The song gained notoriety (and is best remembered) for its line sung and written by lead vocalist Stan Ridgway , "I wish I was in Tijuana / eating barbecued iguana." A video on MTV in 1982-83 helped as well.
Wall of Voodoo vocalist Stan Ridgway and guitarist Marc Moreland traced the inspiration for the song to listening to high-wattage unregulated AM border-blaster Mexican radio stations (among them XERF, XEG, and XERB) which, starting circa the 1930s, were received practically around the globe ("I turn the switch and check the number / I leave it on when in bed I slumber"). Some of the stations boasted a million watts, which was 20 times higher than allowed in the US.
Sitting just south of the Rio Grande ("I feel a hot wind on my shoulder / I dial it in from south of the border"), these stations avoided American broadcast and trade regulations, and became the medium of favor for countless quacks spouting political rants ("I dial it in and tune the station / They talk about the U.S. inflation"), selling homemade pharmaceuticals pre-FDA ("... I buy the product and never use it"), self-published manifestos, and may have even been the starting point for Televangelism as we know it. Wolfman Jack started his career in that market, spinning a schizophrenic mix of genres.
Wall of Voodoo vocalist Stan Ridgway co-wrote with Moreland to finish the song, and added all the verse's lyrics to Moreland's enigmatic chorus and guitar lick, as well as the catchy "mariachi" harmonica melody in the song's middle breakdown.
The 7" single version differs slightly from the album cut, most notably in the way Ridgway's vocals are mixed, and in the addition of a louder bass drum part in the song's chorus. The single mix is sometimes called the oleo mix, because Ridgway chants "radio, radio, oleo, radio" at the song's end, rather than "radio, radio, radio, radio" as he does on the album version.
Other artists have paid homage to the border blaster - ZZ Top wrote "I Heard It On the X" in 1975, and Los Super Seven (with numerous guests) stretched their tribute out to album length with, "Heard It on the X" in 2005.
Arizona-based punk rock band Authority Zero featured a cover version on their 2004 album Andiamo with slightly modified lyrics; for instance, "They talk about the U.S. inflation" was replaced with "They talk about the Iraq invasion".
Kinky, a Mexican electronic/rock band from Monterrey Mexico has covered this song as well. They kept the upbeat rhythm of the song with their own electronic twist.
Bruce Lash gave the song the bossa nova treatment on his 2004 album, "Prozak for Lovers II" which also includes easy-listening versions of Nirvana's "Lithium" and Joan Jett's "Bad Reputation" among others.
The intro synthesizer was sampled by the hip-hop group Cannibal Ox in the song "Iron Galaxy".
Additionally, there is a rapper named South Park Mexican who has performed a somewhat different version of the song, keeping the chorus more or less intact, but writing a completely new set of verses.
A first-person rendition ("I'm a Mexican / On the radio") appears on the album Graciasland by El Vez, the "Mexican Elvis".
French band Nouvelle Vague, who specialise in bossa nova covers of New Wave tracks, performed this song live in London on November 25th 2006.