XERF

From Academic Kids

The call letters XERF were assigned to a licensed border-blaster radio station that was located in Villa Acuña (later renamed Ciudad Acuña) and that was operated under the laws of Mexico. Once world-famous, XERF commenced operations in 1947 using the old facilities of John R. Brinkley's XERA, which ceased broadcasting in 1939. XERF was not a continuation of XERA.

Contents

Brief history of XERF 1947-1959

The facilities of the old XERA border-blaster which had been created by John R. Brinkley, were confiscated by the Mexican government in 1939 and the license for Villa Acuña remained silent until 1947. In that year a new license was granted to Mexican investors who created a new radio station originally using the old facilities of the defunct XERA. The station came on the air with a power of 100kW. For many years the station made money by selling its time after nightfall to American evangelists who broadcast in English to the United States.

The 1959 Border Blaster

In 1959 a new group of investors formed a Texas corporation called Inter-American Radio Advertising, Inc. which was located in the Pecan Street offices of attorney Arturo Gonzalez in Del Rio, Texas. While the license of XERF rested in the hands of Mexican nationals, the actual control of the airtime and the management of the facilities in Ciudad Acuña, Mexico were under the control of Inter-American Radio Advertising, Inc.

The Texas company purchased a 250,000 watts RCA transmitter to beam an omni-directional clear channel signal on AM 1570, which originated some distance from the old XERA faciliites within three new prefabricated concrete buildings with flat roofs. The sales brochure for XERF offered this explanation about the operation of the station (emphasis and wording shown as in the original text):

There is, of course, one BIG difference between U.S. and Mexican Stations, and that is a matter of POWER; American Stations are limited a maximum 50,000 watts ... a limitation that does not exist under Mexican regulation. X.E.R.F. for example, is licensed to operate on 250,000 watts power, and the Department of Communication and Public Works of the Mexican Government has authorized a power increase to 500,000 watss. Such power could result in serious interference if wave lengths were not strictly maintained, but the equipemnt with which X.E.R.F, operates assures its signal to stay "right on the beam." This is something constantly checked by FCC monitor stations, a degree of regulation by the U.S. Government alike that is imposed upon U.S. Stations. Operating on a clear channel, X.E.R.F. is heard nightly in all parts of the fifty States in the United States, Canada and Latin-America.

Although reference was made to a power increase, the station only had a RCA 250kW transmitter.

Paul Kallinger

The booming bass voice of Paul Kallinger was used to sell many of the products on XERF. At night, his recorded spots between the different sponsored shows served as a jingle break. Paul Kallinger remained on the Texas side of the border and recorded his spots at a studio in Del Rio, because he did not want to become embroiled with the lawlessness that swirled around the XERF studio and transmitter on the other side of the border. In between the different religious programs Paul Kallinger would tell XERF listeners in various versions, that:

It’s always good to know that we have some fine people out there listening to the most powerful commercial voice in the world … From alongside the beautiful Rio Grande, this is XERF, Ciadad Acuña, Coahuila, Mexico. Our mailing address is Del Rio, Texas. This is Paul Kallinger.

To satisfy the Mexican authorities, the portion identifying the station’s call letters and the station’s location in Mexico, would then be repeated in the Spanish language.

Wolfman Jack (1962 to 1964)

With the birth of rock and roll and its promotion by disc jockeys such as Alan Freed, a new interest was taken in the unrestricted superpower airwaves that were available in Mexico. Alan Freed had originally called himself the Moondog after hearing the name used by someone else. Freed not only adopted the name but used the recording of a howl to give his early broadcasts a unique character since he was featuring African-American music that was getting a great reception from America's White teenagers.

One of Freed's fans was Bob Smith, a disc jockey who also adopted the Moondog theme by calling himself Wolfman Jack and adding his own sound effects. (Bob Smith died in 1995 at age 57.) Smith took his act to Inter-American Radio Advertising, Inc. who sent him to the studio and transmitter site of XERF at Ciudad Acuña in Mexico. It was here that Wolfman Jack invented his own style of border blasting by turning the airwaves into one long infomercial featuring music and off-the-wall products.

