Border blaster

Border blaster

A border blaster is a licensed commercial radio station that transmits at very high power from one nation to another. Border Blasters should not be confused with international broadcast stations.

The term is perhaps most widely used in the United States of America to describe radio stations broadcasting from various Mexican cities near the border.

With broadcasting signals far more powerful than U.S. stations, the Mexican Border Blasters could be heard over large areas of the U.S. from the 1940s to the '70s, often to the great irritation of American radio stations, whose signals could be overpowered by their Mexican counterparts. These are also sometimes referred to as X Stations for their call letters: Mexican stations are assigned callsigns beginning with X, whereas American stations begin with the letters W or K and Canadian stations with C or VO.

On November 9, 1972 in Washington, D.C., the United States and Mexico signed an "Agreement Concerning Frequency Modulation Broadcasting in the 87.5 to 108 MHz Band". Since then, in the FM band power levels and frequency assignments have been set by mutual agreement between the two countries. AM radio border-blasters still exist, though they are largely ignored due to the decline of AM radio in the U.S. There are several such stations licensed by Mexico's [ Secretary of Communications and Transport] using transmitters with an effective radiated power similar to those of major licensed commercial stations located within the USA.

In 1973 the border blaster XERB became world famous when George Lucas featured the station as the source for the musical soundtrack of his motion picture "American Graffiti".


In contrast to pirate radio stations which broadcast illegally, border blasters are licensed by the government upon whose soil they are located. Pirate radio stations are freebooters from offshore, outside the territorial waters of the nation they are trying to serve, or ones that are illegally operating in defiance of national law within its sovereign territory.

A similar situation developed in Europe, beginning with Radio Luxembourg after World War II. The British government identified these stations as "pirates" because the Sunday broadcast was reserved for British listeners (deliberately coinciding with with the BBC Sundays of religious programmes) [History of International Broadcasting, by James Wood, ISBN 0863413021 p46] . The broadcasts were considered illegal on British soil as these stations were breaking the monopoly of the non-commercial BBC. Listening to the broadcasts was technically a violation of UK radio-license laws of the day. The same radio périphérique, or "peripheric radio", phenomenon existed in France from the 1930s until the legalization of private broadcasting in the early 1980s, which allowed Radio Luxembourg from Luxembourg, Radio Andorre and Sud Radio from Andorra, Radio Monte Carlo from Monaco, and Europe 1 from Saarland, Germany to begin legally broadcasting signals across international borders.

In Mexico and the United States, while the federal government of the United States did not particularly like them, the stations were allowed to flourish. A Texas governor would even use the stations as a part of his election campaign. The U.S., unlike the UK, has never required a license to listen to broadcast radio or television, and the only restriction placed upon border-blasters was a law which prohibited studios in the U.S. from linking by telephone to border-blaster transmitters in Mexico. This law, part of the Brinkley Act, was introduced in the wake of John R. Brinkley's flirtation with fascism prior to World War II on XERA. The Brinkley Act is still on the books in the U.S., but licenses under that act are now routinely granted as long as the station follows applicable U.S. and Mexican regulations.

The British government created a similar measure after World War II, the state-owned telephone monopoly prevented studios in Britain from linking by telephone to the transmitters of Radio Luxembourg. These restrictions were mostly lifted following the privatisation and demonopolisation of the UK telephone system.

Signals of many U.S. and Canadian radio, and to a lesser extent television, stations cross over into neighboring territory. These stations are usually not considered "border blasters" as the programming is not primarily targeted at listeners and viewers on the other side of the border. U.S. and Canadian stations have always adhered to similar maximum power levels and the overspill is regarded as unintentional and largely unavoidable. One possible exception to that overall rule was CKLW in Windsor, Ontario, across the river from Detroit. While licensed as a normal Class I-B station, its 50,000 watt directional signal blanketed Michigan and northern Ohio east to Cleveland. American-owned until 1970, it functioned as a Detroit-market station during the 1960s and 1970s. Its Motown-flavored personality top 40 format made it one of the most highly-rated stations in the Midwestern US. The decline of AM radio as a music source in the 70s, combined with new Canadian government rules imposing minimum domestic music content, made it difficult for CKLW to continue to compete for listeners with American FM music stations which offered clean stereo sound and faced no program content restrictions. So CKLW abandoned top-40 and largely abandoned its efforts to compete in the Detroit market in the 80s and today is a news/talk station aimed specifically at an Ontario audience.

