Kansas State Library

Hello, everyone, I am Richard Brookman the Consultant for Southwest Kansas Library System and the owner and co-host of the podcast ComicPop Library.

In today’s Book Byte, I am going to be discussing Paulette Jiles’ book entitled Stormy Weather, published by Harper Perennial in 2008, original copyright is 2007.  This is a trade paperback edition borrowed from the Bucklin Public Library.

Germans and Border Radio in WWI

Mar 16, 2020
NASA / Wikimedia Commons

For the most part Border Radio can be read for sheer entertainment. But one wee bit struck me as odd. I had to run it down and that left me with a few questions about the author’s sources. 

My search to verify the wee bit was, like Border Radio itself, populated with colorful characters, improbable events and hidden or largely forgotten histories.


Mar 13, 2020
Victor Talking Machines / Wikimedia Commons

The only tent show I can remember going to what was the Barnum & Bailey circus when it came to Norfolk (say: NOR – fork), Nebraska.

For years, my mother remembered another tent show when I was a toddler and she saved me from being saved after she attended a revival meeting, inside a large tent, taking me with her, having no babysitter.


Mar 11, 2020
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.”

Home on the Radio

Mar 9, 2020
Big Joe Show Facebook

This is Mike Strong, in Hays, for HPPR.  The book is Border Radio”,by Gene Fowler.

“Well, uhh let’s see here. This is a letter from Mary Jedlicka,” Joe Siedlik said, as he opened the envelope under the microphone, then unfolded the paper with a hand printed message. “Mary wants to wish happy birthday to her great-grand-dad. He’s 91 on Tuesday. And can I play a polka by Happy Louie for him? He is a regular listener. – Well, thank you Mary.”

The Birth of Broadcast Journalism

Mar 6, 2020
Wikimedia Commons

This is Nicole English coming to you from the Sociology Department at Fort Hays State University for HPPR's Book-Bytes. This is a discussion of the book, Edward R. Murrow and the Birth of Broadcast Journalism  by journalist Bob Edwards. 

In reading this book from a sociological perspective, I am reminded of how media and technology interact with society, and can not only shape, but be shaped by cultural trends. 

Just as a reminder, to those not familiar with Murrow's name, Edward R. Murrow is famous for his cutting-edge journalism, including his World War II radio reporting, the team of well-trained reporters he mentored, his goals to educate the public on current events, his efforts to save scholars from Nazi Germany, and for standing up to the persecution of colleagues by the powerful McCarthy political machine under the guise of anti-Communism.  Upon reflection, Murrow's story is as timely today, as it was when Murrow lived it. 

What Would Ed Do?

Mar 4, 2020

This is Dan Shelley, executive director of the Radio Television Digital News Association – RTDNA – the world’s largest professional association devoted exclusively to excellence in broadcast and digital journalism.

A while back, prompted by today’s fired up ideological rhetoric, I wrote a column called “What Would Ed Do?” Here it is.

Television and McCarthy

Mar 2, 2020
Wikimedia Commons

I’m PJ Pronger with the Radio Readers Book Club. So tell me if this sounds familiar: “We must remember always that accusation is not proof, and that conviction depends upon evidence and due process of law.”

Now More Than Ever

Feb 28, 2020
Public Domain

I’m Jonathan Baker, a writer from Canyon, Texas, and I’ve been asked to talk about this month’s Radio Readers book club selection, Edward R. Murrow and the Birth of Broadcast Journalism.

First, I just want to say what a ridiculously fun little read this was. I knew about Murrow’s role in putting an end to Joseph McCarthy’s red-baiting scare tactics. And I had even heard some of Murrow’s broadcasts from London during the German air raids of World War II.

Trusted News

Feb 26, 2020
Wikimedia Commons

At a time when we listen to the news of the world on our news feeds of choice, a time when we can pick and choose what “facts” we want to believe or deny, a time when, at any given hour of the day or night, we are bombarded with instant coverage, it’s incredibly comforting to remember newscasters like Edward R. Murrow.

