VOLUME 14 JUNE 1997 NUMBER 6
EKKO, ECHO, EKKO, ECHOWeb Edition
BY WAYNE GILBERT IN COLLABORATION WITH CHARLES R. COMBS
In the following article, Wayne Gilbert, along with Charles Combs who provided photos and other information, presents the history of a 1920s collecting craze--Ekko stamps or "Verified Reception Stamps." These colorful stamps represent another piece of radio history that would enliven any collection. Now you'll recognize them when they suddenly appear at a flea market or auction. (Editor)
Ekko stamps. Just mention them and you've got a sure conversation stopper. Eyes glaze over and friends leave. Most radio collectors have never heard of them; fewer have seen them, and only a very few have any. Just what are these rarest of radio history's artifacts?
Ekko stamps, such as those in Figure 1, are the 1920s broadcast radio's equivalent to ham radio's QSL cards. Now the eyes light up. Everyone knows what a QSL card is, "so why didn't you just say QSL cards to begin with?" True enough some Ekko stamps were attached to QSL-like cards. It is also true that their original purpose was to verify the reception of a radio station's signal. Although they are distinctly different from QSL cards, perhaps it might be more appropriate to call these stamps by their proper name "Verified Reception Stamps."
Figure 1. Ekko stamps for WGN, WEAF, WGR and WJZ.
Other companies produced verified reception stamps, but it was the Ekko Company of Chicago, Ill., that started and promoted collecting these stamps as a real part of radio history. Ekko came up with the gimmick of selling broadcast radio stations on the idea of giving verified reception stamps to their listeners. This promotion would enable the station to determine the size and location of its listening audience.
THE STAMP COLLECTING PROCESS
The process was very simple. For only $1.75, the Ekko Company offered an album to the collector of new stamps. The album contains pages preprinted with an outline of each of the stamps currently available, a listing of broadcast station call letters and wavelengths, and a nice map on the inside cover showing the locations of these stations. Spaces were also left for stations not yet participating, or stations that were just coming on the air. In addition, there was space to jot down up to four dial settings at your own time of reception.
"Proof of Reception" cards were furnished with the album. Listeners needed only to send a few facts on these cards about when and where on the dial they had heard a broadcast, plus ten cents to cover mailing costs, to the station. There the card was checked against the station log for accuracy, and the listener was mailed a stamp with the station's call letters and design upon it.
An ad for this stamp album appeared in Radio News, April, 1925. Interest in the hobby became so widespread that the February 1925 issue of Radio News featured the Ekko stamps on its cover.
PROMOTION OF THE HOBBY
Over 700 stations, ranging from KDKA, broadcast radio's pioneer station, to little KFXF in Colorado Springs, Colorado, participated in this promotion. Radio stamp collecting was a popular hobby from its conception in 1924 until the listening public lost interest in the 1930s. There were stamps for stations from nearly every state, as well as Canada, Cuba, and Mexico. Stamps came in varying basic colors including purple, orange, blue, green, and yellow with the call letters overprinted in red or one of the basic colors that contrasted well.
Printed by the American Bank Note Company, the United States Ekkos were a very high quality stamp. They normally pictured a bald eagle, flanked on either side by a radio tower and the letters "E K K O" on the corners. Canadian stamps used a beaver instead of the eagle. Cuba and Mexico used the United States design, but they were easily distinguishable because their call letters started with a "C"or "X."
By 1927, it was apparent that the federal government was going to restrict the number of broadcast stations, and the Ekko Company sent out a circular reminding collectors that their stamps might soon become a rare item. There is nothing like telling Americans that they can't have something to make them want it more, and as a result, the hobby's popularity soared.
Although it was still fairly easy to qualify for a stamp, you were expected to hear the station broadcast its call letters, thereby boosting the listening audience for the station. But as the demand for stamps soared and their supposed value increased, collectors began to trade for stamps from distant stations, and some began to buy stamps simply to fill their albums.
The Ekko Company agreed to sell its stamps directly to listeners, and even provide stamps from nonparticipating stations. This philosophy made it possible for more albums to be filled and probably also resulted in the survival of some albums and stamps until today. But it was this generous policy and the listening public's desire to fill its albums even with purchased or traded stamps that eventually reduced the stamps' value and thus the hobby's appeal.
Some stations attempted to revitalize the hobby by producing their own stamps with designs and colors which were totally different from the original Ekkos. Other stations began attaching their Ekko stamps to "acknowledgement cards," but by the 1930s radio technology had improved to such an extent that "DXing" the broadcast bands lost much of its appeal. Cheaper promotional items were offered and accepted by the listening public.
Some Ekko stamps were given in broadcast promotions until the 1940s, and verified reception stamps continued to be used as a promotional item by the Adventist Church until the 1980s. But the mystique of filling your album with stamps from distant stations was gone.
Today, as noted earlier, few radio collectors have ever heard of Ekko stamps. Even stamp collectors scorn Ekkos, calling them "labels" and relegating them to "Cinderella Stamp" status as though they were a Christmas seal or some exotic label. Most stamp collectors are merely interested in the Ekko colors or perhaps unusual design, with few attaching much historical significance to them or the stations they represent.
Other StampsThe broadcasting station verified reception stamp craze was so popular that it prompted other companies to issue their own stamps or seals. Just how they were acquired is not known, but they did not fit the 1 1/2" tall by 1 7/8" wide Ekko format, nor did they have the perforated edges. Instead, these colorful 2 3/8" tall by 1 7/8" wide seals may have been acquired by writing to the radio station directly. One of these seals has "Phoenix Labels, K. C. Mo." at the bottom. Two examples are shown here, and although not the "real thing," they are certainly an added plus to the hobby.
Stamps Atlanta and WMCA
These stamps, issued by companies other than Ekko, are from the collection of John V. Terrey.
Ekko stamps are not exceedingly rare and currently range in value from $3-$10 each for single stamps, while in albums they may sell for as little as $1-$2 per stamp. Stamps attached to acknowledgement cards bring a higher price, but many of these cards are confused with their QSL cousins and are not appreciated or recognized for their uniqueness.
As the golden age of radio becomes a memory, Ekko stamps are only another part of radio history that is becoming an echo from the past.
"Collecting Radio Verifications," Radio Index, December 1930, p. 6.
Hochner, John. "Ekko Labels Acknowledged Radio Reception," Linn's Stamp News, September 13, 1993, p. 6.
"Ekko Seals," Linn's Stamp News, December 7, 1992, p. 6.
Johnson, O.K. "Ekko Labels," Linn's Collectors Forum, February 12, 1990.
Kneitel, Tom. "Broadcasting's Greatest Ekko," Popular Communications, April 1986, p. 20.
Mueller, Barbara. "Philatelic Relics From Radio's Early Days," DX News, November 3, 1986, p. 7.
"QSL Stamps Preceded QSL Cards as Verification," International Listener, February 1976, p. 6.
"Radio Stamps," Popular Communications, November 1986, p. 29.
Information Credits: Jerry Berg and Lester Rayner.
Photo Credits: Charles R. Combs.
(Wayne Gilbert, 10751 Routt St., Broomfield, CO 80021)
Wayne Gilbert has been collecting all types of radios for about seven years, from early battery sets to 1950s all-American 5s. He has a museum background, so his emphasis is on radio preservation, as well as restoration.
Charles Combs' collection includes radios and related items from the 1920s to the early 1960s. He likes them all and enjoys "talking radios" with other collectors and friends.