The mythology surrounding the history of the border blaster stations in Mexico is extensive and many conflicting reports have been written about them. The following geographical list shows where these stations are or were located. Where possible, multiple sourced references have been consulted, and will be cited in order to eliminate conflicting and error-driven reports.


Most border blaster stations today program Spanish-language programming targeted at the Mexican side of the border. Some of the Spanish language border blasters target the US side of the border, some target both.

As was the case between the 1930s and the 1970s, some border blaster stations in areas near larger American border cities such as San Diego are leased out by American broadcasting companies and air English-language programming targeting American audiences. During those decades border radio was used by preachers who solicited donations, and advertisers who sold products of questionable value. [Miller, Tom. On the Border: Portraits of America’s Southwestern Frontier, pp. 76-87.] The American side leases the station from the Mexican station owners/licence holders and feeds programming from their American studios to the Mexican transmitters via satellite.

Due to Mexican government regulations, these stations, like all radio stations in Mexico, must air "La Hora Nacional" a/k/a "The Mexican National Hour" on Sunday evenings (usually 8pm or 10pm, depending on where the station is located) and "Himno Nacional Mexicano" (The Mexican National Anthem) at 12 midnight and 5am. In addition, they must also give station identification in Spanish. This is usually done softly or during commercial breaks so the listeners on the American side won't usually notice it.


Geographical list of border blasters

Baja California

Tijuana / Rosarito

:*XEPRS-AM: This is the radio station, formerly known as XERB, featured in the George Lucas movie "American Graffiti" starring Wolfman Jack as the disc jockey. He moved to this station following his work on XERF.:*XETRA-FM:*XETRA-AM:*XEBC-AM:*XEAK-AM:*XELO-AM:*XHITZ-FM:*XHMORE-FM:*XHOCL-FM:*XHRM-FM:*XETV-TV


= Nogales =

:*XELO-AM:*XHSN-FM A top 40/ reggaeton mix station that features songs in both English and Spanish. The signal can be picked up as far away as Tucson.


Ciudad Juárez



Ciudad Acuña

:*XER: "Sunshine Station between the Nations" broadcasting on AM at 735kHz. This was the original station licensed to Dr. John R. Brinkley in Mexico as the Villa Acuña Broadcasting Company. It first signed on August 18, 1932 with a 50 kW transmitter and claimed 75kW ERP via an omnidirectional antenna. The engineering was by Will Branch of Fort Worth who had engineered WBAP for Amon Carter, owner of the "Fort Worth Star-Telegram". It was shut down by the Mexican authorities on February 24, 1933 and the Villa Acuña Broadcasting Company was dissolved.:*XERA: In September 1935 Dr. Brinkley gained a new license for Villa Acuña from the Government of Mexico with new call letters of XERA. His new operating company was Cia Mexicana Radiofusori Fronteriza and the station came on the air from the same location as the old XER but with a directional antenna. His new transmitter power was 500 kW, but with his new antenna he claimed an output of 1MW. XERA called itself "the world's most powerful broadcasting station" and "Variety" magazine claimed that it could be heard in New York City. Following the signing of various treaties, the Government of Mexico revoked the license of XERA in the closing days of 1939.:*XERF-AM: from 1947. The station that made Wolfman Jack world famous for his disc jockey and sales presentations between 1962 and 1964. This station came on the air long after the era of both XERA and Dr. Brinkley, but it initially used his old facilities although the powerful transmitter of XERA had been dismantled and shipped elsewhere. The station later moved to a new building where a 250kW RCA main transmitter was installed.

