1. At the beginning of radio there were countless debates about how it would be funded (just as there was at the beginning of the Internet). It was a convoluted and arduous journey to advertising as the solution, yet advertising quickly became so dominant that networks in this period did little more than provide studio space and lease airtime, and produce some programs, called “sustaining programs” (usually high-prestige shows such as the NBC Music Appreciation Hour, with conductor Walter Damrosch); many programs were produced by advertising agencies in this period. 9 Because of this production arrangement, it is virtually impossible to separate early radio broadcasting from advertising. So, at least from the 1920s into the early 1930s, a history of music and broadcast advertising is less about ads and jingles than programs themselves, into which ads were built.

  2. Even though advertisers eventually triumphed in their pursuit of a funding mechanism for radio programming, early advertisers were extremely reluctant to embark on hard-sell campaigns, preferring to treat the new medium gingerly; advertising agencies were wary of crass sales in the home. Between 1922 and 1925, Printer’s Ink railed against radio as an “objectionable advertising medium” (perhaps in part because the editors focused on publishing). The journal emphasized the dangers of creating public ill will: “The family circle is not a public place, and advertising has no business intruding there unless it is invited” (quoted in McLaren and Prelinger). Sponsoring a program could bring good will, but advertisers feared that an intrusive sales pitch might alienate listeners. And there was governmental pressure against too much advertising: in 1922, Herbert Hoover, then Secretary of Commerce and the government official who oversaw broadcasting, said that it was inconceivable that the airwaves be “drowned in advertising chatter” (quoted in Marquis 387).

  3. Thus, the first model of broadcast advertising emphasized goodwill: sponsored programs were developed to generate goodwill in the audience, whose members, it was hoped, would purchase the products advertised out of gratitude to the sponsor for providing the program. This idea of goodwill seems to have been fairly successful at first. Not only did sales of sponsors’ products rise, but audience members wrote in to sponsors to express their appreciation. The trade press published some of these letters. “It may interest you to know,” wrote a listener from Philadelphia to the Whittall Rug Company, sponsor of the Whittall Anglo-Persians (an orchestra conducted by Louis Katzman that played standards and an occasional “oriental” work) “as a result of the Whittall Anglo-Persian concerts, which are enjoyable to no ordinary extent, we have just purchased three large and two small Anglo-Persian rugs. Otherwise and as heretofore, we would have ‘shopped around’ ” (“Radio’s Magic Carpet,” 26). 10

  4. The advertising that did find its way into programs was referred to as “indirect advertising,” which worked by incorporating a message or two in the program, often including the product name in the program title, as well as the name of the band or orchestra, sometimes even insinuating the product into the names of the performers. The Palmolive Hour, which aired from 1927-1931, for example, featured singers “Olive Palmer” (whose real name was Virginia Rea) and “Paul Oliver” (real name Frank Munn). “The naming of the musical unit in such a way that the company’s name can be included with each entertainment announcement is psychologically sound,” wrote P. H. Pumphrey, manager of the Radio Department of Fuller, Smith & Ross, Inc. “When the listener hears that ‘The Lucky Strike Dance Orchestra now plays Baby’s Birthday Party,’ or that ‘Erno Rapee and his General Electric Orchestra will bring us the finale from Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony,’ the commercial name registers, but except to the most captious, does not appear as an intrusion” (Pumphrey, “Writing and Casting,” 42). Such a practice denied many musicians the opportunity to perform under their own names, however, and their careers suffered as audiences struggled to keep up with musicians who changed jobs, and thus names. For example, one of the most popular acts in early radio was a singing duo of Billy Jones and Ernest Hare, first known as the Happiness Boys for the Happiness Candy Company, later known as the Interwoven Pair when they sang for the Interwoven Socks Company.11

  5. With this brief background, let me now turn to the question of devising a program and of translating print practices to sound. Because advertisers and ad agencies were accustomed to thinking in print, radio did not immediately present itself as a medium for advertising. Radio in its infancy was not viewed as a primary medium for advertising but rather one that supplemented print advertising. Few advertising executives in this era could conceive of selling a product solely through sound, particularly since commercials as we now think of them scarcely existed. Because programs were produced by advertising agencies for single sponsors, in a sense the entire program was an advertisement.

