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Writer Bill Crawford on Border Blasters

Crawford is co-author of the book, "Border Radio: Quacks, Yodelers, Pitchmen, Psychics, and other Amazing Broadcasters of the American Airwaves." It's about the "border blaster" stations that set up across the Mexican border to evade U.S. regulations, and beamed their broadcasting into the United States.

42:44

Other segments from the episode on April 21, 2005

Fresh Air with Terry Gross, April 21, 2005: Interview with Bill Crawford; Review of John Doe's new album "Forever has never happened yet."

Transcript

DATE April 21, 2005 ACCOUNT NUMBER N/A
TIME 12:00 Noon-1:00 PM AUDIENCE N/A
NETWORK NPR
PROGRAM Fresh Air

Interview: Bill Crawford discuss his new co-authored book "Border
Radio: Quacks, Yodelers, Pitchmen, Psychics, and other Amazing
Broadcasters of the American Airwaves"
DAVE DAVIES, host:

This is FRESH AIR. I'm Dave Davies, senior writer for the Philadelphia Daily
News, filling in for Terry Gross.

In the early days of radio in the 1930s and '40s, when preachers, psychics,
medical hucksters and other pitchmen wanted to escape the reach of federal
regulators, they discovered they could move their transmitters just across the
border into Mexico and blast their signals back into the United States with
impunity. For decades, border radio stations operated powerful transmitters
and fed a wildly eclectic blend of programming to listeners all over the US.

In addition to sermons and scams, there was music, a mix of rock 'n' roll,
R&B, hillbilly and Mexican music that left a strong impression on teen-agers
in the '50s and '60s who picked up the mysterious late-night transmissions. A
new album by Los Super Seven captures the feeling of that musical blend. It's
called "I Heard It On The X," and it features a culturally mixed group of
musicians that includes Freddie Fender, Raul Malo, Calexico, Delbert McClinton
and many others.

Some of the liner notes were written by my guest Bill Crawford. He's the
co-author of a book called "Border Radio: Quacks, Yodelers, Pitchmen,
Psychics, and other Amazing Broadcasters of the American Airwaves." Before we
hear the story of "Border Radio," let's hear a song from the new "Border
Radio" album. This is Freddie Fender and Rick Trevino doing "Cupido."

(Soundbite of "Cupido")

Unidentified Man #1: (Singing in Spanish)

Unidentified Man #2: (Singing in Spanish)

Unidentified Man #1 and Unidentified Man #2: (Singing in unison in Spanish)

DAVIES: Music from the Los Super Seven album "I Heard It On The X," inspired
by the eclectic mix of sounds heard on border radio stations. The story of
those broadcasts is told in a book "Border Radio," co-authored by my guest
Bill Crawford.

Well, Bill Crawford, welcome to FRESH AIR. Your book, "Border Radio" takes us
back to the '30s and '40s. In towns along the Texas-Mexican border, the Rio
Grand Valley, paint a little bit of a picture for us here. What are these
towns like, McAllen and Del Rio like? How big are they? Who lived there?

Mr. BILL CRAWFORD (Author, "Border Radio: Quacks, Yodelers, Pitchmen,
Psychics, and other Amazing Broadcasters of the American Airwaves"): These
are really small, really isolated places back in the 1930s, 1940s, and even up
until recent times. Del Rio is way out there, kind of midway between Loredo
and El Paso, small town on the Rio Grand. An even smaller town is across the
river which, at that time, was called Villa Acuna. And now it's grown up, so
it's called Ciudad Acuna, the city of Acuna.

These are isolated communities. They're farming, ranching communities.
That's the main business. And during the late '20s and '30s, they were also
kind of smuggling communities a little bit. They were involved with smuggling
alcohol, at that point, across the Mexican border. And these were extremely
isolated places. I mean, you got to picture back then where air transport
wasn't very common, it was a long time to get their by car or by train. And
basically, they were almost isolated world unto themselves. The border, la
frontera, has always been kind of a world unto itself, and back then, it was
even more so.

DAVIES: And the isolation is increased by the fact that on the Mexican side,
that northern part of Mexico is all desert and an interesting place to
suddenly find 100,000-watt radio transmitters blasting into the United States.
Now I'll confess, I grew up in south Texas, and was astonished to read in your
book of the tale of one of the founding fathers of border radio, `Doc'
Brinkley, `Dr.' John Brinkley. Now he got his start with, if I've got this
right, a groundbreaking treatment for male impotence, right?

Mr. CRAWFORD: That's right. We call it an early agricultural version of
Viagra. `Doc' Brinkley perfected this technique at his clinic in Kansas. And
in this technique, he would take a sliver of a goat gonad and transplant it
into--well, into a man's personal equipment. And `Doc' Brinkley explained to
those who doubted this operation that it would make you the ram what am with
every lamb. He said that these goat gland slivers would kind of attach onto
the male anatomy and act like a battery charger and really get your rocking.

And he actually performed the first one of these operations for a person who
couldn't have a son, and the man demanded that `Doc' Brinkley put some of
those goat glands in him. So `Doc' did it, and the guy eventually had a son
and named his son, from the goat glands, Billy, which I think was a fitting
name.

