Muddy Roots News
  • 11.03.14

    Odd Americana: John R. Brinkley – Quack Doctor and Radio Pioneer

    Hear ye, hear ye, men who despair, there may be an operation to restore your vim and vigor! To get the powder packed back in yer pistol and the lead in that pencil. And women, if you require the flush of fertility, a renewal to the womb, an energy to your eggs – there are options!

    Goat gonads.

    Wait…what?

    The Rambler has learned of an operation – a simple in-and-out, really – to renovate, rejuvenate, and reinstate your sexual satisfaction and babymaking machinery. All it requires is slicing open your scrotum and tucking goat glands inside. Or, for the ladies, having goaty bits folded willy-nilly next to the ovaries.

    It doesn’t sound like a real procedure, but this was exactly the operation that John R. Brinkley made millions off of during the Great Depression.
    John R. Brinkley operating
    Submitted for the approval of the Midnight Hillbilly Society, here’s the astounding, true story of the charismatic, yet deplorable John R. Brinkley.

    John R. Brinkley started his career as a roving railroad telegrapher. When this didn’t prove profitable, he decided to become a doctor. His medical career began in 1907 when he posed as a Quaker physician in a North Carolina medicine show. He then shucked healing tonics in Tennessee. Wanting a larger greenback stack, Brinkley decided he would become a real doctor. Ish. Kind of. Somewhat. He attended Bennett Medical College in Chicago for three years. But why finish studying medicine when you could buy a diploma and begin immediately? Armed with a degree purchased from the Kansas City Eclectic Medical University, John R. Brinkley opened his first practice.

    The Greenville Electro Medic Doctors storefront was Brinkley’s clinic in South Carolina. Those who attended the health center could acquire “electric medicine from Germany”. Yup. Electric. Medicine. From. Germany. Trusting saps were injected by Brinkley or his partner with a shot of colored water for twenty-five bucks. Folks were told the shot cured everything from a sleepy demeanor to syphilis…which was why it cost so much. 1912’s $25 is equivalent to about $600 now.

    The Greenville Electro Medic Doctors lasted two months before they got kicked out of town. No, they didn’t pay their back rent. Yes, everyone in town hated them.

    But where are the goat sacks? And what about that whole radio pioneer thing? SOON, friends, soon!

    Brinkley had a wife. Some kids. They separated, but didn’t divorce until Brinkley married a new woman (briefly becoming a bigamist). He joined the Army Reserve Medical Corps and served in World War I. In Brinkley’s case, serving meant having a nervous breakdown for several months until he was discharged. This was also the point in time where Brinkley decided to get that final year of medical school, after which he had a license to practice in eight states.

    Enter Milford, Kansas. A new clinic. A radio station. Goat balls.
    john r brinkley goat gland baby
    In 1918, John R. Brinkley and his wife settled in Milford and opened a 16-room clinic. It was a general services clinic until, one day, a man came looking for a fix for being “sexually weak”. Jesting, Brinkley said he could always sew goat balls into the guy, being as goats were an amorous and active creature. The now unknown man was willing to try anything. He begged Brinkley for the operation. And, like a dirty ol’ SOB more interested in getting rich than healing, Brinkley obliged…for $150.

    You read that right. John R. Brinkley charged a desperate man 150 smackaroos to insert slices of goat testicle in his nuts.

    Others got wind of the operation. Xenotransplantation became all the rage not so much because people adored the idea of having living cells of another species implanted in them, but because Brinkley was a magnetic man. It didn’t hurt that early on, one of the rubes who had the operation – for an increased $750 (near $9,000 today) – managed to impregnate his wife giving Brinkley’s clinic a thread of credibility. According to Brinkley, goat glands were the cure to 27 ailments. You could alleviate dementia, flatulence, and even spinal tumors by a quick jaunt to Milford.

    Folks knew about the Milford clinic because Brinkley was a master of mailed advertisements and, more importantly, in 1923 he bought a radio station. KFKB became Brinkley’s pulpit. He treated the station like he would a medicine show. Programming was part entertainment, part spiel that included cowboy orchestras, old mountain fiddlers, local talent, the weather…and of course, medicine.

