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  The Carter Family Finds a National Audience on Border Radio Previous
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Maybelle and Sara Carter at XERA Radio By 1938 the Carters' fortunes were on the wane, the Depression had cut hard into their record sales. When the Consolidated Royal Chemical Corporation wrote to offer them the chance to do a twice daily radio show, for the princely sum of $75 each per week, it must have seemed like manna from heaven -- with one exception. They would have to move to Texas. The radio station in question was the 500 kilowatt monster XERA, just over the Rio Grande in Mexico.

Goat's Glands
XERA had been founded by "Doctor" John Romulus Brinkley, a quack physician and entrepreneur from Milford, Kansas. Around 1918, Brinkley had invented a "cure" for male impotence which involved grafting pieces of goats' testicular glands onto the patient's own testicles. He first saw a radio station five years later on a trip to Los Angeles, and decided that radio was the perfect medium for promoting his medical services. When Brinkley got back to Kansas, he founded a local radio station with the call letters KFKB, for "Kansas First Kansas Best," and used it to spread the word about his "miracle" operation.

500 Kilowatts of Broadcasting Power
By 1930 both the federal government and the Kansas medical board had begun investigations into Brinkley's activities, eventually stripping him of both his radio and his medical licenses. Brinkley ran for governor of Kansas, and might have won if a large number of write-in ballots had not been disqualified for misspellings of his name. So Brinkley set out for greener pastures, moving to the tiny border town of Del Rio, Texas, and setting up a new radio station across the river in Mexico. With 500 kilowatts of broadcasting power, XERA was ten times as powerful as the biggest American stations, which were forced to live within the federal ceiling of 50 kilowatts. Its signal easily reached all forty-eight states, not to mention much of Canada, and within a few years spawned a slew of copycat border stations.

A Good Deal
Despite the Carters' attachment to their Clinch Mountain home, they knew a good deal when they saw one, and in the fall of 1938 they headed for Texas. "I think the real turning point in the Carter Family comes with the move to border radio," says writer Mary Bufwack. "It was a wonderful opportunity for them because it was money coming in constantly, but it also really exposed them to a tremendous audience."

My Blue Eyes
Coy Bays In February 1939, without warning, Sara announced on the radio that she would like to dedicate a song to her friend Coy Bays, in California, and sang a moving rendition of "I'm Thinking Tonight of My Blue Eyes":

I'm thinking tonight of my blue eyes
Who is sailing far over the sea;
I'm thinking tonight of my blue eyes,
And I wonder if he ever thinks of me.

It had been six years since Coy and his family had left for California, and though Sara had written him her letters had been intercepted by Coy's mother, they had never reached him. But Coy was an avid fan of the Carters' show, and when he heard Sara singing out to him over the radio waves, he knew she had not forgotten him. Coy left immediately for Texas, and the two were married on February 20 in the town of Brackettsville, near Del Rio.

A Successful Season
Consolidated Royal asked the Carters back to Texas for a second season in 1939-1940, this time with Maybelle and Eck's three daughters, Helen, Anita, and June. With the girls on the show and A.P. delivering some of his most heartfelt performances, the 1939-1940 season stands out among even the Carters' enviable legacy. But by then "Doctor" Brinkley was once more under investigation, this time for tax evasion. At the same time, the victims of his cure for impotence -- and the next of kin of those who had not survived the operation -- were crawling out of the woodwork, suing him for medical malpractice. In 1941 Mexico signed a radio treaty with the United States dividing up the spectrum between the two countries. A year later XERA shut its doors for good. Brinkley died the same year.

The End of the Original Carter Family
After XERA was shuttered the Carters accepted an offer to play at a local radio station in Charlotte, North Carolina. Sara was living with Coy in California by then, but even though it meant precious months away from her beloved, she spent two broadcasting seasons in North Carolina singing on the show. But when the contract ended in March 1943, she went back to California for good, and the "Original Carter Family" ceased to exist.


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