Radio Waves

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. 

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.

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. 

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.

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: The Comfort of a Mythic Place

Jan 31, 2020
Wikimedia Commons

Hi. I’m Valerie Mendoza talking to you today from one of my favorite places—my public library in Topeka. I just finished reading Stormy Weather by Paulette Giles and wanted to share some thoughts with my fellow HPPR Radio Readers.

Radio Readers BookByte: Family Troubles

Jan 20, 2020
Dorthea Lange, Farm Security Administration / Library of Congress

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

Jeanine and her sisters Mayme and Bea, and their mother Elizabeth, are forced to forge a new life in the book Stormy Weather by Paulette Jiles.

Their father was, to put it mildly, a drunken lout who worked hard and played harder in the oil fields of Texas.

Leslie VonHolten lives in Strong City, Kansas, in the heart of the beautiful Flint Hills tallgrass prairie. Her writing interests are in the area of environmental art and culture. “Our land, the weather, the seasons, and even the night sky dictate the terms of our lives,” she said. “No one knows that better than people who live and work in the High Plains. That’s why I love discussing books for HPPR. Our conversations  always expand my perceptions.”