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John R. Brinkley

purveyor of a very unusual medical treatment

John R. Brinkley

John Romulus (later changed to Richard) Brinkley was born in Jackson County, North Carolina, on July 8, 1885. Orphaned at the age of ten, he was raised by an aunt. After a rather haphazard elementary school education, he lived a rather nomadic life as a railroad telegrapher. He then decided to study medicine, attending Bennett Medical College of Chicago and Eclectic Medical University of Kansas City; neither school was accredited, however, nor did Brinkley actually graduate from either. Although he did not receive a medical degree, he was able to practice in Arkansas with an undergraduate degree; he also managed to acquire several fradulent (or questionable) diplomas.

Taking advantage of the reciprocal agreements between states, Brinkley settled in Milford, Kansas, in 1917. It was there, in 1918, that he began to transplant the gonads of goats into his aging male patients with the promise of sexual rejuvenation. He had a press agent, advertised extensively in newspapers and used direct mail to promote the procedure, which at $750 per patient earned him a very substantial living.

By 1923 Brinkley had enough capital to build and operate one of the first radio stations in Kansas, KFKB (which stood for Kansas' First, Kansas' Best). Typical of early radio stations, it featured live performances by local singers and musicians, interspersed with ads for Brinkley's secret remedies. It also featured medical talks by Brinkley, including "Medical Question Box," where Brinkley would read letters from listeners describing various medical complaints and then suggest treatments (almost always ones available only from him). He also organized a network of affiliated pharmacies in his coverage area, and then prescribed remedies which could only be purchased at an affiliated pharmacy, which then sent a portion of its profits to Brinkley.

Brinkley's questionable remedies and practices eventually came to the attention of the American Medical Association, and in 1930 his medical license was revoked by the Kansas State Medical Board. In response, Brinkley decided to mount a vigorous write-in campaign for Governor of Kansas, a position would would enable him to appoint his own members to the medical board and thus regain his medical license. Using his radio station as a campaign tool, he was able to garner 183,278 votes (29% of the total number cast) but lost the election.

When the Federal Radio Commission refused to renew his broadcasting license in 1930, Brinkley took the commission to court. The case, Brinkley v FRC, became a landmark case in broadcast law, but his license was never renewed.

In 1931, Brinkley obtained a license from the government of Mexico to construct a radio station in Villa Acuna, Coahaila, across the Rio Grande River from Del Rio, Texas. Under the call sign XER, Brinkley used his new station to resume his campaign for the governorship of Kansas by using landlines to the transmitter, which broadcast a signal strong enough to be heard in Kansas. In 1932 he mounted a well organized campaign that actually forced incumbent Harry Woodring (Democrat) and Alf Landon (Republican) to take notice. Although he came in third, he still received 244,607 votes (30.6% of the total vote), the best ever showing by an independent gubernatorial candidate in Kansas history. His 1934 campaign, however, was not nearly as successful, and he never made another attempt.

Although he had lost his license to practice medicine in Kansas, Brinkley was able to maintain a practice in Del Rio. Shifting his practice from goat glands to the prostate, he offered his male listeners an array of expensive concoctions designed to help them regain their sexual prowess. He also performed prostate operations at a clinic he operated from the hotel in which he lived.

Meanwhile, the Mexican government granted Brinkley a license to build an even larger and more powerful radio station. When XERA signed on, its signal could be heard all the way into Canada, as well as at the North Pole and in parts of Russia. Brinkley's "border blaster" station caught the attention of other American promoters and before long huge radio broadcasting towers lined the Mexican side of the U.S.-Mexico border.

After World War II broke out in Europe, Brinkley used his radio station to support Nazi Germany by giving airtime to Nazi sympathizers. In response, the United States banned cross-border links between U.S. radio studios and Mexican transmitters with legislation commonly known as the Brinkley Act. In April 1941, the Mexican government made a deal with the United States to restrict renegade stations such as XERA, effectively putting Brinkley's station out of business.

In addition to the loss of his radio station, Brinkley also lost a libel suit against the head of the American Medical Association, had to defend himself against malpractice suits filed by several of his former patients, was indicted for mail fraud by the United States Postal Service, and was under investigation by the Internal Revenue Service. As if these financial setbacks weren't bad enough, he also became a medical patient after suffering three heart attacks and the loss of one of his legs by amputation. He died of heart failure in San Antonio, Texas, on May 26, 1941.

See Also

Harry Woodring
Alf Landon
World War II

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The Robinson Library >> Practice of Medicine

This page was last updated on 11/20/2018.