After the invention and widespread use of television, radio became less important in the lives of many Americans. Before TV became a thing, however, radio was absolutely essential and a critical piece of technology for households across the country. In the 1930s, minor league baseball teams capitalized on the popularity of radio, partnering with their local stations for a special giveaway day of team photos on Radio Appreciation Day/Night. Little did they know, these photos would continue to be collected well into the next century.
In the 1930s, minor league baseball teams hosted Radio Appreciation Day/Night games and distributed black and white team photos to commemorate the event. Sometimes the event was held during a day game and others, a night game – thus the two different titles of “Radio Appreciation Day” and “Radio Appreciation Night.”
While the highlight for collectors would have been the picture of the actual team, broadcasters also got in on the deal. All of the photos look roughly the same and were roughly 8″ x 10″ in size. Typically, a headshot of the team’s local radio announcer was added as an inset to the photograph either in the background or in front of the players. The idea was to recognize the team’s radio partner and also give fans something of value at the same time.
The idea probably wouldn’t have happened without one key thing – sponsors. When you visit a baseball park today and receive a shiny new bobblehead, well, that isn’t free. The team, however, usually isn’t on the hook for those types of giveaways. They pay for them through sponsorships and those sponsors often have their name or company logo affixed to the product.
That, of course, isn’t a new idea. Sponsoring stadium giveaways has been happening dating back to the pre-war era and these photographs were no exception. Wheaties and MobilOil were the primary sponsors of these issues and had their names attached to them. Sometimes, local companies also got in on the act as well. But while the names of sponsors varies between the photographs, Wheaties and/or MobilOil are present on nearly all of them.
Because the Radio Appreciation Day/Night photos featured minor league baseball teams, many of the players featured on them are unknowns. But the photos are also known for producing some of the earliest images of the professional careers of many big time stars.
The 1938 Minneapolis Millers photo is probably at the top of the list when it comes to big names. That team featured one of the game’s all-time greats in Hall of Famer Ted Williams. The photo is not only significant because it is one of Williams’ few minor league items, but it was also his best season before reaching the majors. That year, he won the league’s Triple Crown before heading to Boston the following season.
Williams is the most notable in the series but others are found, too. The year before, the Columbus Redbirds photo included Hall of Famer Enos Slaughter. That season, Big Country hit 26 homers and batted .382. That proved to be too much to keep him in the minors and he made the jump to the majors in 1938. 1939 saw two more Hall of Famers featured as Pee Wee Reese was found in the Louisville Colonels photo and Phil Rizzuto is in the picture with the Kansas City Blues.
Radio Appreciation Day/Night Photos Prices
While these photos still exist today, the are rare and difficult to find. They usually only appear on the auction block from time to time. It isn’t surprising that so few can be located. First, they were printed for only one specific night in a specific ballpark. Second, many minor league ballparks only held only a few thousand people. Thus, even if the team planned on a sellout, there wouldn’t have been a ton of production, anyway. Finally, they were a stadium giveaway item produced on paper. How many would have been simply discarded or left behind? It’s reasonable to suggest that half (perhaps more) never even made it home with the fans. And because they were for only a specific game, teams distributing them likely discarded extras.
When you do find them, often they are in lower-grade condition. An average photo in lower mid-grade shape with one of the stars usually starts around $100-$150. The 1938 Millers photo with Ted Williams is generally the most expensive issue and is slightly more. In 2015, Heritage Auctions sold one for just over $250.