    …it was in the early 1920s that the American Medical Association started keeping tabs on John R. Brinkley.
    john r brinkley prescription window
    Perhaps, it was because of his show Medical Question Box. People wrote to the radio station with ailments. Brinkley would read letters, diagnose patients without ever seeing them, and prescribe treatments – to be bought at one of his pharmacies. These pharmacies net the doctor over $14,000 a week (almost $200,000 a week in today’s market).

    Not content to be a radio personality, the doc kept up his clinic. He was prone to conduct surgery while drunk and with dirty equipment. By 1930, he’d signed over 40 death certificates for xenotransplants gone awry. The same year Radio Digest said KFKB was the most popular radio station in America, the Kansas Medical Board revoked Brinkley’s license to practice. Less than a week later, he did what any shamed doctor would do…he ran for governor of Kansas and ALMOST WON. He came so close, he tried again. Between races, Kansas revoked his radio broadcasting license.

    After his second run at the governor’s race bombed, Brinkley sold KFKB (for about 90 GRAND) and moved down to Del Rio, Texas. Del Rio was a hop over a bridge to Mexico. Brinkley bought a radio license from the Mexican government and built a border blaster radio station in Mexico…where he was immune to the Federal Radio Commission.

    Now, here’s where John R. Brinkley becomes a granddaddy to country music.

    Originally, Mexico granted the doc a 50,000 watt license for his “Sunshine Station Between Nations”. That turned into 150,000 watts. That turned into one million watts. Even though it was way down in Mexico, folks could hear XER-AM in Kansas, hell, they could hear it in CANADA. The signal was so strong it made bed springs hum and it could be picked up by car headlights. John R. Brinkley no longer had a regional audience, he had a national audience…not only for his clinics and pharmaceuticals, but for the entertainment he provided.
    XER Brinkley radio station
    XER belted out health talk, poetry, ads for “crazy water crystals” and autographed Jesus photographs, market news, preaching, comedy, and…hillbilly music. Yodelers, crooners, a country orchestra, and roots music filled the air waves. Tennessee Ernie Ford, Roy Rogers, Patsy Montana, Gene Autry, Little Jimmy Dickens, Red Foley, Shelly Lee Alley, Jimmie Rogers, Cowboy Slim Rinehart, and the Carter Family all had appearances on Brinkley’s border blaster. The Carter Family spent entire seasons there. Performers who played in schoolhouses, churches, and on local radio stations now had an outlet that broadcast them across all of the United States, some of Canada, and occasionally other international markets. A regional form of music became (inter)nationally known, accepted, and craved.

    Brinkley didn’t care that he was fostering the growth of an entire genre of music. He cared that roots musicians caused the most fan mail and that they helped move the most merchandise.

    Too bad for Brinkley that Mexico caved to the pressures of the U.S. government and revoked his radio license in the mid-1930s. By the time XER closed, other border blasters had mimicked Brinkley’s business plan and roots musicians still had access points to extended air waves.

    A fleet of Cadillacs, a mansion, an exotic animal garden…Brinkley left it all behind when he moved from Del Rio to Little Rock Arkansas in 1938.

    Life did not end well for John R. Brinkley. An old nemesis from the American Medical Association wrote a series of articles titled “Modern Medical Charlatans” that Brinkley was included in. Brinkley sued Fishbein and lost. After his loss came malpractice lawsuits from former patients and a tax fraud investigation by the IRS.

    Brinkley died penniless. Thank ye Gods for comeuppance, eh?

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    Wanna know more? The Rambler’s got a few books for you:

    Charlatan: America’s Most Dangerous Huckster, the Man Who Pursued Him, and the Age of Flim Flam – Pope Brock
    …the be all end all bio of John R. Brinkley

    Border Radio: Quacks, Yodelers, Pitchmen, Psychics, and Other Amazing Broadcasters of the American Airwaves (revised edition) – Gene Fowler and Bill Crawford
    …a portrait of border radio from the 1930s – 1960s with an introduction by Wolfman Jack

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    Patty Templeton wishes she had a time machine so she could drive in Del Rio listening to XER through her headlights. She is currently writing a pulp adventure tale that involves lesbians, a blues record shop in Chicago, and Robert Johnson. Say hi to her over here.