'The Border Radio Show': Blast From the Past

In The Border Radio Show, a stellar cast of Lone Star artists revive the days when radio towers south of the Rio Grande filled the airwaves with revival meetings, wild product pitches, and all kinds of music.

Call it the Lone Star version of A Prairie Home Companion. That might seem a mighty tall order, comparing The Border Radio Show: The Big Juke Box in the Sky to the beloved, long-running program that brings together story and song from Minnesota's fictional Lake Wobegon. But there is no shortage of story or song in Texas, and there are plenty of stories to tell about the unique, sometimes wacky history of border radio, as Gene Fowler and Bill Crawford richly documented in their 2002 book Border Radio: Quacks, Yodelers, Pitchmen, Psychics, and Other Amazing Broadcasters of the American Airwaves.

Beginning in the 1930s, radio towers along the Mexican border beamed everything from revival meetings to pitchmen selling cures for cancer to advice for the lovelorn. And music – all kinds of music: gospel, hillbilly, Tex-Mex, and eventually rock & roll, rhythm & blues, and soul. Wolfman Jack got his start on border radio. Woody Guthrie and Lydia Mendoza were heard there, too. Because of the megawatts blasting through the airwaves, this eclectic mix of music and talk was heard by listeners around the world.

Using Fowler and Crawford's book as a guide, Texas Folklife Resources is presenting The Border Radio Show, the first of a three-part radio series, recorded live before an audience at the Paramount Theatre. The show includes a stellar cast of Texas-bred artists: Rick Trevino, Miss Lavelle White, Joe "King" Carrasco, and Patricia Vonne, among others. Dallas "Nevada Slim" Turner, an original border radio pitchman, will be on hand, as will Kinky Friedman, Jan Reid, and Border Radio writers Fowler and Crawford. Independent radio producer and Abilene native Ginger Miles is producing the show. Her documentary Hometown Texas: To Mother With Love was recognized as an outstanding documentary by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting. She is currently working with UT-Austin students to launch Keep Austin Weird Radio.

The Border Radio Show: The Big Juke Box in the Sky will be performed Saturday, Sept. 17, 8pm, at the Paramount Theatre, 713 Congress. For more information, call 441-9255 or visit www.texasfolklife.org.

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