DAVIES: But he would literally transplant a piece of goat gonads onto the
male testicle, right?

Mr. CRAWFORD: He did.

DAVIES: Far as we know.

Mr. CRAWFORD: And actually, people from the AMA came to watch the surgery at
one point, because they doubted that he was actually doing this. And he did
have pens full of goats. He used Toggenburg goats, because he thought that
the other goats--the other goats had a tendency to create a smell that was not
very attractive. It kind of worked against the operation. So the folks from
the AMA came out and watched `Doc' Brinkley perform this operation and
commented that he was a fantastically gifted surgeon. He was just very good,
very neat, very quick, very efficient. And a lot of his patients claimed that
the goat glands did the trick.

DAVIES: Well, he was also a genius at marketing, and he builds a bit of a
medical empire in Kansas, just going great there, involved in a radio station
there. But somehow, he ends up in this isolated border region of south Texas.
How did that happen?

Mr. CRAWFORD: He starts a radio station actually just to entertain his
patients. This was in the early 1920s. It was before radio was even--people
didn't understand it could be used as an advertising medium. So he starts a
clinic in Kansas, Milford, Kansas. And he starts a station, KFKB, Kansas
first, Kansas best, and it becomes one of the most popular and powerful
stations in the Midwest.

Now the medical authorities are not only concerned about `Doc' Brinkley's goat
gland transplants, but he starts doing something called "The Medical Question
Box," where he actually will read your symptoms and will prescribe for you a
medicine over the air. And then you are supposed to go to your nearest
pharmacist and buy that medicine. Now `Doc' Brinkley was making money,
splitting the money he made with the pharmacists, and the FCC said, `OK, the
goat glands, we can handle, but this over-the-air prescription service, man,
this isn't going to cut it.'

So `Doc' Brinkley was one of the first guys in history to have his radio
license pulled by the FCC. And when the good people down in Del Rio heard
about this, they wrote `Dr.' Brinkley a letter, and they said--you know, they
were--it was the Depression. They were looking at a way to boost their
community, and they said, `Well, `Doc' Brinkley, why don't you move down, move
your clinic to Del Rio and set up your radio station across the river in
Acuna?' And `Doc' Brinkley said, `That's a heck of an idea.' And he got
into his airplane, flew down and, by God, within about a year, he had the most
powerful broadcasting station on Earth, built across the river in Acuna.

DAVIES: Now this is probably a good point to explain why broadcasters would
build these massive transmitters across the border and broadcast in English
back into the United States.

Mr. CRAWFORD: The reason for building border radio stations, which are
high-powered radio stations built on the Mexican side of the US-Mexico border,
was to get around all the regulations imposed by American regulators, the FCC.
And those regulations include power limits on stations. In the US, the most
you could have a station powered up at is 50,000 watts. In Acuna and on
different towns on the Mexican side of the border, they were getting licenses
from the Mexican government to build stations at 250,000, 500,000, and they
built the most powerful transmitters on Earth, so they were broadcasting with
as much as a million powers, a million watts of affected radiated power. I
mean, it was unbelievable, the power of these stations.

So they got around the power issue by building them in Mexico, and they got
around the content issue. They could run anything they wanted on these
stations. They could run ads. They could run ads. They could run the music
they wanted to play. They could do preachers asking for music. They could do
per inquiry. They could run somebody selling baby chicks for an hour if they
wanted to. They could sell the time to whoever they wanted to.

Now these stations were all owned on paper, the title was a Mexican national.
But the fellows who controlled the time were always Americans, or for the most
part, they were Americans. And these stations were so powerful--I mean, we've
heard just fabulous stories about what these stations could do. We heard that
birds flying near the antennas would get zapped, zzt, and fall from the sky,
dead. We've heard that people could hear these stations on barbed-wire
fences, on their bed springs. We even had one old gentleman said that he
could hear XERF on his dental work...

DAVIES: Wow.

Mr. CRAWFORD: ...which would make it really cheap to hear it, but it would be
kind of annoying, I think.

DAVIES: You know, I think we ought to hear a little bit of `Doc' Brinkley
here. Now this is him broadcasting from his station XER--all of the stations
began with the letter X, right, the call letters, right?

Mr. CRAWFORD: Yeah, and that's one of the great things about the border radio
stations. All the call letters begin with this mysterious letter X. But it's
really not a mystery, because all the radio and TV stations licensed in Mexico
begin with the letter X. And this clip is from `Doc' Brinkley speaking as he
spoke pretty much every day from south of the border.

(Soundbite of border radio broadcast)

`Dr.' J.R. BRINKLEY: And you men, you're holding back, many of you, right
now, listening to me on these morning and evening broadcasts. And you know
you're sick. You know your prostate's infected and diseased, and you know
that unless some relief comes to you that you're going to be in the
undertaker's parlor on the old cold slab, being embalmed for a funeral. Well,
why do you hold back? Why do you twist around the oldst cocklebur? Why do
you delay longer and take chances when I'm offering you these low rates, this
easy work, this lifetime guaranty of service plans? Come at once to the
Brinkley Hospitals before it's everlastingly too late.

