Val Verde County Historical Commission
Doug Braudaway 105 Kim, Del Rio, Texas 78840
The neighboring communities of Del Rio, Texas and Ciudad Acuña, Coahuila have been home to several famous radio personalities over the years. In the years after World War II, Radio XERF broadcast across the country and around the world, and disc jockey Paul Kallinger’s voice reverberated out of millions of radio sets placing Del Rio in the middle of the broadcasting world.
“Paul William Kallinger was the youngest of six children born to John Kallinger and Rose Protivinsky Kallinger on December 4, 1922 in Cedar Rapids, Nebraska. Paul had two older brothers Frank and John, and older sisters, Helen, Janice and Rose. John and Rose Kallinger were immigrants from Vienna, Austria who came to America at the age of 25 landing by ship on Ellis Island in New York. While his parents knew each other in Austria they actually married later in the United States.”1
“As a young boy who had a love for the English language Paul would go to the auctions in Nebraska and watch the auctioneers. He was always fascinated by the verbal ability of the auctioneers and even believed it was a calling for him in life. However, radio proved more intriguing as he listened intently to the radio brought home by his dad. He would get behind the radio speakers and pretend he was the announcer delivering the commercials.”2
“His family eventually moved to California where his father owned a shoe repair business. After graduation from Riverside High School, Paul proudly entered the U.S. Coast Guard serving his country in World War II.”3
“After the war Paul’s dream of announcing began to unfold when he entered Frederick H. Sphere Radio Announcing School on Sunset Boulevard in Hollywood, California with the benefit of a G.I. bill that covered his education. After graduation from radio school, Paul began his quest for an announcing job as he barnstormed the country applying at radio stations from Los Angeles to El Paso. Eventually, he proudly landed a job at KDLK in Del Rio, Texas. After a short stint at KDLK he moved his wife Ann and son John to Lake Charles, Louisiana and broadcast on KPLC, a 5,000 watt radio station.”4
After the Second World War, former associates of Dr. John Brinkley5 won permits to reopen Brinkley’s old XERA borderblaster under the call letters XERF. Don Howard and Walter Wilson approached Arturo C. Gonzalez, who had dual Mexican and American citizenship and the connections to get through the red tape. Gonzalez had handled legal matters for Brinkley and was "an especially effective negotiator." In 1947 XERF began broadcasting at "fifty thousand watts clear channel." The term "clear channel" referred to the fact that the station was the only one broadcasting on that particular frequency. Without other stations clouding the airwaves, the XERF broadcast had better reception across the entire country, even without the huge XERA transmitter (which had been taken to Mexico City for Radio XEX). Still, the lower-power fifty thousand watts carried as far as two hundred and fifty thousand watts in the late 1980s. Radio XERF had "great coverage of the entire USA" at 1570 AM on the dial, but only at night. During the day "you're burning up a lot of electricity just to get to San Antonio." But at night, the signal went on and on.6
“Still yearning for a larger audience Paul sent an audition tape to Arturo Gonzalez at XERF. In a matter of a few days he heard from Mr. Gonzalez who offered him a job at powerful XERF, a 50,000 watt station. Here he came back to Del Rio, Texas in September of 1948 with his family and your ‘Good Neighbor Along the Way’ became heard around the nation as well as abroad.”7
Kallinger came back to Del Rio and to XERF in 1948 as a disk jockey and pitch man. As a pitchman, Kallinger sold almost anything. “We sold double-edged, surgical-steel razor blades, rosebushes, fruit trees, d-Con rat poison--we introduced that. Most of our ads were on a P.I.--per inquiry--basis. The advertisers didn't pay for air time, but he did split the money with the station once the mail orders came in. So it was in the station's interest to draw the biggest response. I've even been accused of selling autographed pictures of Jesus Christ! We'd never do that on X-E-R-F. I think they did it on X-E-G.’ The legendary $2.98 autographed pictures of Jesus Christ are part of borderland mythology. Whomever [author Tom Miller] spoke with at one station insisted the ad was on another. Although no one has actually seen one, everybody readily concedes the autographed pictures do exist."8
Kallinger broadcasted from ten until two—the graveyard shift—and played country music which was not yet called “country” but “hillbilly” music, often performed with mandolins and banjos. The station also played bluegrass until it “graduated to country music.” Kallinger hosted such celebrities as Eddie Arnold, the Carter Family,9 Porter Waggoner, Tex Ritter, Ernest Tubb and Johnny Cash. The music was complemented with on-the-air preachers.
Even with the smaller wattage, Radio XERF had the same kind of broadcasting range held by Brinkley's pre-World War II Radio XERA. Kallinger once asked listeners to call in to the station to find out who was listening, and from where. Calls came in from forty-five of the forty-eight American states. Kallinger also received calls from Canada, Greenland, England, Germany, South America, Japan and Australia. “Even the Soviet Union's KGB was listening in. The Russian intelligence specialists would tune into the super-powered Tex-Mex station to learn the "English language.”10
One of Kallinger’s more famous stories involves Elvis Presley. “The King” once went to XERF but was rejected. According to Kallinger, Elvis Presley was moving from country ballads into the field of rock-and-roll by the time he paid a call on Kallinger. “If he had come up with ‘You ain’t nothing but a hound dog’ right from the very beginning, people may not have accepted that transition because it was too fast. In 1955 Elvis called my house in Del Rio after he had just converted to rock-and-roll. He said that he had just heard Johnny Cash on my show and that he would like to be on the next night. I said, ‘We don’t allow rock-and-roll artists on our program.’ He said, ‘Thank you anyway, Mr. Kallinger.’”
