High Power 'Border Blasters'
By the 1930s it became possible for radio stations to cover much greater distances thanks to newer high power transmitters. The American FCC put a cap on the power levels of stations, which encouraged local broadcasting, with a few large networks developing, such as NBC, CBS, Mutual, etc.
Those limits of power output did not apply over the border in Mexico and several entrepreneurs set up very powerful stations, with power levels up to 250,000 watts, five times what was permitted in the USA. These cross-border stations did good business running commercials for products that were banned from the airwaves in the USA, including several medical services of dubious efficacy, such as goat gland transplants for 'gentlemen of diminishing libido'.
Some stations thrived for decades, especially those in in the west of Mexico near Tijuana had massive signals across into California and right up the west coast of the USA. Other stations further east such as XERA were just a few miloes from the border with Texas and enjoyed large audiences across the eastern seaboard. After dark, the nature of Medium Waves meant that such stations were heard all over the USA. In the 50s and 60s, some stations acquired legendary status, with Wolfman Jack becoming so famous.
The first widely heard European offshore station - the MV Courier (a US Coastguard vessel) which broadcast the Voice of America from the Mediterranean into Russia.
After World War II, the NATO countries wanted to spread the word of freedom behind the Iron Curtain that had descended across Europe. Much had been learned in the war years about the value of propaganda, especially by radio. Once the Cold War began in the early 1950s, the three main powers stepped up their international transmissions accordingly.
Some of the western broadcasters, such as the BBC World Service and the USA's Voice of America, could not be clearly heard in many parts of the USSR, so the American coastguard took a leaf from the mobsters' book and fitted out a ship called The Courier to beam its radio programmes into Russia. The best location for the ship was found to be at the eastern end of the Mediterranean Sea, from where the MV Courier beamed in its diet of news and comment.
The VoA ship had very powerful medium wave and short wave transmitters on board, over 150,000 watts, very high power levels for that period. Most of the programmes were originated at studios in the USA and sent to the Courier by short wave radio. Technicians on the ship recorded them and then rebroadcast them on the on board MW and SW transmitters.
Several antennas were installed on the ship, including a novel long wire antenna held up by a helium balloon floating several hundred feet above the deck. This was an excellent way to get the most efficient (electrically) aerial on a ship out at sea. The reason for this is that a medium wave antenna needs to be very long if it is to operate with reasonable efficiency. The operation was a great success and only stopped broadcasting when the Greek Government gave her a permanent base in Rhodes.
super Border Blaster
of the 50s and 60s
The famous old XERA radio towers just outside Villa Acuña, just over the border from Del Rio, Texas. XERA was a “border blaster”, a radio station that had a 250,000 watt transmitter and it broadcast country, soul, R & B, and everything else across the border and into the United States from the 1930s until the late 1960s.
XERA could be heard from coast to coast, from Los Angeles to New York, and well north into Canada too. At times it could be heard in Europe too.
The border blasters pioneered "info-mercials" and originally sold mail order goods, such as Dr. Brinkley’s goat-gland operations in Del Rio TX. Many of the border blaster stations played country music, as their target audience was mainly in the wide open mid west of the USA, where country music went down very well.
Singers such as Patsy Montana and the Carter Family saw their careers get a 'new life' on XERA. Later some stations majored on playing black music; lots of RnB, and best remembered DJ from that era is Wolfman Jack. “Heard on the X” is a song recordfed by ZZ Top in the 80s, remembering the border blaster stations of their youth.
Hear Wolfman Jack on
Mexican 'Border Blasters'
Below is a YouTube player on which you can hear what Wolfman Jack sounded like on some of the best known border blaster stations.
Legendary DJ Wolfman Jack was heard on several stations in Mexico, including the giant XERF station whose massive 250,000 watt signal could be heard right across North America after dark.
Wolfman Jack's growling and exuberant style was exciting to kids seeking something different; it was rebellious and somehow just a little bit 'naughty'. He adopted mannerisms and phrases used by black artists and for some years he kept his ethnicity secret, believing that by sounding as if he might be black would attract more of the young white kids, which is just what the advertisers wanted.
Wolf knew exactly what the kids wanted to hear and talked up his own mysterious persona on the air, giving an illusion that the border blaster stations were somehow not at quite mainstream and 'your parents wouldn't approve'. That was a huge part of the appeal of such stations to young American kids from the late 1950s until the late 1970s.
By then Wolf had moved to syndicating his shows over a hundred stations all over the world, from Los Angeles. He also became a well known TV star but always kept that cloak of being somehow just on the wrong side of respectable, which he recognised was the main draw to his youthful audience, many of whom were now becoming the much sought after 'Baby Boomer' generation.
CKLW is a 50,000-watt, Class B, AM radio station that broadcasts on the Mexican clear-channel frequency of 800 kHz (800 AM).The transmitter is located in Windsor, Ontario, and so is a Canadian radio station.
It began broadfcasting in the early 1930s and moved to 800 during WW11. Its been there ever since.
Its signal covers the Detroit metroplitan area and it has long enjoyed good reception over much of the mid USA, whch is has exploited by programming for the American audience, rather than Canadian. For many years CKLW was the MUTUAL BROADCASTING SYSTEM's affiliate in the Detroit area.
CKLW uses a five-tower directional antenna with different coverage patterns day and night, to protect XEROK-AM in Ciudad Juárez, Mexico.
CKLW was an internationally known Top 40 station in the 1960s and 1970s. During this era, CKLW used a tight Top 40 format known as Boss Radio, devised by radio programmer Bill Drake. However, CKLW never actually used the handle "boss" on the air, just the style.
Rather than a "Boss 30", CKLW's weekly music survey was known as a "Big 30". CKLW called itself "The Big 8" referring to its dial position. During this period it was the top-rated radio station not only in Windsor, but across the river in Detroit, and even in cities as far away as Toledo and Cleveland in Ohio.
CKLW is now known as "The Information Station" and is mainl;y talk formatted; it is owned by Bell Broadcasting and can be heard HERE (requires Adobe Flash Player).
This three tower systemwas used to transmit programmes of Radio Luxe,bourg from the Grand Duchy from 1934 until last year. Thne station broiadcast at high power (2 million watts Long Wave and 1.2 million watts Medium Wave) to neighbouring countries. The station was funded by commercials and music plugging.