DAVIES: That was `Dr.' John Brinkley broadcasting on the border radio station
XER. It's sound provided by my guest Bill Crawford, who has written the book
with co-author Gene Fowler, called "Border Radio."

Mr. CRAWFORD: And I love listening to `Doc' Brinkley, 'cause he had this
magic quality of kind of--he almost made you feel sick when you listened to
him. I mean, he could make you feel sick and then say, you know--and then
kind of berate your for not doing any better or not getting down there and
taking care of that old cocklebur.

DAVIES: But before he left the air, he built quite a little empire in the
little border town of Del Rio, which is sort of an odd place for a guy with a
lot of money to settle down. Tell us a little about the impact and the
presence he had in that south Texas town.

Mr. CRAWFORD: Oh, he transformed Del Rio. He transformed it into a radio
carnival of the 1930s. You had to picture--it wasn't just `Doc' Brinkley
there with his pink mansion and his Galapagos tortoises walking on the yard
and his multicolored fountains that he'd turn on every evening to play in
front of his house, which is still there in Del Rio.

But it was all the entertainers that were attracted to the station. It
drew--like moths to a flame, the most powerful radio station in the world drew
all these fabulous, wild, wildly colorful entertainers. There was Rose
Dawn(ph), the mentalist, who drove--she always wore pink, and she drove a pink
Cadillac across the border every day. There was her paramour, Koran(ph).
There were musicians. The Carter Family came down to Del Rio. Yodeling
cowboys, Cowboy Slim Rinehart, Patsy Montana, they all came down to the
border, or they sent their own transcriptions of their music down to the
border.

Not only that, but you think of all the patients that would come down to the
border on trains, all these kind of old-timers. They'd come down from the
cold Northern climes on train. They'd land in Del Rio. They'd be met at the
train station by these hustlers taking them off to Brinkley's Hospitals. And
sure enough, kind of competing hospitals grew up in Del Rio, so these old guys
would get off the train, and they'd have two or three people saying, `Oh,
`Doc' Brinkley's Hospital isn't the place to go. You got to come to mine.'

So it was really a fabulous time, a fabulous show time, really in Del Rio.
And Acuna became this party capital, you know.

DAVIES: Acuna is the city across the border, right...

Mr. CRAWFORD: Right.

DAVIES: ...where the transmitter actually was?

Mr. CRAWFORD: That's exactly right. And even today, one of the most popular
restaurants across the border in Acuna is a place called Ma Crosby's, and Ma
Crosby was a part owner of the border radio station. So you got to figure
that all these guys would come down to be rejuvenated. They'd go across to Ma
Crosby's, they'd have a few margaritas, they'd meet a few of the senoritas,
and, you know, they probably didn't even need the goat gland transplant after
all that excitement.

So it was just a fabulous point in time where you had the biggest high-tech
transmitter on Earth attracting all the wildest and woolliest entertainers from
America, who had no place on regular radio.

DAVIES: To a town that would otherwise have had almost nothing going. And I
guess we should also mention here that people were coming not just from Texas
but from all over the States, because that massively powerful transmitter, at
night, could be heard just about anywhere, right?

Mr. CRAWFORD: They usually only turned the transmitter on at night. And it
was so powerful that you could literally hear it around the globe with AM
radio signals. And at that point, there was no FM. There was no television.
There was no Internet. So this was it as far as mass communication was
concerned.

And the radio waves would bounce off the ionosphere, the AM radio waves, and
come back to Earth in something called the skyway skip. So the folks who were
still down there, who were involved with the station at that time, said that
they got correspondence from Finland. Folks heard the radio stations on ships
in the Java Sea. We've heard rumors that in the 1960s, the KGB used to turn
into XERF to learn English from Wolfman Jack, which is--I guess it would be
good for us. You could identify the (as Wolfman Jack) spies, baby! But--so
these stations were incredibly powerful and went out all over the world.

DAVIES: My guest is writer Bill Crawford. He is the author with Gene Fowler
of "Border Radio: Quacks, Yodelers, Pitchmen, Psychics, and other Amazing
Broadcasters of the American Airwaves." We'll talk more after a break. This
is FRESH AIR.

(Soundbite of music)

DAVIES: We're back with writer Bill Crawford. He is the author with Gene
Fowler of a book "Border Radio."

You told us about `Doc' Brinkley, who started one of the largest radio
stations across the border and the world to sell his cures for male impotence
and other things. But he couldn't talk all the time on the radio. I'm
curious about what kind of programming we heard on border radio stations. I
mean, this was the early days of American radio. What would you hear?

Mr. CRAWFORD: You'd hear a lot of hillbilly--what we call today hillbilly
music. The Carter Family really became famous on border radio. The Carter
Family, of course, the first family of country music. And Johnny Cash used to
tell a story of hearing his future wife, June Carter Cash, on a border radio
station, coming up from XERF, and that's where he fell in love with her,
hearing her in his Arkansas home on the radio. You'd hear yodeling cowboys.
You'd hear fortune tellers. You'd hear a lot of really boring ads for
everything from orchards growing oranges to baby chicks.

