The Power of the Air

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.” In 1923, he began selling his cure-alls via a 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 in order to 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, all while proclaiming his own brand of quack-medicine as salvation for the masses.

Though he tried more than once, he did not win the governorship. 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 of 50,000 watts for the power of a radio transmitter, this regulation did not exist across the border. The new station XERA, began operating in 1935 with an effective one million watts.

When XERA operated at maximum output, locals said that birds flying near the tower would drop dead, the dynamo-powered headlamps of trucks in Del Rio would flicker, and barbed-wire fences across Texas would hum along with the transmitted tunes. The “X,” as it was called, 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 their spies-in-training.

Brinkley’s messages of bizarre treatments, fortune telling, 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 (1 Kings 19:12).

We must be aware of the false messages that bombard us, sift through the noise as we look for wisdom, but ultimately we must listen to and follow the truth offered from the true source of all wisdom, understanding and guidance: “My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me” (John 10:27).

Pray that…

We will be willing to allow God’s Word to search our hearts and reveal to us any faulty motives or wrong desires. – Hebrews 4:12 For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart.

We will rely upon the Holy Spirit to reveal God’s truth to us so that we might live according to his will. – 1 Corinthians 2:14 The natural person does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him, and he is not able to understand them because they are spiritually discerned.

We will examine carefully every thought, feeling, teaching and idea that we encounter and measure everything by God’s truth. – 1 Thessalonians 5:21 …But test everything; hold fast what is good.

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