Wolfman Jack gained a huge audience which brought in enough money to not only pay the bills, but to cause bandits and corrupt officials to also take enough interest in taking over his promotions for themselves. As a result Smith began to pay his own security force to protect him, because although he lived in Del Rio, Texas, because of the Brinkley Act he had to actually broadcast from the station itself in Ciadad Acuña in Mexico.

Lawlessness and death

According to Arturo Gonzalez there was a shootout in 1962 in which one person died. In another incident in 1964 two people died. No one was ever held accountable for the deaths. It was following the second gun battle when Bob Smith decided to leave for XERB, another border blaster located across the Tijuana River in Mexico, but within earshot of Los Angeles, California. It was this station that George Lucas featured in the 1973 movie American Graffiti.

Meanwhile XERF reverted to selling time according to the old format devised by Dr. Brinkley. It featured paid programming, most of it from American fringe evangelists, right-wing political groups and White-hate messages from the original Black Muslims.

With the advent of FM stereo radio broadcasting, interest in the mono static signals of XERF began to wane and its signal was switched from the 250 kW RCA transmitter which kept breaking down, to a new 50kW transmitter that was seldom run at full power.

Brief rebirth in 1980s

In 1982 Bob Smith (Wolfman Jack), ran into a radio engineer friend named Mike Venditti and he told Venditti that no one had been able to get XERF back on full power with its old RCA 250kW tranmitter, because RCA did not have any manuals relating to the equipment. Venditti then approached Gonzalez with a business proposition.

Love 16

In exchange for restoring the main RCA transmitter to active duty, Venditti asked Gonzalez to lease him the daytime hours from 6AM to 9PM. Because the station was only operating on a fraction of power from the 50kW transmitter, Gonzalez was only using the daytime hours to rebroadcast programming in Spanish from the Mexican national network. After 9PM XERF reverted to its sponsored format of mainly American religious programs.

Venditti suceeded in getting the old transmitter to work and at first his new Love 16 station (a name taken from the 1570 AM frequency), broadcast an English language format compopsed of a mixture of soft rock, oldies, middle-of-the-road, country and Big Band music. This format did not sell and soon Love 16 was programming a modern Christian music format. That did not work either.

Before Venditti pulled the plug on his Love Radio which eventually signed off the air, it attracted a lot of publicity in the Texas press concerning the rebirth of XERF as a real border blaster.

Bill Mack 1983

Publicity about the rebirth of XERF with its 250 kW daytime programming attracted the attention of Bill Mack. He had become famous for his all-night trucker’s show which was heard at that time over the clear channel 50,000 watts signal of WBAP broadcasting from Fort Worth, Texas.

For a time Bill Mack’s shows began to go out from XERF between 2AM and 6AM Central Standard Time using the 250,000 watts RCA transmitter and Venditti had talked about creating a microwave link so that Bill Mack could broadcast live from his own studio in Fort Worth. Unfortunately Vendetti's own venture was not succeeding and soon the antique transmitter began to break down again. When Vendetti left XERF no one else seemed to have the ability to keep it on the air. When the primary transmitter failed, XERF constantly dropped back to its 50kW standby which was then only run on a fraction of its power.

There was some suspicion that part of the problem came from the ancient RCA 250 kW transmitter and part from a desire by the owners of XERF to cut electricity costs in order to increase their profit margin. Whatever the true reason, the signal of XERF would boom in for a sustained period of time to suddenly drop-off to a prolonged whisper. This effect did not seem to be the result of normal propagation problems, which often results when a sky wave signal is bounced off the ionosphere. Then the signals result in a pattern of temporary but repetitious fading. When the XERF signal lost its strength it seldom regained it.