You'd hear a lot of preachers, and this is the first place where the church of
the airwaves really found a foothold, was on the border radio stations. One
of our favorite preachers was a fellow by the name of Sam Morris, who was the
voice of temperance. He was out there every day, preaching temperance on
border radio. And one of his favorite sermons was The Ravages of Rum.

So you'd have a whole variety of people, and it was programming that was
geared toward literally people in rural America, in the central part of
America. It wasn't sophisticated-type of programming that came out of New
York or, later on, Los Angeles. It was really geared towards the farmers, the
small-town person, who this would be their only radio station they could
probably get late at night. In the cold evenings, under the clear sky, they
could pick up these wild sounds. And `XERF? Oh, Mexico? I'm tuning into
Mexico?' It was an audio adventure for isolated folks who were tuning in on
their Greeb or Ariola radios.

DAVIES: Maybe we should hear a little bit of Sam Morris and his temperance
plea. This is Sam Morris on border radio.

(Soundbite of border radio broadcast)

Mr. SAM MORRIS: Wine is a mocker. Strong drink is raging. And whosoever is
deceived thereby is not wise. Out in the state of Arizona, a husband and wife
had reared their children. The children had married off, families of their
own. The mother took to drinking. She was 64 years of age. She came in one
night, so drunk she didn't know what she was doing and started to take a bath
in the bathtub with her clothes on. In utter disgust, her husband said, `I
ought to take a gun and blow your brains out.' She snarled back at him, `You
haven't got the nerve.' He shot her dead in the bathtub and went to prison
for it. Fine way to end married life. You say it'll never happen to you?
They said the same thing before it happened to them.

DAVIES: That was Sam Morris, a preacher on border radio. He is one of those
featured in a book by my guest, author Bill Crawford. It's called "Border
Radio."

All of these performers and pitchmen and psychics didn't have ratings by and
large to tell them how they were doing. How did people know they were
successful, and how did the stations make money?

Mr. CRAWFORD: It was such a straightforward system, Dave, it was great. Most
of these--everybody who was on the air, the only way they could tell how well
they were doing, and the only way they made money was how much mail they could
pull. Most of the products were a dollar a holler. A dollar for the
songbook. There weren't any records. A dollar for the sermon. A dollar for
the baby chicks. A dollar for the piece of the cross, whatever it was. And
the only way you could judge how well you were doing was by how much mail you
pulled in. And these border stations would pull in so much mail that we heard
stories of them having to actually build new post offices to handle all the
mail. It was just phenomenal. It was the first really direct per inquiry
advertising ever tried in the US, and now it's a standard, of course, on cable
systems and all over the place.

But back then, it was really wild. People would--one of our favorite little
items that we found, there was one guy, The Diamond Man, who would sell
genuine, simulated diamonds. So they were just incredibly powerful. And even
today, people will remember hearing over the air, `Del Rio, Texas,' 'cause all
of the advertising was for Del Rio, Texas, or XELO in Ciudad Juarez was Clint,
Texas. C, as in corn, L-I-N-T. Clint, Texas. So these stations were
incredibly powerful, incredibly powerful mail pullers.

DAVIES: Bill Crawford, co-author of the book "Border Radio." He'll be back
in the second half of the show. I'm Dave Davies, and this is FRESH AIR.

(Soundbite of music)

Unidentified Vocal Group: (Singing) Turn your radio on, turn your radio on,
and listen to the music in the air. Turn your radio on, turn your radio on,
Heaven's glory share, Heaven's glory share. Turn the lights down low, turn
the lights down low, and listen to the Master's radio...

(Announcements)

(Soundbite of music)

DAVIES: Coming up, how border radio transformed Bob Smith into Wolfman Jack.
We continue our conversation with Bill Crawford. Also, Ken Tucker reviews
"Forever Hasn't Happened Yet," the new solo CD by John Doe.

(Soundbite of music)

Unidentified Man #3: (Singing in Spanish)

DAVIES: This is FRESH AIR. I'm Dave Davies, filling in for Terry Gross.

Let's get back to my interview with Bill Crawford. His book, "Border Radio,"
tells the story of broadcasters who, for decades, escaped federal regulators
by moving their transmitters just across the Mexican border and blasting their
programs back into the US. Crawford says one of the most famous personalities
to emerge from border radio was the legendary deejay, Wolfman Jack.

Mr. CRAWFORD: Well, Wolfman created himself on border radio. He was
actually Bob Smith. He was from New York, and he had a little bit of radio
experience, and he was living in the South and he heard XERF. And he said...

(Imitates Wolfman) `Man, I got to get me on that station.'

So he actually came down to Del Rio, got on the air, and as he claims it, he
heard--was listening to the radio one night when he was in bed with Wolfwoman,
and he heard gunshots, poo-poo-poo-poo-poo.

(Imitates Wolfman) So he jumped in his star-fire Oldsmobile and boogied across
the border, spreading out hundred dollar bills with the machine guns and
toting shotguns.