= Piedras Negras =

:*XEPN-AM was sister station to XER/XERA, and was also controlled by Dr. John Brinkley.:*XELO-AM

Nuevo León


:*XEG-AM: In 1950 the advertising time of this station came under the control of Harold Schwartz of Chicago, who also came to represent XERB near Tijuana/Rosarito (the station made famous in the movie "American Graffiti".):*XET-AM


Nuevo Laredo

:*XENT-AM: Operated by Norman G. Baker from 1933 until forced off the air in 1940; "The Calliaphone Station" (for an air-operated calliope invented by Baker) promoted a cancer-cure clinic of Baker's, essentially continuing his former station KTNT ("Know The Naked Truth") of Muscatine, Iowa, as was itself forced off the air in 1932. Brochures for the clinic urged patients to "phone 666 upon arrival in Laredo," attracting many complaints to the American Medical Association as invoked reference to Revelation 13:18, citing 666 as the Mark of the Beast. XENT-AM later moved to La Paz, Baja California Sur, power adjusted to 5kW Day / 750W Night.

XEXO-AM moved to Ciudad Mante, Tamaulipas power adjusted to 5kW Day / 500W Night.


:*XED-AM: The first radio station in Mexico to be considered a border-blaster. XED was originally located at Reynosa, Tamaulipas, and was under the advertising sales management of the International Broadcasting Company. Located across the Rio Grande from McAllen, Texas, the station broadcast with a power of 10 kilowatts that was the most powerful transmitter in Mexico at that time.:*XEAW-AM: Another station that came under the management control of Dr. John R. Brinkley. (See XER and XERA.)



ee also

*List of international radio broadcasters and List of international television broadcasters – Such as the BBC World Service and Voice of America.

*List of international religious radio broadcasters and International religious television broadcasters – A list of religious broadcasting organizations (with links to specific entries), whose intended audience is international in scope. Examples include the broadcasting services of Gene Scott and Trans World Radio which has specialized in broadcasting religious radio messages to various countries closed to U.S. missionairies and radio preachers; it has operated in Europe from Monte Carlo (until 2004) and various nations in Africa.

*Pirate radio – An explanation of how one nation can license a station that another nation regards as a "pirate radio" signal. The traditional interpretation of "pirate radio" is where a station operates without a license from on land and within a sovereign nation in defiance of its broadcasting laws; or from offshore without a license (other than permission of the ship or marine structure registry) from outside of the territorial waters of a sovereign nation, but directing its broadcasting signals into that nation. Radio Luxembourg was regarded as a "pirate" station even though it broadcast with a license issued by the government of Luxembourg. The United States never branded the border blasters along its international frontier with Mexico as pirates, but it did regard them as a problem which it attempted to resolve in part by the introduction of the Brinkley Act. The United Kingdom adopted the same response with regards to Radio Luxembourg.

*Atlantic 252. A border blaster into the United Kingdom, from the neighbouring Republic of Ireland.

*city of license

*rimshot (broadcasting)

External links

* [ Dedication of the Wolfman Jack Memorial in Del Rio, Texas]
* [ Official Ciudad Acuña municipal website] – (in Spanish)
* [ Investigation of radio operations in Tijuana, BC] , conducted by broadcast engineer Donald Mussell


*"Border Radio" by Fowler, Gene and Crawford, Bill. "Texas Monthly Press", Austin. 1987 ISBN 0-87719-066-6
*"Mass Media Moments in the United Kingdom, the USSR and the USA", by Gilder, Eric. – "Lucian Blaga" University of Sibiu Press, Romania. 2003 ISBN 973-651-596-6
*"Agreement Between the Government of the United States of America and the Government of the United Mexican States Relating to the FM Broadcasting Services in the Band 88-108 MHz", dated August 11, 1992. This agreement implies the existence of an earlier agreement, dated November 9, 1972. (Article 10) [ Link to Texts of Broadcast Agreements with Mexico]

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