Monthly Archives: October 2014

WCFL vs. Border Blaster XEAW


MilwJournal103039The radio column for the Milwaukee Journal 75 years ago today, October 30, 1939, touches on the phenomenon of “border blasters” in Mexico and how they affected U.S. radio listening. Milwaukee was essentially the same radio market as Chicago. Even though Milwaukee had its own stations, listeners there ordinarily listened to the Chicago stations, including WCFL, then on 970 kilocycles. In 1939, WCFL carried the NBC “Blue” network, and would have been the main outlet in Milwaukee for listening to that network.

During the daytime, WCFL would have provided good coverage to the Milwaukee area, but the situation was different at night. The radio columnist, Edgar A. Thompson, pointed out that listeners who wanted to hear the NBC symphony, conducted by Arturo Toscanini, especially in the northern suburbs of Milwaukee, would experience difficulty to to the 100,000 watt signal of Mexican station XEAW in Reynosa on 960 kilocycles.

The solution was to tune instead to KDKA Pittsburg on 980 kilocycles, where the columnist reported that he heard the entire concert on a five tube “midget” table radio with good reception.

XEAW was one of the “border blaster” stations in Mexico, broadcasting with powerful transmitters that blanketed North America from just across the Mexican border.  XEAW was owned for most of the 1930’s by Dr. John R. Brinkley, a Kansas physician (with a degree from a diploma mill known as the Eclectic Medical University in Kansas City).  Brinkley’s most famous cure involved an extract from goat testicles that would allegedly cure various maladies.  By 1939, Brinkley had sold the station to Carr Collins, another practitioner of alternative medicine, whose “Crazy Crystals” from Mineral Wells, Texas, were reported to have various curative properties.  It was probably Collins who was causing the interference to WCFL reported in this news item.

Brinkley owned at one time or another various of the “Border Blaster” stations in Northern Mexico, and he was quite well known throughout the United States.  My dad recounted hearing Dr. Brinkley, and his broadcasts were apparently a source of amusement on the farm radio in Indiana.  XEAW, weighing in at only 100,000 watts was one of the lower powered border blasters.  Some operated with power of up to 500,000 watts.  At one time, Brinkley was the owner of the most powerful radio station in the world,

The problems caused by the “Border Blasters” were largely solved in 1941 by the North American Radio Broadcasting Agreement.  Unlike Canada and the United States, Mexico had never been assigned any “clear channel” stations, and it therefore had little incentive to rein in powerful stations like XEAW.  The new agreement assigned clear channels to Mexico, on 800, 900, 1050, 1220, 1550, and 1570 kilocycles.  To make room for the new channels, the broadcast band was extended upward from 1500 to 1600 kilocycles.  As a result, most American stations changed frequencies (usually moving up the dial) the morning of March 29, 1941.  At that point, WCFL moved from 970 to 1000 on the dial.  It remained there as WCFL until 1987, when it became WLUP and later WMVP, which still inhabits 1000 on the dial.

Presumably, after 1941, WCFL’s listeners north of Milwaukee no longer had to worry about goat testicles interfering with their concert listening.

After the 1941 agreement, “Border Blasters” didn’t completely go away.  For example, Wolfman Jack famously broadcast on XERF, Ciudad Acuña, Mexico, in the 1960’s.  XERF went on the air in 1947 using the facilities of one of Brinkley’s old stations, which had been seized by the Mexican government in 1939 and had been dark for eight years.  XERF, however, operated on 1570, in full compliance with the 1941 agreement assigning this channel to Mexico as a clear channel.


Border Radio at Texas State Historical Association

Border Blaster at Wikipedia


Can You Vote Before Your 18th Birthday? Maybe

Wisconsin teen Zachary Ziolkowski won’t be allowed to allowed to vote Tuesday, since his 18th birthday is Wednesday. Most comments that I’ve seen online have been critical of the teen for even trying, and the Wisconsin Government Accountability Board ruled against him. But he has a credible argument.