And the way he tells it, he took the station over and handed it over to the
employees and then he was in control of XERF. But I told this story to a
gentleman in Del Rio, Arturo Gonzalez, who was actually the man who hired
Wolfman--and Arturo's a very brilliant lawyer and a wonderful gentleman down
in Del Rio--and he kind of looked at me and nodded and said, `Bob Smith was an
excellent salesman.' And...

DAVIES: So what a disappointment. That was such a wonderful story.

Mr. CRAWFORD: Well, who knows whether it's true or not. I prefer to believe
that it is true. But I know that what is true was that Wolfman Jack could
sell the heck out of anything. What he sold was record packages. That's what
he used to pull the mail. He would sell record packages of rhythm and blues
records and he'd play the songs (imitates Wolfman) at midnight with his
Wolfman character, you know (normal voice) which was kind of a cross between
howling wolf and an alien creature (imitates Wolfman) kind of wild (normal
voice) but not really wild. He'd say, you know (imitates Wolfman) `Put your
hands on the radio and squeeze my knobs, baby.' (normal voice) And it
was--seems very innocent in this day and age but (imitates Wolfman) it was
wild back then.

So he'd be on the air at midnight selling these record packages which had
songs from, oh, Willie Dixon, Little Johnnie Taylor, Howlin' Wolf, stuff
that, in the early '60s, white folks couldn't really get in their regular
record stores. So he'd sell those. And then, Wolfman, who wrote the foreword
to our book "Border Radio," also told me that he wound up making most of his
money selling time to preachers, which I thought was just absolutely great. I
mean, the idea of Wolfman meeting up with Reverend Ike and selling Reverend
Ike time on XERF, there's something just cosmically American about Wolfman and
Reverend Ike on the most powerful radio station on Earth.

DAVIES: Yeah, he was a real entrepreneur. He said you had to have the
preachers to make money on the station, right?

Mr. CRAWFORD: Yeah, you had to have the preachers and he--on XERF, and later
on, XERB out on the West Coast. He would sell the preachers, he'd sell pep-up
pills, he'd sell pep-down pills. He'd sell little sugar pills that would get
you rocking much as Doc Brinkley's goat glands would. Again, he could get
away with it 'cause he was doing it for Mexico. And he was just a great,
great entrepreneur.

DAVIES: And he also sold this product. Let's give this a listen.

(Soundbite of announcement)

Mr. WOLFMAN JACK: Yes, we're going to send you 100 baby chicks right now for
just $3.95, cash, check or money order. Now just imagine all the fun you're
going to have with these little babies. You just lead them around on little
leashes, you give them little names and then, of course, as they grow up and
comes wintertime, you cook 'em and eat 'em. It's going to be just fun for
you. We're going to give you a hundred of them for just $3.95 plus COD
charges. And if you order right now, the Wolfman going to send you absolutely
free of charge a life-size picture of me autographed that glows in the dark.

DAVIES: That's just too good, isn't it?

Mr. CRAWFORD: (Imitating Wolfman) Ow! Yeah, baby!

I got me one of them life-sized pictures staring at me right now.

DAVIES: Did you get the chicks? Before your time, right?

Mr. CRAWFORD: No, but I do raise chickens now, partially inspired by Wolfman
Jack. Baby chicks were one of the great, great sales things eternally on
border radio. For some reason, you know, you can't guarantee--we can't
guarantee that they'll live very long, but by golly, you'll get them in the
mail.

DAVIES: Wolfman, who, as you mentioned, wrote the foreword to your book
"Border Radio," is no longer with us.

Mr. CRAWFORD: Yes, he passed away a few years ago. He's in wolf heaven now.
I'm sure he's still screaming on 100 million watts up there some way. And I'm
sure his voice right now is actually the voices of all of us who are on radio
are bounding across the universe in some way, shape or form.

DAVIES: We should hear just a couple more of the performers and pitchmen
that are in the book. You mentioned a woman, a mentalist named Rose Dawn(ph).
What exactly did she do?

Mr. CRAWFORD: Rose Dawn, she sold one of the first--well, she sold kind of
self-improvement packages where you could become part of the Mayan order. She
claimed that she'd gone down to the Mayan country in Mexico and found their
esoteric wisdom. And if you subscribed to her packages, you can join her in
your self-fulfillment and become part of the Mayan order. And later, she
founded the Mayan Dude Ranch in Bandera, Texas, which is still operating
today, the Mayan Dude Ranch.

DAVIES: You know, I have to cut in here and say that I have been to that,
that guest ranch and it's been owned by a different family for several years
now. But I noticed that they pronounce it the `May-On' Ranch. I wonder if
they're trying to shed their association with the mentalist Rose Dawn.

Mr. CRAWFORD: They are definitely. I mean, we've been out there trying to
get them to give us some information about Rose Dawn and the secrets of the
Mayans, thinking maybe there's Mayan esoteric wisdom hidden out on the
`May-On' Dude Ranch, but they want to shy away from it. But they--the Mayan
order is still operating in San Antonio. They have a little shop. They still
have a couple hundred subscribers who get their newsletter and get their
wisdom every day. And letters still go out from that office signed by the
mysterious Rose Dawn.

