God, Goats, and Misinformation on the Radio Part I
In 1923, a man by the name of John R. Brinkley received a radio broadcast license for a station he called KFKB, or Kansas First, Kansas Best. Some would call him the “Goat Gland Radio Doctor,” but others would later call him the “Nazi Goat Gland Doctor” and, legally, he was proved to be a total fraud.
Born in 1885, in Jackson County, North Carolina, Brinkley was the child of John Richard Brinkley, a traveling preacher and medic in the Confederate States Army, and Sarah Candace Burnett. Sarah was the niece of John’s wife, Sarah Mingus.
Much of his future has been proven to be fabricated, and, in fact, even the reason his name changed later in life to John Richard Brinkley—just like his father’s—is disputed.
Some say the name change occurred after his baptism into the Methodist Church while John, himself, said that he changed his middle name after being teased about it in school.
In any case, John R. Brinkley would leave an indisputable mark on history — much of which is still relevant today.
Raised in Tuckaseegee, North Carolina, he attended a one-room school and never received a diploma. He delivered mail and worked as a telegraph operator until his guardian, his Aunt, passed away.
Shortly after he married his first wife, in 1907, he attained a job as a traveling medicine man before ultimately enrolling in Bennett Medical College in Chicago. He finished his degree at Eclectic Medical University in Kansas, a non-accredited school. Also known as a diploma mill, meaning that tuition guaranteed a diploma.
Eclectic Medicine, at that time, taught known general sciences but advocated for the use of herbal remedies in curing illness. Eventually, Brinkley was treating patients with some questionable practices.
After paying off his tuition, Brinkley received his diploma and began to earnestly set up his own practice. In Fulton, Kansas, Brinkley posed as an Otorhinolaryngologist, but he focused on “cleaning out” senior citizens, treating them for constipation, liver, and kidney problems.
In 1917, Brinkley became a Third Degree Freemason and moved to Fort Scott to pursue the Thirty-Second Degree. He also joined the Shriners and affiliated with the Odd Fellows and Modern Woodmen of America. His wife, Minnie, joined the Order of the Eastern Star, a female Freemason affiliate.
According to Brinkley’s commissioned biography—which was later proven to be entirely false—in 1918, after opening a clinic in Milford, Kansas, a local farmer asked the doctor to help him restore his sexual virility by implanting him with a “sex gland” from a male goat.
Brinkley obliged the farmer and performed the surgery. Afterward, both men claimed it to be a success. Within weeks, Brinkley had patients lining-up for goat gland implants and he performed hundreds of these “rejuvenation operations” a week for a fee of $750.
Unfortunately, though, Brinkley had a bad habit of being intoxicated while operating, thus some of his patients developed infections and an unknown number died. He was later sued for at least a dozen wrongful deaths as a result.
Nonetheless, newspapers featured ads about goat babies being born to men after undergoing the “goat gland procedure” and Brinkley, though a fraud, was a fast study. However, it is likely that Brinkley posted this advertisement himself to the Arizona Republican.
Realizing the power of advertising, and building upon his increasing notoriety, Brinkley decided to take over the radio.
Through KFKB, Brinkley broadcast his personal fundamentalist views on war and religion, as well as doling out poor medical advice to the masses. Broadcasting at 5000 watts, his station reached several states.
Brinkley is also credited with introducing country music to the radio, a style of music hand picked from the South also known as Dixieland. The music was deeply rooted in racism, segregation, and white supremacy.
Throughout the rest of his career, Brinkley would swindle thousands of people out of their money during the Great Depression. Amassing quite a bit of wealth, Brinkley decided to travel to Europe to gain more credentials — a trip that began his descent.
After being rejected by several institutions, Brinkley was, finally, accepted to a school in Italy. Upon hearing of the news, a former teacher pressured Italy to rescind his degree, which they did.
Returning to the United States, Brinkley continued to perform his controversial surgeries. He also continued to expose his radio listeners to endless advertisements endorsing his treatments and products sold by his pharmacies.
Eventually, a major pharmaceutical company took action against Brinkley for selling their products erroneously and incorrectly prescribing their medication. Morris Fishbein, Brinkley’s former classmate, had made a career out of exposing medical frauds as a journalist and editor for the American Medical Association.
In 1930, the Kansas Medical Board held a formal hearing to consider revoking Brinkley’s medical license. It was found that 42 death certificates had been signed by Brinkley and it was unknown how many others died at home unreported.
