View from afar

So does anyone remember the story of Dr. John R. Brinkley, better known as “Goat Gland Brinkley?” He was a noteworthy Kansan and his legacy lives on-in unexpected ways. As Paul Harvey would say, “Stay tuned and I will tell you the rest of the story.”

Brinkley was born in 1885. He was orphaned and made a living as a telegraph operator and snake-oil salesman of patent medicines. He spent less than a year in Chicago and was run out of town for fraud.

He picked up a medical degree from a diploma mill in Kansas City for $500. (No unpaid student loans for this fellow.)

He set up practice in Milford, near Topeka. Either in Arkansas or during his brief period as a company doctor for Swift and Co. packing plant, he observed billy goats doing what billy goats do with zest and vigor. He also noted in 1917 that many middle-aged men did not have this same zest and vigor. His idea was brilliant: transplant the glands, which give billy goats so much joy, from the goats to men. Result: happy men, sad billy goats.

Soon Milford was the Fountain of Youth for men from Kansas and Oklahoma. Never satisfied, Doc Brinkley looked for ways to let more people know about his operation.

Radio was untested and new. Brinkley started one of the first radio stations in Kansas, KFKB (Kansas First, Kansas Best) and played hillbilly music. He and his wife talked to farmers about feeling a little peaked. Soon the Brinkley Clinic was the biggest business in Milford.

There were few regulations on either radio or medicine at the time. Brinkley would turn the wattage up on his station and knock down whooping cranes in Nebraska and sparrows in Oklahoma.

He decided he could treat any sort of illness by radio. Just mail in your symptoms on a post card and he would read them on the air and tell you to go to your local pharmacist and pick up Brinkley patent medicines No. 7 and No. 18 and No. 19. Small-town pharmacies in Kansas flourished from his patent medicines. (He was sort of an early HMO provider.)

His enemy was the Kansas Medical Board and the American Medical Association. Brinkley went to trial for fraud, but the jury was convinced by the testimony of satisfied customers.

Brinkley figured, “Why not control the Kansas Medical Board?” He ran for governor in 1930. Too late to file, he ran a write-in campaign. Hour after hour he spelled his name out for listeners on his radio station and instructed them on the proper procedure for a write-in ballot.

He did well. He carried Kansas and won five counties in Oklahoma for good measure. Local Democrats and Republicans were not happy and enough Brinkley ballets were discarded to allow the Democrat to win-the lesser of evils.

But Brinkley realized his welcome was wearing out in the Sunflower State. Resourcefully, he moved his transmitter across the Rio Grand River and started radio station XERA while he lives in Del Rio, Texas.

Now at night he could knock down pigeons in New Jersey and eagles in Idaho. He sold time to every other faith healer, including those selling autographed pictures of Jesus. He played hillbilly music- upgraded to country western music, a phrase first coined by his station.

Brinkley died in 1941. But station XERA lived on. I remember listening to it as a little kid. Strange sounds of whooping and hollering. I didn’t stay up late enough to hear the really good stuff.

Since the station would sell time to anyone, an itinerant disc jockey known as Wolfman Howling Jack started playing music late at night. Music banned by mainstream radio stations. This was wild music. Rock and roll.

More than one rock musician tells the story of being a teenager and listening to a Mexican radio station late at night and realizing his dream was to play music like this.

The license of KFKB wandered around a little. Eventually it landed in Wichita and became KFDI.

So old Bob Dole is not the first Kansas politician to pimp virility in commercials. And now you know the rest of the story.

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