by Anthony Evangelista
"Radio Premiums of Yesteryear"
THE ORIGIN OF THE RADIO PREMIUM can be attributed to Vincent Lopez. In 1921, while broadcasting with his orchestra from the Pennsylvania Grill in New York City over radio station WJZ, he offered an authographed photo of himself to anyone who wrote in.
The requests were so tremendous that the station had to hire additional staff. Thus the radio premium became a viable advertising incentive.
The Depression Era provided the perfect catalyst of “something for nothing.” For hard-pressed consumers, the premium cost only a boxtop pouring spout or inner seal. Promotion impact was spurred by radio coming into its own as a communications medium.
At the same time, radio programming was soon to unite the country. Its entertainment provided a relief from existing hard times—the perfect atmosphere for the advertising craze of the radio premium.
The premium, however, seemed more than just a gimmick or promotional hype. In most instances, premiums bore a specific identity, related to a particular program. They were well-integrated into the program’s script or story line and actually used by the show’s hero or heroine.
Another significant point about the premium itself is its quality. It wasn’t cheap, a rip-off, or something of little significance that was easily broken and discarded. It was “sturdy like the hero”—aesthetic and well-made. The majority of rings and decoders were made of brass. Radio premiums were symbolic of the heroes they represented, artifacts from a special period in American genre.
Perhaps this period was the Golden Age of Radio, but it was also the Golden Age of Premiums. Hundreds upon hundreds of premiums were offered. Of all the premiums known it is safe to say that 99 percent can be found today, or have been saved or forgotten in a drawer or attic cache.
It is a lasting tribute to the value people placed on those playthings. Many in my own collection are complete in their original mailer with instructions, premium, and a special message to give to Mom, extolling the nutritional attributes of the product.
Radio premiums were clever sales techniques, imaginable in design and took an immeasurable amount of time to reach the home mail box. They were very exciting and valued, but time has passed them on. As, they say in Radioland:
"Up, Up and Away!"
"Oh, Pancho! Oh, Cisco!"
"Hi Yo, Silver"
"Well King, This Case Is Closed."
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