The 27th Amendment states that “the right of citizens of the United States, who are eighteen years of age or older, to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of age.” And Wisconsin Statute 6.02 provides that “every U.S. citizen age 18 or older who has resided in an election district or ward for 28 consecutive days before any election where the citizen offers to vote is an eligible elector.” Section 6.05 goes on to say that this means “any person who will be 18 years old on or before election.

But, you say, Mr. Ziolkowski doesn’t “turn 18” until the day after the election. After all, he won’t get a birthday cake until Wednesday, November 5, and his birth certificate apparently says that he came into the world on November 5, 1996.

Of course, the matter is further complicated by the fact that most people are not born at the stroke of midnight. If someone was born at 12:01 AM on November 4, 1996, then there is no question that they are 18 years old on election day. If the polls open at 8:00, then they are 18 years and 7 hours old, clearly old enough to vote. But what about the prospective voter who was born at 11:59 PM? That person, even if they show up at closing time, has not been around for eighteen years. They are only 17 years, 364 days, and 20 hours old.

Most people would recognize that the kid born at 11:59 PM has the right to vote. Mathematically, that person is not 18 years old. But we need to draw the line somewhere, and most people assume that we draw the line with the birthday: When you wake up on your 18th birthday, you are 18 years old. That’s where the Wisconsin Government Accountability Board decided to draw the line.

But Mr. Ziolkowski has a pretty credible argument that the line should be drawn elsewhere. And the Social Security Administration, among others, agreed with him when it was called upon to decide whether a girl was entitled to social security benefits for the month of November 1962. The girl was born on December 1, 1944, and “turned 18,” under the common parlance, on December 1, 1962. She was collecting death benefits until 18. She was 17 years old the entire month of November, so one would think that she should collect benefits for that month. But the Social Security Administration ruled against her. It held that “a person attains a given age on the day before his corresponding birthday, i.e., the anniversary of his birth corresponding to that age.” In this case, the girl attained the age of 18 on November 30, the day before her birthday. Therefore, she was not entitled to benefits for November.  (Lest you think the government was being heartless to the poor girl, they recognized that the same rule should apply for the more common situation of calculating when benefits start, which they noted would be the day before the retiree’s 62nd birthday.)

The Social Security Administration noted that this rule “has been applied consistently by the courts.” It also noted that the rule was cited by both Blackstone and Kent. Interestingly, Blackstone’s phraseology is somewhat ambiguous:

So that full age in male or female is twenty-one years, which age is completed on the day preceding the anniversary of a person’s birth, who till that time is an infant, and so styled in law.

Blackstone’s Commentaries, page 92 (1915 edition)

Kent puts it this way: “The age of twenty-one is the period of majority … and that age is completed on the beginning of the day preceeding the anniversary of the person’s birth.”
Kent’s Commentaries, Vol. 2, page 265 (1860 edition).  Kent cites four cases for this proposition, two British cases and two American cases:

Anon. 1 Salk. 44. 1 Ld. Raym. 480, Sir Robert Howard’s case, 2 Salk. Rep.. 625, Hamlin v. Stevenson, 4 Dana’s Kentucky Rep. 597, and State v. Clarke, 3 Harr. Del. R. 557.

I didn’t find the full text of any of these cases online, but there is a nice summary of the Hamlin v. Stevenson case available here:

Stevenson owed Hamlin a sum of money which he refused to pay. Hamlin who was still an infant started this action against Stevenson to recover the debt. Stevenson had no real defense on the suit and so filed a dilatory defense to the effect that Hamlin was an infant and therefore ought to bring suit by a “next friend” according to the requirements of the court. It happened that Stevenson made this plea on the day preceding Hamlin’s twenty-first birthday and this was also the day of the trial. The question at issue was whether Hamlin had reached his majority on that day. Chief Justice Robertson gave the opinion of the Court: “It is the common law that a person is twentyone years old on the day preceding the twenty-first anniversary of his birth. Therefore, Hamlin was of age on the day when the plea was filed, and when the issue upon it was tried. Consequently he had the right to prosecute the suit in his own name without the intervention of a friend.