DAVIES: Well, shall we hear a little of Rose? Let's listen to a little bit
of Rose Dawn making her pitch on--What?--and she was on the border station
XER, is that right?

Mr. CRAWFORD: Yeah, yeah. This is Rose Dawn, the mentalist.

(Soundbite of announcement)

Ms. ROSE DAWN: Well, friends, if you're not happy, if something's keeping you
from happiness and success and contentment of mind, send for your copy of
"The Miracle Power(ph)" and do it at once. If you listen to my announcer, he
will give you the directions again after I have finished. The main thing,
friends, is to take action at once and start that miracle power working in
your life, and the address is Rose Dawn, Del Rio, Texas.

(Soundbite of music)

Unidentified Announcer: Friends, "The Miracle Power" can be yours. You, too,
may have it. Just send a postcard with your name and address saying, `I, too,
want this amazing book. Send me "The Miracle Power".' But, friends, hurry.
Get your order in right away. This may be your last chance to get your copy.
Don't be left out. Just write at once to Rose Dawn, Del Rio, Texas. Enclose
the one dollar in your letter or simply write and say...

DAVIES: My guest is writer Bill Crawford. He is the author with Gene Fowler
of the book, "Border Radio." We'll talk more after a break. This is FRESH
AIR.

(Soundbite of music)

DAVIES: We're back with writer Bill Crawford. He is the author with Gene
Fowler of the book, "Border Radio."

Now the musical content in the early decades, I guess, was a lot of
country--well, was called hillbilly music then, right. And you have to tell
us a little bit about Texas Governor Lee "Pappy" O'Daniel because he has a
remarkable association with border radio.

Mr. CRAWFORD: Oh, yeah. Well, you know, one of the great politicians of all
time was a gentleman by the name of W. Lee "Please Pass The Biscuits, Pappy"
O'Daniel. O'Daniel was a flour salesman, born in Iowa, raised in Kansas, who
was selling light crust flour. And a few musicians came into his studio and
asked to be put on the air. They said, you know, we can advertise your flour
and you'll be able to sell it. And O'Daniel didn't like their music. He
didn't like the hillbilly music, and he didn't really think that there was
much to this whole radio thing. One of the musicians was a guy named Bob
Wells.

But O'Daniel did agree to put them on the air and they got the name The Light
Crust Doughboys in honor of World War I veterans. And they weren't doing
so well in the first couple of weeks, so O'Daniel said, `OK, guys, you're off
the air. This radio thing is not working.' And Bob Wells came back to
O'Daniel, showed him the huge bags of mail that they were pulling. And so
O'Daniel said, `Yeah, sure. You can be on the air, but you have to continue
to work 40 hours a week at the mill in addition to playing on the radio.'
Well, eventually, Bob Wells went off to find the Texas Playboys, but O'Daniel
kept on the radio, and he, himself, became an announcer. And he announced,
wrote songs, wrote "Beautiful Texas." He wrote "My Million Dollar Smile." He
read poetry and eventually became the most popular radio personality in the
state in the 1930s.

And one day, he got on the air and, as he liked to tell it, he asked his radio
listeners, `Should I run for governor of the state?' And according to
O'Daniel, 54,499 respondents said, `Yes, you'd be the greatest governor.' And
three respondents said, `No, W. Lee O'Daniel, you shouldn't run for governor
'cause you're too good for the job.' So O'Daniel ran for governor, 1938. He
had no party affiliation. He had no party backing. He ran the Democratic
primary. He wasn't registered to vote. He hadn't paid his poll tax, and,
yet, he won governor of Texas in 1938 in the largest vote ever cast in a Texas
election.

And I like to say that he was, really, the forerunner of Ronald Reagan and
Sonny Bono and Arnold Schwarzenegger. He was a media personality, probably
the first in the country who went from being a media personality to a
successfully elected government official. And he used to broadcast from the
governor's mansion until the Broadcasters Association got so annoyed with him
that they kicked him off the air. So he said, `Well, fine.'

DAVIES: He was still selling biscuits, right, out of the governor's office,
wasn't he?--selling flour.

Mr. CRAWFORD: He was always, always selling flour. He pitched his flour as
he would broadcast from the governor's mansion, supporting old age pensions,
homes and go to church and, of course, buy my flour. So they kicked him off
the air. He wound up buying a border radio station with another guy named
Carr P. Collins, who sold Crazy Water. So they had Crazy Water and Hillbilly
Flour at that point that they were selling from a station in Mexico. O'Daniel
would make transcriptions of his speeches here in Austin, Texas, ship them
across the border. They'd be rebroadcast back into Texas and got an even
bigger audience than before. And it's, again, just a great story of the
broadcast establishment throwing somebody off the air and him using the border
radio stations to get back on the air and to get his message out to the good
people of the beautiful, beautiful Texas.

DAVIES: And I guess his story is in--at least in part, the inspiration for
the governor character in the film, "O Brother, Where Art Thou?" right?

Mr. CRAWFORD: Yeah, the governor in "O Brother, Where Art Thou?" is--I think
they call him Menelaus "Pappy" O'Daniel, but he's the governor of Mississippi.

