Three years after bringing science fiction to the world of comic strips, Buck Rogers in the 25th Century introduced space opera to radio on his own program, which first aired on November 7, 1932. Originating from New York and broadcast four times weekly (initially at 7:15 P.M. and later moved to an earlier "children's hour"), the program had a built-in audience of funny-paper readers who tuned in by the hundreds of thousands.
Plots were roughly similar to those of the comic strip, with Buck, his liberated co-pilot Wilma Deering and the brilliant Dr. Huer, daily keeping the world in one piece. The sounds of Buck's arsenal, consisting of such futuristic devices as death rays, incendiary missiles, gamma bombs and a mechanical mole capable of burrowing deep into the Earth, were simulated by a variety of electrical and hand-powered motors. The crackling buzz of Rogers' psychic destruction ray, for instance, was provided by a Schick razor.
Underscoring the program's phenomenal popularity was the response to mail-order gifts offered to listeners. An initial offering of a map of the planets brought 125,000 requests. A subsequent offering of a cardboard space helmet was made more difficult to get, with the proviso that a metal seal from a can of Cocomalt, the show's sponsor, had to accompany the request. Depression-era children nevertheless sent in more than 140,000 strips of tin for the highly desirable premium, which has since become an extremely rare and valuable collectors' item.