The Social Security Administration’s decision also cited two American cases, both of which are available online, United States v. Wright, 197 Fed. 297 (8th Cir. 1912), and Frost v. State, 45 So. 203 (Ala. 1907).  The Wright case states the rule very clearly, “an infant becomes of full age the first moment of the day before his twenty-first anniversary.”

It’s not surprising that Mr. Ziolkowski’s father happens to be an attorney. But according to the news item, he learned about the old common-law rule ” in his high school business law class.” At it certainly looks like he’s absolutely right.

The Wisconsin Legislature could have used the word “birthday” in the election statutes but did not do so. Elsewhere in the Wisconsin Statutes, the Legislature does use the word “birthday.” For example, under Wisconsin Statutes 938.18, a juvenile can be tried as an adult in certain cases when the offense took place “on or after the juvenile’s 15th birthday.” There’s a strong argument to be made that the phrase “age 18 or older” in the statute should be interpreted under the common law.

The Wisconsin Supreme Court has stated:

A statute does not change the common law unless the legislative purpose to do so is clearly expressed in the language of the statute. Id. To accomplish a change in the common law, the language of the statute must be clear, unambiguous, and peremptory.

Fuchsgruber v. Custom Accessories, Inc., 244 Wis.2d 758, 2001 WI 81, 628 N.W.2d 833 (2001).

Also, this isn’t really an issue of Wisconsin state law. As noted above, 18 year olds have the right to vote under the federal constitution. So the federal interpretation, such as that made by the Social Security Administration, seems compelling.

I’ll be an election judge in Minnesota on Tuesday. If you were born on November 5, 1996, and you walk into my precinct, this is above my pay grade. I’m going to call the county before I hand you a ballot. But I hope they say yes.

For further complications involving people who cross the International Date Line, there is a fictional case discussing the subject.  I believe it was in the book More Uncommon Law, but it might have been in the first volume, Uncommon Law: Being 66 Misleading Cases.

1939 Printing Press


The aspiring young journalist 75 years ago could start his or her own newspaper with a capital investment of only $1.19, with this printing press advertised in the Chicago Tribune 75 years ago today, October 29, 1939.

For those interested in another archaic printing method, please check out my hectograph page.

Update on Lunar Mission

According to the LuxSpace website, the 4M-LXS spacecraft is in the vicinity of the moon.  The spacecraft will be flying away from Earth until about 1200-2200 UTC (7:00 AM – 5:00 PM USA Central Time) on October 27, and will be flying toward the earth starting at about 0100-1000 UTC October 28 (8:00 PM – 5:00 AM the night of October 27-28, USA Central Time).  The verification that the spacecraft has completed the lunar flyby will be a shift in frequency due to Doppler shift, indicating that the spacecraft has stopped flying away from Earth but is now returning.

Currently, I have received only one report that the W0IS.COM message was received, from LU1HKO in Cordoba, Argentina.  Additional reception reports will probably be posted on October 30 at the conclusion of the LuxSpace contest.

As this is posted (0038 UTC, OCt. 28), the spacecraft is approximately 381,000 kilometers from Earth.  According to the LuxSpace tracking data, the distance is slowly decreasing, indicating it has completed the Lunar flyby and is returning to Earth.

Earlier posts regarding 4M-LXS spacecraft.

Soviet Amateur Radio 80 and 50 Years Ago


1934 station of U3EB, later reassigned call U1AP, Leningrad.

An Interesting article detailing Amateur Radio in the Soviet Union 80 years ago appeared in the October, 1934, issue of QST. If you’re an ARRL member logged in to your account, you can download the full article.

Even during the height of the Cold War, Amateurs in the Soviet Union communicated freely with Amateurs in the rest of the world, and they had a well-deserved reputation of being excellent operators, often dealing with severe equiipment limitations. An excellent 1965 MIT paper describing Soviet Amateur Radio during the Cold War is also available online.