As a result of both the power problems and his inability to do live land line or microwave programs from his home in North Texas, Bill Mack left XERF and continued on WBAP.

Texas Night Train

Another group from the Dallas and Fort Worth area then replaced Bill Mack with a nightly taped program called the Texas Night Train. Because the marathon shows which featured every type of popular music and comedy were taped, there was no problem with a lack of live land line connections. Weekend editions were also heard on some US radio stations in Texas including KXOL, an AM station in Fort Worth.

The show took telephone requests which were then mixed into the following night program tape. Its big feature was the voice of the presenter who was identified as the "Night Hawk", but whose voice some mistook as a clone of Wolfman Jack. He was heralded over the sound effects of a massive steam train which gave the impression the Texas Night Train chugging its way across Texas.

Wonderful Radio London

Another group that was also based in North Texas who were aware of the Bill Mack venture on XERF and the replacement of his time slot by the Texas Night Train were the owners of a company attempting to revive the British offshore station Wonderful Radio London. Headed by Ben Toney who had been the original station manager for Big L in the 1960s, the new company also had links to Don Pierson who had founded the station in 1964. Ben Toney and his business associate went to Del Rio and met with attorney Arturo Gonzalez in his law office which he shared with Inter-American Radio Advertising, Inc.

Arturo Gonzelez was of Mexican heritage and a U.S. citizen. He held an exclusive contractual arrangement with XERF's silent license holders across the Rio Grande in Mexico. Arturo Gonzalez was able to enforce his own contract with the transmitter licensees because his Inter-American Radio Advertising, Inc., held the purse strings to all of the money paid by American advertisers for airtime on XERF.

Built in to the costs of operation were not only the expenses incurred from the electrical bills and basic engineering help, but from payments for the physical security of the station as well as the attorney’s own profit margin. Little if anything was ever spent on studio, transmitter or tower equipment.

After concluding the arrangement with Arturo Gonzalez in Del Rio, Ben Toney and his associate then drove across the Rio Grande and on to the dirt roads and through the shacks that led to the small antiquated studio and barn that housed the facilities of radio station XERF. It appeared that with the new interest being shown in the station from Texas, that it would be possible to restore the signal of the station to a dependable high-power strength using the old RCA 250kW transmitter.

Beginning on August 13, 1984 the Wonderful Radio London Top 40 Show was heard nightly via taped programs which were recorded in England and flown to Texas. In 1984 British music was once again "invading" the US charts in a major way, just as it had in the 1960s. However, the US charts were about 12 months behind the British music charts and so Wonderful Radio London positioned itself as playing tomorrow’s hits today. To accommodate the new schedule, the Texas Night Train was pushed back to allow the Big L show to serve as its lead-in beginning at midnight Texas time. Omnibus weekend editions of the Big L program were also heard on several US radio stations, including KXOL-AM in Fort Worth.

The first of the daily Wonderful Radio London shows that were broadcast by XERF was introduced by the voice of John Lennon who was asked in 1964 what he thought about American commercial radio. On the second night, which was the anniversary of the close-down of the original Wonderful Radio London on August 14, 1967, airchecks were played beginning with the last Breakfast Show that had been broadcast. The program for August 14, 1984 began with a record dedicated to Ben Toney in 1967, who then cut in on the 1984 program to thank the dj that he had personally hired thirty years earlier. This dedication was followed by the voices of Mick Jagger, Ringo Starr and many others all bidding the station farewell. The theme of the show was the BeatlesYou say goodbye and we say hello announcing the new programming that would begin the following night on August 15, 1984.

