BROWNSVILLE – The co-founder and former president of a successful chain of Spanish language radio stations died of natural causes Saturday at his South Padre Island home. He was 92.
Robert N. Pinkerton, who helped create the Radio Gallito chain that spanned from Matamoros to Austin, was both an introverted businessman who built his fortune from the first penny and a fearless adventurer who didn’t bat an eye at swimming with piranhas or sipping a martini with a boa constrictor wrapped around his shoulders, family members said.
Born in 1917 in Tacoma, Wash., Pinkerton had ambition in his blood. His mother, Flora Hartman, was the daughter of Montana Supreme Court Justice and Ambassador to Ecuador Charles Hartman. His father, Roy David Pinkerton, was the publisher and editor of the Star Free Press in Ventura, Calif..
Pinkerton came of age during the country’s greatest economic crisis. Though he could not afford school he established himself as a formidable businessman.
He married his wife, Juana Maria, in Laredo in 1942 before moving to Brownsville.
He established the first of his radio stations in Matamoros in 1946, using spare military parts left over from World War II, before being struck with polio.
Pinkerton recovered and over the next 25 years developed the radio chain, adding stations in Reynosa, San Antonio and Austin for a Spanish-speaking audience. Juana Maria became a radio personality and together the couple hosted numerous Charro Days parties at the Jacob Brown Auditorium on behalf of the radio station.
Pinkerton’s son, South Padre Island Mayor Robert N. Pinkerton Jr., said his father led by example. He taught him honesty, self-sufficiency and integrity.
"He knew that no one was going to do anything for him," Pinkerton Jr. said. "He said that the most important thing in life is to ensure your integrity and make sure that you keep your promises."
He loved the tranquility and isolation of his home on Ambergris Caye, an island off the coast of Belize. There, the elder Pinkerton and his wife swam, fished and watched the white beaches.
But ever the entrepreneur, Pinkerton took his paradise vacation and turned it into a business. He started a honey production company in Belize, exporting 1,000 tons a year.
"He is a very hard person to explain," his son said, recalling his father’s intense privacy. "He was hard to get to know. He wasn’t the type to go to parties. He and my mother were diametrically opposed personality wise."
Pinkerton Sr. and his wife lived in San Antonio before moving to South Padre Island. Juana Maria passed away a year ago, and Pinkerton Jr. says his father’s health deteriorated quickly after that.
"He lost virtually all of his eyesight and he couldn’t move on his own," he said. "But his mind was sharp until the day he died."
A radio broadcasting pioneer in South Texas and co-founder and President of a chain of Spanish language radio stations along the Mexican border and in San Antonio and Austin, Texas, died of natural causes on Saturday afternoon at his home in South Padre Island.
His death was announced by his son, Robert N. Pinkerton, Jr., of South Padre Island.
Throughout the ‘50s and ‘60’s, Mr. Pinkerton headed the “Radio Gallito” chain of stations producing numerous innovations that highlighted media access for Hispanics along the border and in central Texas. The stations were highly successful commercial ventures and key advertising venues for national advertisers in New York and Chicago as well as in Mexico City, who wanted to reach Hispanic listeners in this area. Mr. Pinkerton’s radio stations provided for community connection and celebration on both the Mexican side of the border through weekly dance fests covered remotely at Radiolandia in Matamoros and on the American side of the border at Brownsville’s Jacob Brown Auditorium. His stations also produced annual remote broadcasts covering the Charro Days parades in Brownsville and other Valley civic activities of importance.
Mr. Pinkerton, a polio survivor, broadcast very successful annual drives for the March of Dimes for at least a decade. He was extremely appreciative of the interventions of the March of Dimes for both adults and children during the polio epidemic in the Rio Grande Valley in the ‘50’s.
He established his wife, Juana Maria as a radio personality with the highly popular weekly broadcast of “Gira Comercial de Juana Maria” and produced an equally popular Spanish language teen program “Miss Bebop” in San Antonio in the early 50’s.
He was born Robert Newton Pinkerton in Tacoma, Washington, the son of Roy David Pinkerton, a newspaper publisher and editor and Flora Hartman, the daughter o f Charles Hartman, a Montana Supreme Court Judge and Ambassador to Ecuador.
As a young man, Mr. Pinkerton got his start in radio through his involvement in remote radio broadcasts of the famous Swing era bands. He also traveled extensively throughout Latin America.
He married his wife in Laredo, Texas in 1942. They settled in Brownsville, Texas. With Jose Maria Gonzalez, his father-in-law, and E.B. Pool, a close friend, he established the first of the radio stations, XEO, in Matamoros, Tamps, Mexico in 1946. XEOR in Reynosa and XEMT in Matamoros were added in 1950. KUBO was added in San Antonio in 1955 and KTXN in Austin in 1956. Mr. Pinkerton retired from radio broadcasting in 1970.
Always an avid boatman, Mr. Pinkerton took up yachting during the ‘60’s in the Gulf of Mexico and in the Caribbean on the 72 ft Crescent and later on the 85 ft Te Ava Roa. He and his wife built a home on Ambergris Caye at Punto San Juan in Belize, living there for a number of years before returning to San Antonio, Texas. In 2003, they moved to South Padre
Mr. Pinkerton is survived by a stepsister, Polly Martin of Ventura, California; his daughter, Sandra Pinkerton of Plano Texas and his son, Robert N. (Maria) Pinkerton, Jr. of South Padre Island, Texas; two grandchildren, Robert (Veronica) Pinkerton III and Bryan (Jennifer) Pinkerton; and seven, soon to be eight, great-grandchildren.
Private Memorial Services will be held at a later date.
In lieu of flowers memorial can be made in memory of Robert N. Pinkerton to S.P.I. Birding Center, 6801 Padre Blvd. S. Padre Island, TX 78597 or Sea Turtle Inc. P.O. Box 3987, S. Padre Island, TX 79597.
Words of comfort can be sent to the Pinkerton Family at www.thomaegarza.com
Funeral arrangements entrusted to the care of Thomae-Garza Funeral Home, 395 S. Sam Houston, San Benito, Texas 78586 (956) 399-1331
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