This story was published in Radio Recall, the journal of the Metropolitan Washington Old-Time Radio Club, published six times per year.
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THESE RADIO PREMIUMS HAD A BIG DIFFERENCE
by Stephen A. Kallis, Jr. © 2008
(From Radio Recall, June 2008)
Not all radio premiums were obtained by sending the sponsor a box top and coins. Some weren't even advertised on the radio at all. For instance, when someone got a Captain Midnight Code-O-Graph in the mail, its manual would contain an offer for another premium not mentioned on the radio show. Prime examples are the Flight Commander’s Ring (1941) and the Flight Commander’s Flying Cross (1942). In the case of these two premiums, they were obtained by signing up three more Secret Squadron members.
When it was a syndicated show in the late 1930s, Captain Midnight used a different scheme to distribute its premiums. In those early days, the sponsor was Skelly Oil, which sold such items as gasoline, motor oil, and even bottled gas. So, to get parents to the gas stations, that’s where the premiums were mainly distributed. If a young listener wanted a Mysto-Matic Weather Forecasting Wings, he or she would have to get one of the parents to take him to the local gas station. Naturally, the hope of the sponsor was that while the child was picking up a premium, the parent would fill up the car’s gas tank, or possibly schedule an oil change.
Some premiums weren't restricted to radio. Tom Mix, Captain Midnight, and The Lone Ranger offered premiums that were not only advertised on the radio, but also in the Sunday comics. The Tom Mix ads had a short story showing the importance of the premium. For the Tom Mix Magnet Ring, a youngster recovered stolen Atomic Bomb plans by lowering his magnet ring on a string and picking up the document by the paper clip holding the pages together. In an earlier ad some kids foiled a forger by showing a teller that a Tom Mix check signature wasn't really his. How? They had the teller compare the check signature with the genuine one on the Tom Mix Signature Ring.
The Lone Ranger program sponsor, General Mills, advertised the [Kix] Atom Bomb Ring in the comics section. In the advertisement, a scientist looks at the ring and says that it indeed shows the results of atoms splitting. (While that was nearly correct, to see what was going on required viewing it in total darkness.)
While these were radio premiums, they weren't so exclusively. In fact, to get a Lone Ranger Atom Bomb Ring, various Tom Mix items, and Captain Midnight Shake-Up Mugs, one wouldn't have to have heard even a single radio program.
However, there’s one class of premium that was particularly unique since it was not available until after the series was off ther air. When the Tom Mix series ended in June 1950, it had offered a lot of premiums. But there were still premiums manufactured that hadn't been offered by the time the series left the air. So these were offered to the sponsor’s customers on the back of Ralston cereal boxes. These offers were billed as the “Tom Mix Trading Post.” There were enough radio premiums for the Trading Post to run for about another two years. In that sense, radio premiums outlasted OTR programming.