Texas-sized tales: Radio host turns stories from regional culture, folklore show into book

BROWNSVILLE —Is there a half-gallon of Blue Bell in your freezer? Ever partied a little too hard at South Padre Island and woken up in the sand? What are your feelings about Sam Houston?

Depending on your answers to these questions and a few more, you might be a Texan. The rest of the questionnaire is on Page 6 of “Stories from Texas: Some of Them Are True” by W.F. Strong, the host of a radio show by the same name and communications professor at the University of Texas Rio Grande Valley.

The book adaptation of his radio stories was published May 21 and holds the No. 1 spot among Amazon’s general Texas travel guides. The 2,000-print run sold out twice, Strong said, and Barnes & Noble has placed an order.

“It really comes down to one thing — Texans love Texas,” he said. “They will always enjoy reading about their love.”

When W.F. Strong initially pitched the idea for a radio show about Texas culture and history to public radio station 88 FM in 2010, he wanted to highlight the “cultural scaffolding of our Texas pride.”

He modeled it after broadcaster Paul Harvey’s “The Rest of the Story,” a radio show about little-known aspects of famous figures, and takes mostly humorous looks at Texan language, folklore and stories. His 2015 segment on the “12 Words Texans Commonly Mispronounce the Most” garnered more than 50,000 hits when it was published online.

“Texas is to America what America is to the rest of the world,” he said. “We’re a powerful cultural force.”

There may be one story that encapsulates the state spirit. Strong covered the tale of Capt. Leander McNelly, a Texas Ranger who led 30 to 40 of his men into Mexico to retrieve stolen cattle in 1875. As the story goes, McNelly refused a demand from the U.S. secretary of war that he give up the endeavor following a skirmish with Mexican forces.

The Ranger and his posse crossed back with the 400 head of cattle, but McNelly was hailed a hero not because of his exploits in Mexico, Strong said.

“People admired him because he told Washington to go to hell,” Strong said.

In his book, Strong covers famous Texans from Henrietta King to Tom Landry. There are odes to iconic brands like Blue Bell, Falfurrias Butter and Dr Pepper. He included a passage entitled “When Dairy Queen was Facebook” about the role of the fast-food chain as a town square of sorts before the advent of social media, and he ranked his favorite quotes from “Lonesome Dove.” Also, there are a couple of guides on essential Texas Spanish.

“Órale is famous for having about 40 different meanings achieved by variations in vocal inflection and situation,” he wrote.

Strong started the radio show because he hoped to pique people’s interest in Texas literature. The book includes a quintessential Texan reading list.

“I wanted to share passages to encourage people to appreciate the beautiful writing,” he said. “In a way, I was teaching Texas culture to Texans who may have missed out.”

Strong had been working on a manuscript for the book version of “Stories from Texas” when he was contacted by a publisher who heard the program, and he signed the book deal in August. His hopes for readers’ takeaways from the book are simple.

“I just want them to say, ‘My, I’m so lucky to be a Texan,’” he said, “and if they’re not, I want them to be sad they’re not a Texan.”

He invoked the old saying about folks from out of state apologetically declaring that while they weren’t born in the Lone Star State, they got here as fast as they could.

“Nobody says that about South Dakota,” Strong said.