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Jul 14, 2011
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One Golden Age of Radio program offered listeners an actual airplane! (Piper Cubs) The show gave away one every week for over a year. The radio program was “Wings of Destiny" For the whole story see below

Link: http://www.otrr.org/FILES/Times_Archive_pdf/2011_01_02JanFeb.pdf


by Jack French © 2011 (Research assistance by Irene Heinstein)

Radio premiums in the Golden Age of Radio were very commonplace. Listeners could obtain a variety of interesting, and sometimes useful, items from the sponsors. Over the years, a host of radio premiums, including badges, rings, photos, games, maps, toys, and articles of clothing, were distributed. Many were free for the requesting; others required a proof of purchase, such as a label or box top. Most of the premiums offered after World War II were obtained in exchange for a proof of purchase, plus a minimum amount of cash, usually in coin. Aviation premiums were popular and different programs offered toy planes, miniature bomb sights, pilot patches, trading cards displaying various aircraft, etc. But only one radio program offered listeners an actual airplane! The show gave away one every week for over a year. The radio program was “Wings of Destiny,” the sponsor was Wings Cigarettes (Brown & Williamson Tobacco Corporation) and the airplane was a new Piper Cub J-3. The Piper Cub was a light, utility two-seater, introduced in 1938 by William T. Piper and Gilbert Taylor. It was constructed with a tubular steel body, wooden spars to frame the wings, and the surface covered with cotton canvas. For commercial sale, it was painted a bright canary yellow for maximum contrast with the blue sky. It had a limited range (about 250 miles) and its maximum speed was 92 mph. But retailing for about $ 1,500 in the early 40s, it quickly became popular with flight enthusiasts for its affordability and availability. During World War II , various versions of the Cub, painted khaki, were used by the Army Air Corps for training pilot applicants, observation planes, air ambulances, and mail couriers. Another variation, built for England, was called “Flitfire,” was painted silver, and used to publicize bond-drives for Britain. A total of about 15,000 Piper Cubs were manufactured in their plant in 2 Pennsylvania before the aircraft was discontinued in 1947. “Wings of Destiny” debuted on radio on October 4, 1940 in Chicago over the NBC affiliate; it was a 30 minute show beginning at 10 PM (EST.) Brown & Williamson, based in Louisville but owned by a British firm, promoted only one of their cigarette brands on this program, Wings. (They also manufactured Raleigh, Kool, and much later, Viceroy.) Not a single audio copy of “Wings of Destiny” has surfaced, and if any of the scripts have survived, their current location is unknown to OTR historians. However, two short radio commercials for Wings Cigarettes still exist and a Canadian collector has put them on his web site so fans can listen to them at <http://www.cheezepleeze.com/pws/wings.mp3>

