The “X”

His name was John Romulus Brinkley, but he called himself “Doctor.” Attending a school that taught non-traditional medicine and receiving a certificate (valid in only eight states) gave him the supposed right to confer such a title upon himself to lend reputability to his “practice.” He sold his cure-alls via radio show broadcast beamed from a 1000-watt tower in Milford, Kansas. When Kansas pulled his medical “license” and caused him to lose credibility, Brinkley ran for governor as a write-in candidate (his main motivation seems to have been to become governor so that he could reinstate his own medical license). Quickly converting the Milford radio station into the central means of self-promotion for the campaign, Brinkley made blatant comparisons between the way he was being treated and the trial and death of Jesus, and proclaimed his own brand of quack-medicine to be the salvation of the masses. Ultimately, he did not win the governorship though he tried more than once. Upset by his losses, Brinkley moved to the border town of Del Rio, Texas and set up a radio transmission tower across the Rio Grande in Villa Acuna, Mexico. Whereas the United States had a limit upon the wattage of a radio transmitter (50,000 watts), across the border this regulation was not in place. The new station, XERA, operated with an effective wattage of one million watts. Locals said that birds flying near the tower would drop dead, the old dynamo-powered headlamps on trucks in Del Rio would flicker, and barbed-wire fences would hum all over Texas when XERA operated at maximum power. The “X” overrode the transmissions of Atlanta, Chicago, and even some Canadian stations. So powerful was the signal that it is reported that transmissions reached Russia where the organization that was the precursor to the KGB used the broadcasts to give English lessons to the spies-in-training. Brinkley’s messages of bizarre treatments, fortune tellers, and promised restored health helped him to rake in a reported sum of $12 million in five years. Letters and payments came in from every state of the Union as well as from 14 other countries. These letters were written by the hurting in the hope that a quack doctor with a widespread voice sitting on the banks of the Rio Grande could cure what ailed them.

Sometimes we wonder why confusion and uncertainty exists at such a level today. Could it be that we listen to too many voices? Not every voice that speaks of the promise of comfort and peace is the voice of God, no matter how loudly, widespread, promising or authoritative that voice may sound. Messages pound us daily, but we must select the station to which we listen. In the din of multiple voices, all blaring at once (and sometimes contradictory in meaning and purpose) we must make the time and effort so we will not miss hearing the “still, small voice” of God (I Kings 19:12). We must be aware of the false messages that bombard us, but listen to and follow the truth offered from only one source: “My sheep hear My voice, and I know them, and they follow Me” (John 10:27).

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