DAVIES: Right.

Mr. CRAWFORD: Kind of drove me crazy seeing the film because Pappy O'Daniel,
our governor from here in Texas, was such a fabulous character and such a
great musician. And he actually won the race for governor twice, and in 1941,
he ran in a special election for US Senate and won that campaign. And in that
campaign, he beat a congressman from Texas by the name of Lyndon Baines
Johnson.

DAVIES: Right.

Mr. CRAWFORD: And the Johnson people said, `O'Daniel beat us because he just
stole more votes than we did.' And seven years later, Johns...

DAVIES: A mistake Lyndon Johnson would not repeat.

Mr. CRAWFORD: Exactly. Seven years later, Johnson ran for O'Daniel's seat in
the Senate and managed to win against Coke Stevenson by stealing more votes
than Coke Stevenson according to some.

DAVIES: My guest is writer Bill Crawford. He is the author with Gene Fowler
of "Border Radio," which is the story of radio stations which grew up in the
'30s and '40s across the Texas-Mexican border.

Well, border radio--these massive transmitters that went up across the
Texas-Mexican border and blasted all over the United States, grew up in the
'30s and '40s, lasted for many decades. What did they have to do with the
growth of rock music or R&B and its popularity in the states?

Mr. CRAWFORD: Well, you know, one of the great things about the border radio
stations is that you can never really tell what you were going to hear. You
might hear a Mexican music show. You might hear a rock 'n' roll record. And
so many of the musicians who grew up in the Southwest, in their formative
years, when they were little kids hiding under their bedclothes, listening to
their transistor radio, they would hear these wild sounds coming from a
station with the letter X. And that really made an imprint on them. Maybe
not so much in terms of the actual songs that they learned, but in terms of
the sounds and kind of the feeling of the music. And that's what I think
border radio really injected into the whole world of rock 'n' roll.

DAVIES: That eclectic mix of sounds is memorialized in a new album, which you
recently wrote the liner notes for, part of them, by sort of a mu--it's called
"Heard It On The X," and it's the third CD produced by a project called "Los
Super Seven." Tell us about that.

Mr. CRAWFORD: Well, it's a great project. The producers of that album had
read our book, "Border Radio," and came to us saying, `Well, we want to do
something that captures the spirit of border radio.' And both Gene Fowler and
I were kind of skeptical or just we couldn't believe it because we've always
dreamed of having an album that would capture the spirit of these wild outlaw
radio stations. But we couldn't see quite how they would put it together.
border radio--it's really a sound. It's cosmic interference. It's full
moonlight glistening on asphalt. It's romance. It's magic. There's no way
you can really describe it. You just got to turn on this album and you will
have heard it on the X. I mean, it's just really, really a wonderful way of
encapsulating and capturing the outlaw sounds of border radio.

DAVIES: Well, Bill Crawford, thanks so much for speaking with us. I thought
we ought to finish with a song from the "Los Super Seven" album. This is
Ruben Ramos doing a cover, I guess, of an old ZZ Top tune, "Heard It On The
X." You want to tell us a little bit about it?

Mr. CRAWFORD: Well, this is Billy Gibbons, who plays with ZZ Top, is one of
the great fans of border radio and has long been a fan of our book and wrote
some of the liner notes in the "Los Super Seven" CD. And this is his homage
to border radio. And this song was always an inspiration for us as we were
writing our book 'cause we figured if border radio was cool enough to inspire
Billy Gibbons and ZZ Top, then it's well worth celebrating.

DAVIES: All right. Well, thanks, Bill Crawford. Let's hear the track.

(Soundbite of "I Heard It On The X")

Mr. RUBEN RAMOS: (Singing) Do you remember back in 1966? Country Jesus,
hillbilly blues, that's where I learned my licks. Oh, from coast to coast and
line to line, in every county there, I'm talkin' 'bout that outlaw X is
cutting' through the air.

Unidentified Group: (Singing) Anywhere, y'all, everywhere, y'all...

Mr. RAMOS: (Singing) I heard it, I heard it, I heard it on the X. I heard
it...

Mr. RAMOS and Group: (Singing) ...I heard it...

Mr. RAMOS: (Singing) ...I heard it on the X.

We can all thank Doctor B who stepped across the line. With lots of watts he
took control, the first one of its kind. So listen to your radio most each
and every night, 'cause if you don't, I'm sure you won't get to feeling right.

Mr. RAMOS and Group: (Singing) Anywhere, y'all, everywhere, y'all...

Mr. RAMOS: (Singing)...I heard it, I heard it, I heard it on the X. I heard
it...

Mr. RAMOS and Group: (Singing) ...I heard it...

Mr. RAMOS: (Singing) ...I heard it on the X.

DAVIES: That's Ruben Ramos of "Los Super Seven" doing the ZZ Top song, "I
Heard It On The X." Bill Crawford is co-author of the book "Border Radio."

Coming up, the new CD from former LA punk John Doe. This is FRESH AIR.

