Early commercial radio stations valued listener reports, as they were the only way broadcasters could tell if and where their broadcasts were being received. Thus, they encouraged listeners to write or call in, sometimes offering prizes, such as a box of candy, for the first dozen or so listener reports on a given day.
Fortunately, most listeners in the early 1920s didn't have to be prompted to write in. Radio listeners were so enthusiastic that they were glad to share their listening experiences with anyone - especially if they had picked up far-away stations. (Most listeners were involved in friendly competitions with their friends and co-workers to see who could pick up the most distant stations.)
The simplest and most inexpensive way to send a listener report was with a penny postcard, and this quickly became the preferred medium for listener reports. The typical listener report consisted of the date and time, along with the name of the show received, and a brief comment or two. The cards became known as "applause cards," because they were used to convey appreciation of a station or specific show.
A few enthusiastic radio fans had special postcards printed. These carried a note of appreciation and blank spaces for time, date, and station/program information. The standard card carried a message along the lines of "Here in _______, ____, we greatly enjoyed your program _______, at ______ AM/PM on __________, 19__."
A few enterprising individuals got into the business of printing applause cards for sale, but the fledgling industry died almost before it got off the ground, thanks to the fact that radio and radio equipment manufacturers seized on the idea of applause cards as a means of promotion.
Companies such as Crosley Radio Corporation and Zenith Radio packed several applause cards with each new set. As seen in the accompanying illustrations, manufacturer applause cards noted the brand of set used.
The Crosley Radio Corporation took things a step farther. They included with their applause cards several invitation cards. New Crosley owners could use the cards to invite friends over for a radio party (a popular urban event in the early 1920s). As can be seen, these cards also plugged Crosley sets, hopefully encouraging the friends of the new radio owners to buy the same.
Applause cards were also distributed by radio dealers. The Dictograph Company, which made radio speakers, distributed applause cards through its dealers, and encouraged the public to come in and load up for free, as shown in the accompanying newspaper ad from 1924.
Applause cards were sometimes used to advertise non-radio goods, usually by companies that sponsored radio programs. Among many others, the Waterman Ink Pen Company and Happiness Candy Stores distributed free applause cards through their retailers. Radio stations often sent out pre-printed applause cards for their listeners to use, as well.
Radio applause cards were a relatively short-lived phenomenon. They came into existence when radio first became popular, in 1922, and lasted until 1926, by which time radio was no longer the novelty it once was, and as stations began relying on professional surveys, advertiser results, and other means of gauging the extent of their audiences.
Applause cards turn up now and then on eBay. When they do, they usually sell in the $5.00 to $8.00 range, used or unused. Used applause cards are sometimes of greater value if they mention a specific, well-known performer or were sent to a popular radio station like WOR, WGN, WLW, or KEAF. Applause cards advertising non-radio merchandise are the rarest.