Sunday, December 04, 2005

The strange story of Dr. John R. Brinkley

Pseudoscientific health providers have a colorful history. They range from alternative practitioners who honestly believe in an unproven method to the purveyors of outright fraud. In this latter category was the fabled Dr. John Brinkley. Not only was he one of the better known “snake oil salesmen” in American history, but he may also be the originator of the infomercial 80 years ago in the early days of radio.

But it seems society in those days was less tolerant of the likes of Dr. Brinkley than now (those of Brinkley’s ilk today seem to be doing quite well). In 1930 both his medical license and his radio station license were revoked. Virtually run out of Kansas, he moved his operation to the Mexican border where he constructed one of the first Mexican border blaster radio stations. You can listen to an NPR report on Brinkley and border radio here. It contains excerpts from Brinkley’s infomercials and as a bonus, about 16 minutes in, an interview with Wolfman Jack, propelled to fame on the third and last incarnation of Brinkley’s station, XERF.

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