HPPR Radio Readers Book Club

The HPPR Radio Readers Book Club is an on-air, on-line community of readers exploring themes of interest to those who live and work on the High Plains.

It’s time for our 2021 Spring Read – Cultures in a Common Land. We’ll be exploring the ways in which individuals and families learn to live together when their world views vary widely on many fronts. 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.

Scroll down to find a full book list, to meet some of the contributors and to read or listen (Just click on the title for the audio file.) Radio Readers BookBytes.

If you’re interested in joining the Radio Readers Steering Committee, serving as a future book leader or contributing a Radio Readers BookByte, simply contact Kathleen Holt at kholt@hppr.org

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 contributions from Radio Readers  Lon Frahm of Colby, Lynne Hewes of Cimarron, and Lynn Boitano, formerly of Garden City, Kansas.  Please join us in thanking them for their support!

The Big Man Upstairs

Feb 1, 2021

Hi, I’m Marcy McKay from Amarillo, author of Amazon’s #1 Hot New Release, When Life Feels Like a House Fire: Transforming Your Stress. I’m excited to be a Radio Reader for High Plains Public Radio’s Book Club.

In The Poisonwood Bible by Barbara Kingsolver, Nathan Price is a preacher in the 1950’s who drags his wife and four daughters from their Georgia home to save the wicked souls in the Congolese jungle of Africa.

Not a Fan

Jan 29, 2021
Leon Brooks, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

Hi, I’m Valerie a radio reader from Topeka and I just finished Genesis which is part I of the Poisonwood Bible by Barbara Kingsolver. The book is part of HPPR’s radio readers book club this go round with the theme cultures in common.

First, a confession: I love Kingsolver. The Prodigal Summer is one of my favorite books. BUT this is my second try reading the Poisonwood Bible and I am NOT a fan. The book is about a missionary family of Baptists that go to the Congo for a year. It’s set in the 1950s and told from the point of view of the 4 daughters and the mother.

The Price of His Failures

Jan 27, 2021
Radio Okapi, CC BY 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Hi, I’m Phillip Periman from Amarillo, Texas. I will be one of the discussants for the Radio Readers Book Club this spring.  The first book we read, The Poisonwood Bible by Barbara Kingsolver, published in 1998, has a story that resonates today. In the novel, the Reverend Nathan Price, an evangelical Baptist missionary from Georgia, takes his wife Oleanna and his four daughters Rachel, the twins Adah and Leah and their baby Ruth May to a remote area of the Congo.  It is 1959 -60 and the Congo is struggling to rid itself of Belgian rule.

Different Color Crayons

Jan 25, 2021

Hi, I’m Marcy McKay from Amarillo, author of Amazon’s #1 Hot New Release, When Life Feels Like a House Fire: Transforming Your Stress. I’m excited to be a Radio Reader for High Plains Public Radio’s Book Club. The Poisonwood Bible by Barbara Kingsolver tells about Nathan Price, a 1950’s preacher who drags his wife and four daughters from Georgia to save the wicked souls in the Congolese jungle of Africa. It’s a powerful novel about politics, religion, sin, redemption and everything that makes for a great story.

The Limits of a Mother’s Care

Jan 22, 2021
Solis-Cohen, Myer, No restrictions, via Wikimedia Commons

The first time I read The Poisonwood Bible by Barbara Kingsolver, 20 years ago when it was first out, it was a new bestseller, and I was a new mother. Of all the characters, I most related to, and was most perplexed by Orleanna Price, the mother. Though my circumstances were not nearly so extreme, I too felt lost in this new land of motherhood, this small baby wholly dependent on me. Those first few months of parenting are such a shock. Fortunately, my journey into motherhood was not nearly as dramatic, or isolating, as the Congo was for Orleanna.

Three Books in One

Jan 20, 2021
First African Baptist Church, Wikimedia Commons

Hi, I’m Marcy McKay from Amarillo, author of Amazon’s #1 Hot New Release, When Life Feels Like a House Fire: Transforming Your Stress. I’m excited to be a Radio Reader for High Plains Public Radio’s Book Club. It was fun to revisit The Poisonwood Bible by Barbara Kingsolver, an epic novel that spans three decades. The story begins in 1959 when Pastor Nathan Price drags his wife and four daughters from their Georgia home to save the wicked souls in the Congolese jungle of Africa. There are politics, religion, sin, redemption, family feuds, secrets and more.

The HPPR Radio Readers Book Club is an on-air, on-line community of readers exploring themes of interest to those who live and work on the High Plains. The 2021 Spring Read – Culture in a Common Land will begin mid-January with Amarillo’s Marcy McKay leading a discussion of the first book The Poisonwood Bible. Marcy is a life coach as well as an award-winning novelist. She loves writing AND helping others and lists several things she wants us to know about herself. First, she’s survived both a house fire and raising two teenagers.

The first book in the 2021 Spring Read – Cultures in a Common Land will be The Poisonwood Bible by Barbara Kingsolver. The book features the journey of a family headed by Nathan Price, a fierce evangelical Baptist. Reverend Price leads his wife and four daughters on a mission to the Belgian Congo in 1959, one of the most dramatic political periods in the African country in the past century. The Prices carry everything from garden seeds to Bibles believing they have what they need but finding something very different.

Cultures in a Common Land

Jan 18, 2021

Hey, you all! It’s 2021—finally!! And HPPR’s Radio Readers is back with a spring read for all of us!  What with all the lessons offered by 2020 (may it rest in peace), we’ve opted for a series of books to help us explore Cultures in a Common Land, as a way to talk about how to live alongside others whose beliefs and ways of being seem not to align with our own.  Know what I mean?

Today, High Plains Public Radio announces the return of our HPPR Radio Readers Book Club, with three new books  for the 2021 Spring Read, "Cultures in a Common Land." The on-air BookBytes can be heard during NPR's Morning Edition (7:44 a.m. CT) and All Things Considered  (5:44 a.m. CT), each Monday, Wednesday & Friday.

It's Christmas, and Carol Dickens's life is in major transition. Her son Finn, a talented trumpet player, is about to leave for college. Her ex-husband, a real-estate wheeler-dealer, wants to sell their properties in Kansas and move to Arizona. Her wheelchair-bound friend, Laurence, has fallen in love with her. To top it all off, Scraps, the family dog, is dying. As her world spins out of control, Carol seeks refuge in her research on the use of the semicolon--and in her ritual of cooking the perfect series of Victorian holiday meals inspired by A Christmas Carol.

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.”