His medical license was revoked. Shortly after, the Federal Radio Commission revoked his broadcast license.
To get back at the government for revoking his license and limiting his freedom, Brinkley decided to run for Governor.
He announced his bid to run late, and, thus, was considered a “write-in” candidate. Three days before the election, the attorney general who revoked his medical license announced new rules for the election. The new rules included that the name of the “write-in” had to be spelled specifically as “J.R. Brinkley.” No other spelling would count as a valid vote.
Brinkley lost. Though, later it would be admitted that if all the “write-ins” had counted, he would have won, In any case, Brinkley ran one more time in 1932, but lost, again.
Wounded, but not defeated, Brinkley moved to Del Rio, Texas. Before long, he found himself opening up a hospital and selling his “goat” medicine, again, on the radio. He also owned a lumber company, a citrus grove, and speculated in oil. This time though, he was stationed out of Mexico with a broadcast strength of 50,000 watts.
In 1932, Brinkley, using his radio station, ran for governor of Kansas for a third time and lost. Mexico, as a result of the U.S. excluding Mexico from the airwaves, increased his wattage to 500,000 watts.
Brinkley’s radio station was rumored to be heard even without a radio depending on how close you were to the tower. and that his station, XER, reached other countries.
Due to his extreme fundamental views and his battle with the government, Brinkley also began sympathizing with the Nazis. He spent time on radio programs expressing his love for Hitler and he added swastika tiles around his home’s personal pool.
With XER, and later XERA, Brinkley even gave air time to alt-right figures including Fritz Kuhn, also known as “the American Führer.” This allowed Hitler’s Germany to reach broader audiences.
Along with the Nazis, Brinkley also provided airtime to other conservative fundamentalists of the era, including the “Radio Priest,” Reverend Charles Coughlin.
While most of the United States was recovering from the Great Depression and the first World War, Brinkley was building his empire. Appealing to their shared ideology of Christianity and national patriotism, he conned his listeners into following his bad medical advice.
Not one to be outdone, Brinkley hired the Pinkerton Agency when another doctor began cutting into his business, performing the “goat gland” procedure for less. These private security agents were tasked with protecting his customers from being “stolen” by his competition en-route to his hospital.
He told his audience this protection was for their own good and explained that he was protecting them from robbers. He also changed up the “goat gland” treatment and began administering the treatment through a tonic he created, called “Formula 1020,” which was later proven to be blue colored water.
Brinkley had hired Pinkerton Agents, though, to “investigate” the claims made against him by Fishbein before he lost his medical license in Kansas. According to R. Alton Lee, Brinkley hired a number of Pinkerton agents following that period.
“Formed as a detective agency in the mid-nineteenth century, the Pinkertons were used as an armed force to protect strikebreakers and to incite violence in the widespread labor unrest following the Civil War. During the twentieth century, companies and individuals continued to hire them to investigate, gather information, or deliver threats and warnings.”R. Alton Lee
The Pinkerton’s found evidence to back Brinkley’s claims as mentioned in Lee’s book, The Bizarre Career’s of John R. Brinkley. However this didn’t change the outcome of the ruling by the Kansas State Medical Board.
Brinkley also appealed the ruling to the supreme court stating it violated his constitutional rights of free speech. In 1936, the court affirmed the ruling on the grounds that his station did not serve “the public interest,” so, Brinkley lost again.
In 1938, Fishbein, Brinkley’s adversary, had enough. He wrote a two-part series exposing Brinkley’s questionable practices and credentials titled Modern Medical Charlatans.
Brinkley sued Fishbein for libel, however, the court ruled in favor of Fishbein.
Ultimately, Fishbein proved that the “Goat Gland Nazi Doctor” was, indeed, a total fraud and ended Brinkley’s career. The “goat gland” operation was no more than cutting open a man’s scrotum, inserting a segment of tissue from the testes of a goat, and sewing the scrotum back up.
Those who survived the operation without ill effects, or dying, were just lucky.
Over the next four years, Brinkley was hit with malpractice suits repeatedly until his fortune was gone. He was investigated by the IRS, and then the U.S. Postal Service for mail fraud. He claimed bankruptcy in 1941 and then suffered three heart attacks and had one leg amputated. In 1942, he died from heart failure.
The story of J.R. Brinkley is, undoubtedly, not the greatest of all time, but it is a “his story” worth remembering. Especially now as it appears that many fundamentalist patriots are repeating Brinkley’s past, along with many other radio and TV political evangelists.