  6. In one of the earliest books on radio advertising, published in 1929, New York Times radio writer Orrin E. Dunlap delineated how radio music works compared to print advertising:
    The headline of a printed advertisement is extremely important. It catches the eye. The headline of an ethereal [i.e., radio] advertisement must attract the ear. It is usually done by the opening announcement or in some case an orchestra plays an introductory musical selection before a word is spoken. It is often easier to lure the ear with a snappy musical selection than with words (Dunlap 86).
    Dunlap seemed even more convinced about the function of music in radio advertising as he continued, for by the next page he opined confidently that “music is more captivating than words on the radio” (Dunlap 87). He offered several examples, including the Maxwell House Concert program which took as its theme song the “Old Colonel March,” and wrote that “the old southern colonel referred to is no other than the gentleman often pictured in the magazine advertisements, on billboards ... holding up the empty cup as he remarks, ‘Good to the last drop’” (Dunlap 90).12 In this way, advertisers could remind listeners of their sponsored programs and reinforce the sales work done by their programs.

  7. The trade press of the 1920s and 30s is full of stories about clever advertising executives determining what kind of program would sell a particular product, stories that are often told with attention-grabbing headlines such as “Broadcasting a Cemetery,” or “Putting a Cigar on the Air” (Wilson, Landers; see also Johnson). Part of the reason for this hubris was that in the early days of radio advertising, selling by radio was a haphazard affair. In the late 1920s, market research was rudimentary, often little more than anecdotal, so that concocting programs such as those touted in the above titles was essentially little more than a hit-or-miss proposition. In the case of the cigar campaign, advertising man Sherman G. Landers of the Aitken-Kynett Company of Philadelphia described his audience as men over 30, but that was all (Landers 5). Landers also proffered what at the time something of a demographic insight: “We ... set out to design a program that would attract the type of man who had already become a cigar smoker or the married man with a family looking for relaxation in the form of entertainment” (Landers 6).

  8. Given this crude grasp of the market, Landers and his company decided to stay away from the “craze” of dance orchestras, which they thought would attract too young an audience for their product. Instead, their “final decision was to recreate the black face days of yore in an old-fashioned minstrel show,” which they did with comics Percy Hemus and Al Bernard in the resulting Dutch Masters Minstrels program. These two entertainers were not stars, Landers admitted, but figures who became “almost as well known as the ‘Happiness Boys.’ ”

  9. In outlining the program, Landers said somewhat cryptically that “since radio entertainment appeals through the ear, it would be necessary to have an association of ideas to register” (Landers 6). Landers seems to mean that using known, or familiar-sounding, songs would be the best way to sell his product, hence the turn toward minstrel songs. This strategy of familiarity was common in this early phrase of American consumerism, essentially educating people about how to be consumers by using well-known sounds or images with which to sell new products.13

  10. Unlike print advertising, where sales could be measured in magazines and newspapers sold, radio advertisers had little idea of how many people were listening, or the composition of the audience. No ratings system existed until Archibald Crossley began the Cooperative Analysis of Broadcasting in 1929; before then, advertisers and sponsors gauged the success of programs by the quality and volume of listener response, and thus often sponsored contests whose main purpose was to solicit listener feedback. Many sponsors in this era also offered samples in order to gather information about listeners.14

  11. Without a clear idea of a program’s listenership, agencies and sponsors had difficulty formulating programs that would appeal to the listeners whom the advertisers hoped to attract. Additionally, advertisers had to find a way to select or fabricate a musical sound or program that would somehow resonate with—or create—perceptions of the product itself.  J. Walter Thompson’s Gerard Chatfield wrote in the company’s News Letter in 1928 that some products simply suggest a kind of program, writing that “Aunt Jemima”—of pancake mix fame—“should croon folk songs of the South,” for example (Chatfield 1). NBC executive Frank A. Arnold wrote in 1931 that “a sparkling water, or a ginger ale, or a summer drink, chooses for its copy program, a type of music suggestive of and thoroughly in keeping with the product itself” (Arnold 55).