Some time later, as a guest disk jockey on another station, Kallinger played Elvis Presley on the radio. Kallinger was relieved that the King had no ill feelings, but the disk jockey was adamant about keeping his show country.11
Kallinger repeatedly credited Radio XERF with sustaining country music. Singer Webb Pierce once stated “If it hadn’t been for border radio, I don’t know if country music would have survived.” Kallinger has been even more blunt: “Country music would not have survived without the border stations.”12
Kallinger’s voice had a quality to it, a deep, rich, baritone voice that filled a room or filled a microphone. He repeatedly said that his voice was a “gift from God,” and many Americans abroad would hear that voice as a gift from home.13 Kallinger broadcasted out of Radio XERF for forty years, and this is what the world heard:
"From coast to coast, border to border, wherever you are, whatever you might be doing, when you think of real fine entertainment think of X E R F in Ciudad Acuña, Coahuila, Mexico, alongside the beautiful, silvery Rio Grande River where the sunshine spends the winter. This is Paul Kallinger, your good neighbor along the way, from Del Rio, Texas."14
The Rio Grande was not so silvery (then or now), but Kallinger and his voice set the mood.
Kallinger has won several significant awards and recognitions for his radio work. During the 1950s and 1960s, Billboard Magazine rated him one of the country’s top five disk jockeys for eight consecutive years. He was inducted into the Country Music Disk Jockey Hall of Fame in 1979. In 1999 in retirement, he was inducted into the Texas Country Music Hall of Fame (along with Ernest Tubbs and Waylon Jennings).15
Paul Kallinger retired in Del Rio. He had stayed with XERF for the remainder of his career, and he stayed with Del Rio for the remainder of his life. He raised four children and saw ten grandchildren. He died May 29, 2001—gone but not forgotten.16
The Val Verde County Historical Commission is ready to dedicate a historical marker for Paul Kallinger. A decade has elapsed since his passing, and we want honor our community’s adopted son and icon in American music history.
Bill Crawford, Gene Fowler and Paul Kallinger. “Border Radio.” Presentation at Val Verde County Library, January 24, 1998.
Gene Fowler and Bill Crawford. Border Radio, Austin: Texas Monthly Press, 1987.
Del Rio News-Herald. Clippings, various dates.
Del Rio Sun. Clipping, 1999.
Kallinger Family to DB, personal letter, July 25, 2010. The letter was written by Paul Kallinger’s children John, Linda, Paul, Brenda; and sister Rose.
Tom Miller. On the Border. New York: Harper and Row, 1981.
Ron Strickland. Texans: Oral Histories from the Lone Star State. New York: Paragon House, 1991.
1 Kallinger Family to DB, personal letter, July 25, 2010.
2 Kallinger Family to DB, personal letter, July 25, 2010.
3 Kallinger Family to DB, personal letter, July 25, 2010.
4 Kallinger Family to DB, personal letter, July 25, 2010.
5 See “John Brinkley,” a Val Verde County Historical Commission historical marker application in the files of the Texas Historical Commission. 6 Fowler and Crawford, Border Radio, pages 170, 199; Strickland, Texans, page 236; Miller, On the Border, pages 78-81; Charles Taylor, “Radio Station XERF--Ciudad Acuna, Mexico,” Del Rio News-Herald, March 20, 1979, page 1F.
7 Kallinger Family to DB, personal letter, July 25, 2010.
8 Fowler and Crawford, Border Radio, page 171; Miller, On the Border, page 82.
9 See “The Carter Family,” a Val Verde County Historical Commission historical marker application in the files of the Texas Historical Commission.
10 Fowler and Crawford, Border Radio, pages 171-172. In 1997, a British Broadcasting Corporation crew came to Del Rio and filmed a documentary about Paul Kallinger. Randall Remaley, “Famous local radio personality featured on BBC program,” Del Rio News-Herald, June 22, 1997, page 1.
11 Strickland, Texans, 1991, page 233; Fowler and Crawford, Border Radio, pages 176, 179.
12 Strickland, Texans, 1991, page 233; Fowler and Crawford, Border Radio, pages 176, 179; Crawford, Fowler and Kallinger, "Border Radio," January 24, 1998.
13 I was standing in a line at a conference in Victoria, Texas talking with a colleague I had not seen for some time. He asked how I like Del Rio. A person behind us in line interrupted, asking if I was from Del Rio and then telling us that he used to listen to Del Rio on the radio while flying bombers across the Pacific Ocean. DB
14 Strickland, Texans, pages 232-237; Miller, On the Border, pages 79, 82; Charles Taylor, "Radio Station XERF--Ciudad Acuna, Mexico," Del Rio News-Herald, March 20, 1979, page 1F.
15 Fidel Garcia, “Kallinger inducted into Hall of Fame,” Del Rio News-Herald, August 26, 1999, pages 1, 3; Lena Garcia, “Paul Kallinger is alive and well!,” Del Rio News-Herald, August 20, 1997, page 1; Robert Terry, “Kallinger inducted into hall of fame, again,” Del Rio Sun, July 25, 1999, pages 1A, 3A.
16 Randall Remaley, “Famous local radio personality featured on BBC program,” Del Rio News-Herald, June 22, 1997, page 1.