Albert Smathers moved to Mexico in 1933 to escape what was, as he saw it, a communist takeover of the United States in the person of FDR. A former broadcast engineer for WHN in New York, Smathers purchased a ranch near Juarez and set about building a powerful radio transmitter of his own.
Smathers had been an initial partner of WHN and had sold his founder’s shares dearly, leading him to be quite wealthy. By setting up a clever series of accounts in Mexican banks, with the aid of a lawyer he retained from the Mormon colony at Colonia Juarez, Smathers ensured that all his bills were paid and that a regular, daily delivery of food was made to his remote holding. Ordering all the parts he needed via mail order, he was able to build a transmitter rivaling that of KFAK in El Paso.
Starting in 1936, not long after FDR defeated Al Landon to win a second term, Smathers began broadcasting from his station. He was not a powerful speaker, with a weak and reedy voice, but his broadcasts were full of conviction and quickly attracted a reasonable following. His diatribes, mostly with communist conspiracies at their center, became popular as much for their inadvertent humor as anything. One listener recalls a 1941 broadcast where Smathers switched from an anti-Nazi to a pro-Nazi viewpoint mid-broadcast as he recieved a newspaper detailing the invasion of the Soviet Union.
Smathers broadcast 16-20 hours per day, leading to complaints from stateside radio stations of interference from his pirate signal. Without any legal teeth to enforce a cease-and-desist, Smathers became the model of later “border blasters” to follow in the 1950s and 1960s. Popular legend has it that Smathers helped XERB and Wolfman Jack set up their initial operations, but that is untrue. Jack, speaking in later years, in fact recalled being chased away from Smathers’ ranch by a blast of rock salt.
As time went on, Smathers became more and more disorganized in his thinking. Communists, renegade surgeons, mind-controlling aliens, and more all began appearing in his shows. Smathers began raving for hours on end, often digressing into almost unintelligible gibberish and shrieking. This cost him most of his audience, such as it was, though his ravings later acquired a certain caché with the counterculture of the 60s and 70s.
After a particularly rabid session of raving, Smathers’ station abruptly went dead on August 4, 1974. It wasn’t until a check to his Mormon solicitor bounced that the Mexican authorities investigated. They found Smathers’ mummified body, weeks old, slumped at his microphone, surrounded by warrens of filth. The official coroner’s report, delivered to the US consulate in Juarez, speculates that Smathers was suffering from undiagnosed and untreated paranoid schizophrenia before succumbing to a intracranial hemorrhage.
Strangely, the autopsy also confirmed extensive needle marks on Smathers’ arms, despite the fact that no intravenous needles or hypodermic supplies were found among his effect.