Constant transmitter problems

No sooner had the Wonderful Radio London Top 40 Show started, when the Texas Night Train folded. Its demise was due to the same problem that Bill Mack had encountered. The Texas Night Train often disappeared into the static of the AM band when the XERF transmitter power dropped off. Advertisers would not buy time and with mounting debts the Texas Night Train came to the end of its line. Linking the owners of the Texas Night Train and Wonderful Radio London programs was KXOL in Fort Worth where both shows were also aired on weekends. KXOL was in the process of being sold and Harold Glen Martin who later returned to work at KXOL, was at that time the only live on-air personality at XERF. Using a "hillbilly" accent under the name of "Billy Purl", he presented a live country music program to the fill dead air on XERF. He claims the honor of being the last live voice heard on XERF.

Final proposition

To mark the exact date of its original start-up, Wonderful Radio London International (WRLI) was planning its own return as a full time radio station broadcasting from off the coast of England beginning in December 1984. After the demise of The Texas Night Train marathon program, the WRLI team approached attorney Arturo Gonzalez in Del Rio with a new proposal. Since XERF reception reports had been received from Europe when the power was maintained at 250,000 watts, it was proposed that Wonderful Radio London would take over the entirety of the hours after midnight CET. This would correspond to 6 AM Greenwich Mean Time or Universal Coordinated Time. Under the joint call sign of Wonderful Radio London via XERF and operating as a full service station at full power, Big L would be able to attract both the additional funding and advertising necessary to also make the new offshore project into a commercial success.

How XERF faded away

However time had run out for the super power XERF when attorney Arturo Gonzalez decided that he needed to retire. His own age and the additional legalities of brokering a contract that would involve yet another country (UK) would become more of a headache than he wanted at his time of life. Without his Texas sales connection the silent owners of the ancient transmitter facilities also knew that the days of XERF were finally over.

When Arturo Gonzalez bowed out the picture, the Mexicans were left with out of date broadcasting facilities and a market that wanted both FM stereo and MTV on cable television. So they handed their license back to the government of Mexico. By this time the preachers had also drifted to cable outlets such as Jim Bakker’s PTL and Pat Robertson’s CBN cable television networks. The frequency that was once occupied by the super-power voice of XERF then became filled with the sounds of a local Mexican station broadcasting in the Spanish language on greatly reduced power.

See also

  • Border blaster - a list of super-power radio stations located on the international border of Mexico facing the United States of America.
  • John R. Brinkley gives more details about the career of this medical doctor.
  • Wolfman Jack gives more details about the career of this disc jockey who was featured in the 1973 movie American Graffiti.
  • Wonderful Radio London gives more details of the history of this station.
  • Four Freedoms Federation gives additional details about the rebirth of Wonderful Radio London in 1984 as an offshore station.
  • Don Pierson gives more details about the career of this offshore broadcasting pioneer.
  • ZZ Top celebrated the station in their song, I Heard It On The X.

References

  • Wolfman Jack's old station howling once again. - Dallas Times Herald, January 2, 1983. - Article about Bill Mack and the restoration of the old RCA 250kW transmitter by Mike Venditti .
  • Del Rio to Honor Wolfman Jack - San Antonio Express-News, June 16, 1995. - Article describing how Bob Smith (Wolfman Jack) came to Del Rio, Texas to meet Arturo Gonzelez at his law office on Pecan Street and wanting to know who was the owner of radio station XERF. Arturo Gonzelez who was 94 in 1995, recalls his first meeting with Bob Smith in 1963. Details confirm that XERF had a 250kW transmitter.
  • The Roguish World of Doctor Brinkley by Carson, Gerald. - Rinehart, New York.1960.
  • Border Radio by Fowler, Gene and Crawford, Bill. Texas Monthly Press, Austin. 1987 ISBN 0-87719-066-6
  • Big Beat Heat (Alan Freed and the early years of Rock & Roll), by Jackson, John A. - Schirmer Books, New York. 1991. ISBN 0-02-871155-6
  • Mass Media Moments in the United Kingdom, the USSR and the USA (includes details of XERF in 1984), by Gilder, Eric. - "Lucian Blaga" University of Sibiu Press, Romania. 2003 ISBN 973-651-596-6

External links

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