Are You Satisfied?

Feb 24, 2020
Wikimedia Commons

I’m PJ Pronger with the Radio Readers’ Book Club.

So, tell me this: on a scale of one to ten, how satisfied are you with the coverage provided by today’s news media? If you’re a regular listener of National Public Radio, I can imagine that part of the reason you’re here is you don’t like the way major news outlets present the news, and, in that, you would not be alone.

What Difference?

Feb 21, 2020
DVD Cover

I’m Mike Strong from Hays for HTTP, Radio Reader’s Book Club. The book is “Edward R. Murrow and the Birth of Broadcast Journalism” by Bob Edwards 

From the late 1940’s newspapers were still the prime news medium, with radio news second. Television was just beginning. Only a few houses had a television, usually black and white. Color was just around the corner. I remember going to other people’s houses, or my grandparents, to view television. 

"Reading" Biographies

Feb 19, 2020
Wikimedia Commons

This is Leslie VonHolten of Chase County, Kansas, with another HPPR Radio Readers Book Byte. 

I’ll admit that biographies are not my thing. That chronological march through time, ticking off events big and small, then the crescendo to greatness, usually a war, followed by the fall from grace either through age or act, and eventually—the legacy that endures.

Murrow Style - Imagine This With Me

Feb 17, 2020
Wikimedia Commons

This is PJ Pronger from Amarillo with an HPPR Radio Readers BookByte.

Edward R Murrow was a radio and TV reporter whose on-air style was unmistakable. First reporting from Europe in the 1940s, he had a no-nonsense, factual delivery that was devoid of hyperbole and personal opinion.

The influence that his style and his work had on the emerging field of broadcast journalism is the subject of our second book in this season’s Radio readers book club: Edward R Murrow and the Birth of Broadcast Journalism by Bob Edwards.

HPPR Radio Readers 2020 Spring Read - Radio Waves

Feb 15, 2020

Discussion of the second book in our 2020 Spring Read has begun!  Jump into Edward R. Murrow's biography written by NPR's Bob Edwards.  Listen for book leader P J Pronger's point of view each Monday at 7:45 during Morning Edition and again at 6:45 during All Things Considered.

Never Too Late To Be Awarded

Feb 14, 2020

In HPPR’s early days, hardly anyone had FM radios.  They were considered luxury add-ons in vehicles.  Most people on the High Plains hadn’t heard of All Things Considered or NPR. 

But still they gave, they worked and today, despite the ongoing challenges of sustaining operations, HPPR exists as an essential part of the rural landscape. Technically, we were the FIRST station licensed to a rural community rather than to a tribe or educational institution. 

Pioneer Who Shaped Broadcast's World

Feb 12, 2020
Wikimedia Commons

Hi, I’m Valerie Mendoza talking to you from Topeka about Edward R. Murrow and the Birth of Broadcast Journalism by Bob Edwards. One of the selections for this season’s theme of Radio Waves. 

Radio Readers BookByte: Murrow's Life & Influence

Feb 10, 2020

Hi, I’m PJ Pronger here with another Radio Readers BookByte. Edward R. Murrow and the Birth of Broadcast Journalism, one of our current selections, is a book by the NPR radio personality, Bob Edwards. If you have an affinity for the great broadcast personalities of the past, you’ll enjoy this read.

It’s not a biography so much as a tribute to the idea of journalistic integrity and a review of past journalistic styles and practices.

Radio Readers BookByte: From the Philco to Streaming

Feb 7, 2020
Wikimedia Commons

Hello, HPPR Radio Readers!  I’m Jane Holwerda from Dodge City, Kansas, here to ruminate on the wonderful novel Stormy Weather by Paulette Giles, a writer from San Antonio familiar to Radio Readers.

You know, I’ve heard some murmurs of dissent about how this novel fits with our Spring 2020 Book Club them of “Radio Waves.” All I can say is: “Seriously?”