As listeners, children sent in for radio premiums for two basic, nonexclusive, reasons. One was for a closer identification with an Old-Time Radio program; the other, because they were Neat Stuff...
For instance, those listening to the 1940 Jack Armstrong adventure on the Sulu Sea were told of a mysterious. ivory-colored ring that the Filipino natives held In awe. After several attempts were made to steal it, what red-blooded listener wouldn't want to have a replica of that ring? There were plenty of such premiums, from Radio Orphan Annie's Secret Society club Pins ("decoders") to odd things as a luminous belt from The Lone Ranger.
The other kind of premium was also really special, but which had little to do with the show's content. The Lone Ranger Atom Bomb Ring, which was a specialized form of a scientific instrument called a spinthariscope, and showed the effects of nuclear radiation. Neat as all get-out, but the Atom Bomb was some 70 years after the events involving the daring and resourceful masked rider of the plains' most publicized activities. One of the later OTR shows, however, had some of the most extraordinary and multifunctional premiums offered on Old-Time Radio. This program was Sky King. Whereas most OTR shows in the Children's Hour worked better in the 15-minute, continued-serial, format. Sky King worked beautifully in the 30-m1nute, complete-within-one-program style.
Sky King was sponsored by Derby Peter Pan peanut butter--a step away from the usual cereals, but certainly a food kids could dig. Peter Pan was depicted on the label as a woman, with no explanation. Naturally, to get a premium, a kid had to buy a jar of the stuff and send In a label or seal.
As mentioned, Sky King premiums were not run-of-the-mill models, they were top-flight. For instance, there was the Mystery Picture Ring. It had a sliding crownpiece and Secret Compartment, to be sure: however, it also had a line drawing on the crown that changed to another, like a "dissolve" in a movie.
Also, there was the Teleblinker Ring. This one had a huge black box as the crownpiece. On the side was a panel that exposed a white spot if the top of the box was pushed down-actually, since the top was spring loaded, repeated pushes would make the spot, which was composed of horizontal segments, to blink. It could be used like a Navy signaling light to send messages, if both the sender and person receiving the message could agree upon what the sequence of blinks meant. It was ideal for those who knew Morse Code. But a spot on the side of a ring crownpiece, no matter that it was oversized, was still pretty small. So how to see it at any distance? Simple: the crownpiece also had a built-in, miniature telescope! The only disadvantages with the ring were that the crownpiece was so big that you couldn't wear it without doing yourself some minor harm when digging Into a pocket for something; and that its size made it hard to be unnoticed in classes where teachers might frown on kids bringing toys to class.
However, the ultimate Sky King ring had to be the Magni-Glow Writing Ring. A ring with a crownpiece scarcely any larger than that of most rings, It looked like a box top with a circular white cabochon-style stone of some sort. However, the top was hinged, and swinging it open revealed a Secret Compartment! And the supposed "stone" on the bottom was a filled-In, D-shaped piece of whitish plastic, which was also hinged to swing out.
Once the piece of plastic was extended, it revealed that the "stone" was actually a magnifying glass. The D-shaped plastic was luminous, and embedded within it was a functioning miniature balI-point pen. It was one of the most multifunction rings ever offered.
However, the ultimate in Sky King multifunction radio premium was the Spy-Detecto Writer. Here, in a package some two-and-a-half inches long, was something any Secret Agent would be proud to own. First and least exciting, it had an inch scale along one side. Second, it had a magnifier--and Sky King magnifying glasses weren't those soft, molded-plastic magnifier found in other premiums-these were made of real glass.
Next, there was a cipher disk ("decoder") on the top side of the unit. One that used two sets of letters rather than the letter-number combinations found elsewhere. But on top of all of that, there was a built-in printing mechanism, consisting of a flexible rubber or plastic belt with all the letters of the alphabet on it, and an internal inkpad. The owner could actually print out clear, nearly professional-grade messages, letter by letter. There even were two tiny metal tabs to help the user align the letter being printed with the previous letter(s).
As a bonus, there were line pictures of Sky King's jet airplane, the Flying Arrrow, and his horse, Yellow Fury, on the side, and a full-figure ba-relief of Sky King himself on the bottom. What a premium!
In fairness, a knob protruded out of one side; necessary to reposition the printing letters. The alignment tabs were relatively sharp, as were the boxlike comers of the assembly. These made it more difficult to carry the Spy-Detecto Writer around In a pocket, but compared to the multifunctionality of the device, these were minor inconveniences.
There may be other shows and other premiums that might have more emotional connections to those who used to listen to OTR kids' shows, but for sheer inventiveness, no radio series was as consistently creative in the matter of premiums as Sky King.