The 1934 article was written by physicist John D. Kraus, W8JK (1910-2004). Kraus likens the state of Soviet Ham Radio as being roughly equivalent to that in the U.S. about a decade earlier. The typical receiver was either two or three tubes, with one serving as detector and the second as audio amplifier. A third tube as a tuned RF stage was popular. Transmitting tubes of 20-150 watts were available. Crystal control was becoming popular, but simpler designs were still more common. The most popular antenna was a single wire known as the “American type.”

The author noted that very few Russian hams spoke English or German, and that his Russian was also almost non-existent. During his travels, he normally made use of an interpeter, but he could often bypass the interpreter by whistling CW and using standard radio abbreviations.

Lunar Message Received in Argentina

Fernando, LU1HKO, Cordoba, Argentina, just reported that he received the W0IS.COM message from the 4M-LXS spacecraft en route to the moon. The message was in the following packet of data:

000400 5 -21 3.535 35 3* W0IS.COM 1 0 0.0

I’ve asked Fernando to send me some details of his station, and will post them here when available.  I’m not sure of the exact time the message was received, but the spacecraft is currently about 348,000 km from Earth.

Earlier posts regarding 4M-LXS spacecraft.

Private Luther Irl Snapp, 1892-1918


During the centennial of World War 1, this page periodically remembers American servicemen who gave their lives in that war.

Private Luther Irl Snapp was born on September 15, 1892, near Marshall Minnesota. He was the son of Mr. and Mrs. Samuel Snapp. He graduated from the Marshall public schools and worked as a carpenter until 1915, when he moved to Baker, Montana. He enlisted in the Montana National Guard Infantry and served on the Mexican border. He was mustered into service in April 1917 and served with the 41st (Sunset) Division, 163rd Infantry, and sailed to France in the fall of 1917.

He was transferred to Company H of the 167th (Alabama) Infantry, 42nd (Rainbow) Division.  He was killed in action in  Chateau-Thierry on July 28, 1918, during the capture of the village of Sergy in the Second Battle of the Marne.

He was buried in the American cemetery near Sergy. His body was later disinterred and returned to the United States. He was buried at Marshall, Minnesota.

An American Legion Post in Marshall was named after Private Snapp in 1919. That Post does not appear to be in existence today.

The photo above is from Soldiers of the Great War, Volume 2, page 104.


Fallon County Times, October 24, 1918 and October 1921.

White Earth (Minn.) Tomahawk, Sept. 4, 1919.

Moon Mission Update

According to the LuxSpace blog, the 4M-LXS spacecraft is not about one light-second away from Earth, meaning that it takes one second for the signals to reach earth.  The blog also reports that the messages being sent from the spacecraft are about to cycle, meaning that all messages have been sent once, and will now repeat.

This means that the W0IS.COM URL has been transmitted from space once.  Since the earth stations seem to be collectively copying 100%, it is likely that the signal has been received.  We have not yet received any reception report.   Since LuxSpace is running a contest for stations to report the number of messages received, this information is not yet being published.  We are confident, however, that the message has been transmitted from the spacecraft to Earth, and continue to seek verification.

Nazi Conscription Comes to America, But Without Much Luck


This AP article appeared in a number of American newspapers on June 28, 1939. It is shown here as it appeared in the Borger (Texas) Daily Herald.  It can also be found in the Milwaukee Journal along with some additional detail.

The German consulate in Cleveland (and probably other consulates) had issued a  proclamation” ordering 19-year-old “Reich citizens” in the United States to register with the consulate for compulsory military and labor service under the Reich on or before July 15, 1939.

Apparently, a copy of the proclamation had been forwarded to the German-American Turner Society in Detroit in order to communicate  it to the men required to register. The society objected, and stated that it resented “the assumption on the part of Reich officials that we will take any part in helping them carry on their work.”

It is unlikely that very many “Reich citizens” residing in the United States complied with the proclamation.