(Soundbite of music)

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

Review: New CD "Forever Hasn't Happened Yet" by John Doe
DAVE DAVIES, host:

John Doe, long with Exene Cervenka, founded the seminal '70s Los Angeles punk
rock band, X. After both the band and their marriage dissolved in the late
'80s, Doe launched a solo recording and acting career. Among other roles, he
co-starred for a season on the WB TV series, "Roswell." Doe's new solo album,
called "Forever Hasn't Happened Yet," features appearances from Exene and
other mainstays of LA punk-era music, such as The Blasters' Dave Alvin. But
rock critic Ken Tucker says it's not an album mired down in the past.

(Soundbite of music)

Mr. JOHN DOE: (Singing) Someone broke your heart when they dropped it on the
ground. Someone broke your heart when they dropped it on the ground. You
asked if you could borrow mine just to get around.

KEN TUCKER reporting:

"Forever Hasn't Happened Yet" is a collection of songs that coheres around the
idea that hitting 50 years old is a good time to take stock of your life and
keep on making music. When he started the band X in the '70s, John Doe's
voice always stood out for its tunefulness, a high lonesome tenor that could
sing country and pop as well as the harsher punk rock he and his then-wife
Exene were producing.

Doe turns into the most touching delicate sort of crooner on this bit of
dreamy, sad music called "Your Parade."

(Soundbite of "Your Parade")

Mr. DOE: (Singing) All I see is a blue sky. Don't know why I'm feeling sad
about you.

Mr. DOE and Ms. EXENE CERVENKA: (Singing) Sad about you.

Mr. DOE: (Singing) Here I go again, getting high, feeling every bit of sad
about you.

Mr. DOE and Ms. CERVENKA: (Singing) Sad about you.

Mr. DOE: (Singing) Sad about you.

Mr. DOE and Ms. CERVENKA: (Singing) Sad about you.

TUCKER: John Doe and his ex, Exene, briefly reunite here, having written a
rambunctious version of their spiky punk rock with the song "Highway 5." But
Doe doesn't sing on it with Exene. It's as though they still can't quite
bring themselves to be in the same room, reliving any aspect of the past.
That, too, is part of middle age, either facing down or avoiding one's past.
And so he sings their composition with the vocalist, Neko Case. But the
sweet-sour harmonies reverberate with our memories of X at their most pungent
anyway.

(Soundbite of "Highway 5")

Mr. DOE: (Singing) Dear, it's only 5 AM.

Ms. NEKO CASE: (Singing) Dearest darlin' in the kitchen.

Mr. DOE: (Singing) This town ain't the second town. This town is the
borrowed line. ...(Unintelligible) nest.

Mr. DOE and Ms. CASE: (Singing) Sweet little ...(unintelligible).

Mr. DOE: (Singing) Sing me a song forever. I hear the sound, so sweetly
(unintelligible).

Mr. DOE and Ms. CASE: (Singing) Midnight, morning light.

Mr. DOE: (Singing) Light on the horizon.

Mr. DOE and Ms. CASE: (Singing) Take me away. Take me away. Take me away.

TUCKER: John Doe has said that the music here is, quote, "not punk rock, but
it uses all the same ingredients--sex, drugs, death, loss, longing and
alienation." These are certainly some of the subjects of "Ready," the
title referring, as I hear it, to being ready to die.

(Soundbite of "Ready")

Mr. DOE: (Singing) It was black, it was always black and no one really gave
two craps. It was skinny and it was always dark. No one ever thought it
would go this far. Her hands, she was always wringing her hands and worrying
about the strangest things. There are friends and then there are friends,
why can't I tell where one ends and one begins.

Mr. DOE and Unidentified Woman: (Singing) Johnny's dead, and I know why. He
stuck a needle in his eye. Johnny's dead, but I couldn't cry, 'cause Johnny
always seemed ready, ready, ready.

TUCKER: John Doe cut "Forever Hasn't Happened Yet" in two weeks. He mentions
the blues and country music as inspirations, both musical and methodical; that
is, recording frequently done with simplicity and quickness. The idea is to
capture the mood of a song before self-consciousness sets in, to bash it out,
to get it down before the itch for perfection obliterates spontaneity. In the
end, all the film and TV acting Doe has done in recent years and perhaps for
years before that in watching certain dark films gives this album a moodiness,
a feeling of preordained doom. Doe speaks of himself as the losing kind, the
sort of phrase that could have escaped from a '50s B movie about greasers or
hoods rumbling into town. In this case, he's rumbled into an album that's
worth sticking around for a while and reliving along with him.

DAVIES: Ken Tucker is film critic for New York Magazine. He reviewed John
Doe's new album "Forever Hasn't Happened Yet."

(Credits)

DAVIES: For Terry Gross, I'm Dave Davies.
(Soundbite of music)

Mr. DOE: (Singing) I don't know that I ever knew you. I don't know that I
ever knew you. But you say you can see right through me. The moon is bright
and the road is clear. The moon is bright and the road is clear. Did you
just say the end is near? Said you gave me all your kisses. Said you gave me
all your kisses.
Transcripts are created on a rush deadline, and accuracy and availability may vary. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Please be aware that the authoritative record of Fresh Air interviews and reviews are the audio recordings of each segment.

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