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Let's Hear It for Applause Cards

by Jerry Berg

In the mid-1920s, around the time that the large radio companies were just beginning to experiment with shortwave broadcasting, the broadcast band stations were already well established. However, unlike the hams, who benefitted from immediate signal reports from their contacts, BCB stations never knew who was listening, and, as important, whether they enjoyed the programs. This need was filled with something called the applause card. "Applause," as the term was used then, was the name given to listener appreciation of a program. As the name imples, an applause card was a card conveying such a message of appreciation by mail. Applause cards were in common use in the years around 1923 to 1926.

Although there were occasional novel departures from the theme, applause cards essentially were postcards, pre-printed so the listener could indicate, on one side, the program he or she liked, when it was heard, and the listener's name and address, and, on the other, the station's address. Some cards also contained space for equipment and reception details, the type of programming the listener preferred, and so forth. In those days a mere one- or two-cent stamp would speed the message on its way.

There were many sources of applause cards. Some listeners, such as Emerett J. Dane of Cortland, NY, printed their own. Mr. Dane would fill in the name and location of the station, the date and time of his reception, and details of what he heard. His card further relates that he was using a one-tube regenerative receiver and a 78' long antenna--not bad DX (New York to Boston) in 1925.

Some were also "generic" cards, bearing no identity or just a small imprint of a printer or publisher. There is no identity on the cards sent by H. M. Samovich of Pittsburgh, PA and Dr. F. T. Sanborn of Manchester, NH to WBZ in 1924 and 1925 respectively. Dr. Sanborn penned that he especially enjoyed Maria G. Healey's solos, and that "her Manchester friends are indeed very proud of her," with the "program coming through perfectly." H. M. Samovich was especially interested in "the 15 yr. old soprano." Bearing little more of its origin than the tiny "Harry S. Lawrence, 300 W. Grand Ave., Chicago" is the attractive 1924 red and black "radioplause" card containing information on reception conditions at the left, program comments and requests on the right.

The principal source of applause card blanks, however, were radio equipment companies, which used them for promotional purposes. A good example of how this worked can be seen in the 1924 letter from Dictograph Products Corp. to a customer in Amsterdam, NY, sending him a small supply of applause cards, advising that he could get more from his radio dealer, and recommending that he try the Dictogrand Radio Loud Speaker ($24.50) and the Aristocrat Model Dictograph Radio Head Set ($8), and also enclosing a free trial certificate. The card itself (front, back) contains the reminder to "Say it with 'APPLAUSE CARDS.'" Note also the interesting Western Union "Applaus-A-Gram" message blank (front, back) that bore Dictogrand advertising. The form explained: "Artists and broadcasting stations have earned your thanks. APPLAUD BY TELEGRAPH. Telegrams can be telephoned direct to the WESTERN UNION office. Many broadcasting stations are glad to read to their audience the congratulatory telegrams they receive. Telegraph--then listen in."

Less apparent is the RCA logo on the back of another applause card (front, back) sent to WBZ in 1924. Two other stations, WAHG and WBOQ, were owned and operated by well known receiver manufacturer A. H. Grebe & Co., Inc., and their applause card (front, back) has the Grebe logo on the front and a drawing of Dr. Mu and a Grebe Synchrophase receiver on the back.

Crosley was prolific in the use of customer cards. Wesley Cromas sent his Crosley card to station WLW in 1924. Two other cards, slightly different in design, were included with new receivers, as the notations "P.S. We own a Crosley radio" and "P.S. We own a Crosley Bandbox" suggest. And don't forget cards (Example 1, Example 2) to announce to your friends that you had just purchased a new Crosley radio and were inviting them to a radio party!

Examples abound of other media organizations offering applause cards as well. There was The Hartford Times newspaper, The Electric Shop (front, back), and the Happiness Candy Stores (front, back), who sponsored the "Happiness Candy Boys" over WEAF. The Electric Shop card had a space for the listener to fill in, "This is my ___ Radio Card to you," signifying that regular listeners were valued. Cards have also surfaced from High Class Radio Printing in Holyoke, MA, the Milwaukee Journal "BCL" [broadcast listener] Club something called the Stockman Farmer Radio Service, and a card bearing the small imprint of "J. C. Lettow & Co., radio supplies," in Baltimore, MD

Stations also had their own cards, which usually added some station promotion to the listener response portion. Among these were KFWA (front, back), Ogden, UT; WTIC, (front, back), Hartford, CT; the well known Henry Field Seed Co. station KFNF (front, back) in Shenandoah, IA; and WRVA, "Edgeworth Tobacco Station," Richmond, VA.

What did stations do with the cards when they received them? The KFNF card says, "These cards will be passed on to the artists mentioned, after I have read them myself. H.F." The KFWA card has "Examined" hand stamped in the corner, as well as what appears to be a small printed fill-in note to the broadcaster, "MEMO: Have agreed to broadcast reply ____." Check marks on some cards imply that they were reviewed by someone. Another card has what appears to be "Ans" written in the corner. Was an "answer" either sent or planned? In addition, at least one station, WRVA, used an "Applause Memo", which appears to be a form onto which the station typed the listener's name, location and message, and sent it on to the artist; "The following comment on your Radio performance will no doubt be of interest to you . . ."

Finally, an interesting piece of applause card ephemera is a two-part, folding "Radio Applause Card" published in 1926 by W. F. Nye, Milwaukee, WI. The top part is a regular applause card, while the bottom is called a "Radio Verification Card," confirming that the listener heard the station carrying the reported program. Could it be here that we began crossing over from applause cards to QSL-cards--even prepared cards--for broadcast stations?

An early example of audience research, applause cards are yet another interesting reminder of what it was like in the good old days of radio.