WWII maps linked to early live radio programming

Terry Maurer, What's It Worth?June 2, 2013 

The words "radio station" and "map" don't often get used in the same sentence. In today's What's It Worth?, we find out how a midwestern radio station that came to prominence in the earliest days of commercial broadcasting and a World War II-era map are linked.

There also is a framed wildlife print by an obscure American artist.

Q. I found this World War II series of three hanging maps stashed with other items in our home. They have photos of of Allied leaders and officers -- Franklin Roosevelt centered at the top with (Secretary of State George) Marshall, (Gen. Douglas) MacArthur, (Adm. Ernest) King and (Adm. Chester) Nimitz flanking him. Below the map are copies of the Pledge of Allegiance, Bill of Rights and the American Flag Creed. There is a little damage, but not bad. There are theaters of operation, invasion routes and other details. These obviously have to do with the war and are marked for the Geographical Publishing Company of Chicago. Can you tell us what they are? Printed on both sides, each measures 28 inches wide and 36 inches high. -- Gary in Richland

A. To unravel the history of your maps, we first have to go back to 1924, when the Sears-Roebuck Company started its own radio station, WLS, in Chicago.

Commercial broadcasting was just beginning and Sears grabbed the chance to promote its mail order business with their own station.

WLS -- which stood for "World's Largest Store" -- initially could be heard in many midwestern states. Programming was aimed at rural areas, especially farm families which were prime Sears customers.

The concept worked and in 1928 Sears-Roebuck, recognizing the company was a retailer not a broadcaster, sold the station to The Family Farmer magazine. The deal gave Sears 12 hours of free airtime each week on WLS. The mail order giant continued a huge radio ad campaign on other stations across the country as well.

WLS became "The Voice of the Prairie," with programming heavy on crop and weather reports and news. The station innovated with live, on-site broadcasts, the most famous of which was the Hindenburg airship crash in 1937. Early pioneers in country music programming, WLS developed the popular weekly National Barn Dance -- a predecessor of the Grand Ole Opry.

By the 1930s, the station's power had increased to 50,000 watts and WLS could be heard all across the American heartland, and even as far as a thousand miles away at night.

The maps Gary has were originally commissioned by WLS in 1943 -- as a promotional item -- and you could buy them by mail order through the station. Today, in excellent condition, they will sell for about $50.

Q. I'm looking to see if my picture is still worth what my great-grandparents paid for it. Matthew in Kennewick

A. This is the kind of question that throws What's It Worth? into a flurry of research activity that, ultimately, ends up in some frustration.

What little is known about Sam A. Roberts Jr., the artist of Matthew's limited-edition elk print, comes from a single online gallery listing in Missouri.

According to that source, Roberts was a California wildlife artist who died at age 93 in 1996. Not much of his work has come to market in the past 10 years or so and he is not listed in any of the standard reference guides to American art.

He's one of those obscure artists whose work must be valued based on decorative appeal, limited information and only a few comparable sales.

In this case, a signed and numbered Roberts print of a pair of wood ducks sold last winter in an auction presented by the Portland Goodwill store. A framed piece, it sold for the only bid -- $25. In 2005, the wood duck print sold in an Indiana auction for $75.

That midwestern gallery has the same print for sale with an asking price of $700. Yet you can buy the exact same print from an ebay seller for $175.

So, just what is Roberts' work worth? We'd say this elk print would be fairly priced in the $100 to $150 range. However, the value strictly is in the eye of the beholder.

Matthew didn't say what his great-grandparents paid, so we can't answer whether the print still is worth what was spent. I suspect the value has gone down.

-- Terry Maurer is a member of the Certified Appraisers Guild of America. For possible use in a future column, direct questions on your antiques and collectibles to What's It Worth? by email to tchwhatsitworth@gmail.com.

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