The program was an adventure drama featuring a courageous pilot, Steve Benton, his amiable mechanic, Brooklyn, and his girl friend, Peggy Banning. Carlton Kadell (later to voice Red Ryder for Mutual as well as Sky King) had the leading role. Midway through the series, he left and was replaced by John Hodiak. The latter would become a fairly successful Hollywood actor, but in the early 40s, he was a talented radio actor in Chicago. Hodiak earned the title role in the short-lived “L’il Abner” series but mostly he had supporting roles in soap operas. Benton’s mechanic was the voice of Henry Hunter, while the leading lady, a news reporter, was portrayed by Betty Arnold. The announcer was Marvin Miller and supporting cast included Dorothy Robinson, Art Pierce, Juliet Forbes, and Don Gordon; most OTR fans will recall Gordon as the announcer on “Tom Mix and the Ralston Straight Shooters.” Mel Williamson was the producer on this series and may have done some of the writing. But in the absence of any audio recordings or scripts, we’ll have to rely on the brief program descriptions set forth in the radio guide sections of newspapers of that era in order to catch the flavor of the series.10-4-40: Aviation mystery leads to adventure 10-10-40: Peggy uses infra-red film to save Steve from gang of fanatics 10-18-40: A plane in a forest fire 11-8-40: Lovesick Brooklyn smuggles a stowaway onboard 1-17-41: Large jewel theft 3-14-41: $ 500,000 mail robbery Despite its ostentatious title, the program was basically a routine adventure show. Variety was not impressed; its critic compared it to radio’s “Fu Manchu” in terms of fantastic straining of plot elements. The reviewer even postulated that the program was aimed at an
“air-minded generation, young enough to see only the excitement, old enough to smoke.” But it probably wasn’t the script nor the acting that drew audiences to their radios; it was the Piper Cub giveaway. Contemporary records are a little unclear on the exact process by which a winner was selected but it appears the first hurdle was to write a short essay (or slogan) about aviation. Several were apparently selected each week from whom a final winner was determined based on phone calls. At any rate, when contact Carlton Kadell John Hodiak 3 was made with the winner, frequently a teenaged boy, he was instructed where to pick up
his prize of the new Piper Cub, usually at a nearby airport. Richard Nivers of Nebraska had a historic reason for remembering the day he won his Piper Cub. While at the airport, he was sitting in his parents’ 1938 Buick when he first heard the news of the attack on Pearl Harbor over the car radio. It was December 7, 1941. Peter R. Hoffman of Chicago first saw the
Piper Cub he won as a teen-ager when his family drove him to a local airport at the intersection of 55th Street and Mannheim. Like some winners, he (and his family) could not afford to store or maintain the aircraft so he sold his prize to the airport owner for $ 1,500 and 50 hours of flying time.
Most of these weekly giveaways of the bright yellow two-seaters, with a large “Wings Cigarette” logo painted on both sides of the fuselage, attracted local media attention. Sometimes the presentation ceremony aired live over the local radio station. In most cases, a press photographer from the regional newspaper would be present to capture the event on film.
Brown & Williamson, despite the continuing expense of giving away a $ 1,500 airplane every seven days, had to be delighted with the resultant publicity the radio show and its prizes had generated. Wings Cigarettes were first introduced to American smokers in 1929 as a popular ten-cent economy brand. Later, the original dark brown label gave way to white in 1940 due to wartime ink restrictions. Very early in their marketing plan, each pack of Wings contained an airplane trading card. When a juvenile fan collected all 50 in a series, he could bring them to a local tobacco store who would then give him a special Wings album to display them in. Over the years, four sets of fifty each were distributed in this manner and these 200 free cards are now being sold on eBay for large amounts. But no marketing plan of this tobacco company had ever garnered the enthusiastic attention of the free Piper Cub. If it seemed too good to last, it was. Within weeks following the U. S. declaration of war against the Axis powers in December 1941, all airplane manufacturers, including the Piper plant, were producing aircraft only for the military. Its supply of Piper Cubs eliminated, the sponsors of “Wings of Destiny” had no choice but to cancel the giveaway portion of that radio series. On December 26, 1941 Brown &
Williamson issued a press release stating that the 63rd and last Piper Cub would be given away that very day. The adventure drama would be reformatted to do radio plays about defense and patriotism, and in this new version, the movie “I Wanted Wings” would be adapted for their January 2, 1942 program. 4 Mel Williamson, who produced the series, indicated that the sponsor was very proud of its impact on flight in America. According to company records, 2 out of every 3 persons who had won a Piper Cub, learned to fly and had obtained pilots’ licenses. Several of those young winners had since joined the Army Air Corps. Discontinuing the airplane giveaway, as well as dropping the dramatic adventure concept of the program, proved to be the death knell for “Wings of Destiny.” The reformatted program limped along for only five more weeks before
Brown & Williamson pulled the plug and canceled the show; the last episode aired on February 6, 1942. Of course, it was not the end of Wings Cigarettes. They continued to be sold, and still are today, currently called “Wings by Winston” and marketed by R. J. Reynolds Tobacco Company, retailing for approximately $ 15 a carton. They are available in three kinds, filter, light, and super light, all of whom are usually sold by online dealers under the caption “Cheap Cigarettes.” But, of course, they no longer contain aircraft trading cards and they no longer sponsor the giveaway of a free airplane every week. And what about those sixty-three Piper Cubs that were won on that radio show over 60 years ago? Of all the Piper Cubs ever built, about half (6,600) are still registered and presumed in use. How many of that number were “Wings of Destiny” prizes? That’s hard to tell, but there are a few around and some of them have been completely restored, right down to the original Wings logo. Craig Bair of York, NE recently restored one of these to 1941 specifications. He flies it to vintage air festivals where it attracts admiring glances from spectators, nearly all of whom never heard of “Wings of Destiny,” the radio show that gave away the best and the biggest premium in broadcast history.

Jack French was inducted into the "Radio Once More" Hall of Fame in January 2011. He is the author of "Private Eyelashes; Radio&#039;s Lady Detectives" which won an Agatha Award for Best Non-Fiction. It is available from the publisher at <www.bearmanormedia.com> in paperback and
also through Kindle.

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