  12. Arnold was probably thinking of the music for the Clicquot Club Eskimos program, a show sponsored by a ginger ale company whose product was sold by the Clicquot Club Eskimos, a band led by virtuoso banjo player Harry Reser.15 This program aired from 1923-6, originating in New York City on WEAF, NBC’s flagship station. Orrin E. Dunlap wrote in 1929 that “the Eskimos play ‘sparkling’ music because their ginger ale sparkles. They open their program with the Clicquot March and the bark of the Eskimo dogs. They hope that when listeners see the bottle with the Eskimo on the label they will recognize it as the same Clicquot that made the loudspeakers sparkle with pleasant banjo tunes” (Dunlap 88). No recordings of this program exist, but there is at least one script; below is a typical opening of their program that captures something of the flavor of the show.
    Announcer: Look out for the falling snow, for it’s all mixed up with a lot of ginger, sparkle, and pep, barking dogs and jingling bells and there we have a crew of smiling Eskimos, none other than the Clicquot Club Eskimos tripping along to the tune of their own march—“Clicquot.”

    Orchestra: (Plays “Clicquot”; the trademark overture.)

    Announcer (Continuing): After the long breath-taking trip down from the North Pole, the Eskimos stop in front of a filling station for a little liquid refreshment—and what else would it be, but Clicquot Club Ginger Ale—the ginger ale that’s aged six months. Klee-ko is spelled C-L-I-C-Q-U-O-T. You’ll know it by the Eskimo on the bottle. (Slight pause.) Up in Eskimo-land where the cold wind has a whistle all its own and a banjo is an instrument of music, the Eskimos spell melody with a capital “M,” and tell us that “It Goes Like This.”

    Orchestra: (Plays “It Goes Like This.”) (National Broadcasting Company, Making Pep and Sparkle Typify a Ginger Ale 7-8).

    Note how the product advertisement is woven into the continuity (the connecting prose) of the program in this era of “indirect advertising.”

    Figure 2. The Clicquot Club Eskimos (Harry Reser, center).
  13. The Clicquot Club Eskimos
    Figure 3. Harry Reser: “Clicquot Fox Trot March,” sheet music cover.
    program was so successful that NBC produced a lavish brochure in 1929 that touted the program to attract advertisers. Calling the Eskimos “among the most unique salesmen in the history of commerce,” the brochure set out to sketch the program’s attributes, including the theme song, a march composed by Reser mentioned by Dunlap called the “Clicquot Fox Trot March” (National Broadcasting Company, Making Pep and Sparkle Typify a Ginger Ale ii). The sheet music, published in 1926, featured Reser and the other members of the group (mostly banjo players) and the Clicquot mascot, a cherubic “Eskimo,” holding a bottle of ginger ale much too big for him.16 The music was given away to fans writing in to the program; NBC claimed in 1929 that 50,000 requests had been made (National Broadcasting Company, Making Pep and Sparkle Typify a Ginger Ale 17). The march was every bit as effervescent as its sponsor could have hoped for, with Reser emphasizing the sparkling ginger ale with staccato marks and directions in the music: 17

    Example 1. Harry Reser: “Clicquot Fox Trot March,” mm. 7-14.

  14. NBC said that the Clicquot Club program was probably the first to use a “trademark overture,” that is, the “Clicquot Fox Trot March,” a piece of music that “is probably as well-known in introducing the Clicquot Club Company’s program as ‘Over There’ is in announcing a war picture.” Continuing:
    The value of this from an advertising standpoint can hardly be overestimated. Millions of people from coast to coast are put into a receptive frame of mind to hear the Clicquot Club Eskimos’ program by the familiar jingle of sleigh-bells, the rhythmic crack of the whip and the bark of the huskies as they bring the Eskimos on to the radio stage for their weekly program. This musical preface and epilogue are “headline” and “signature” to the Clicquot Club Company’s air advertisement (National Broadcasting Company, Making Pep and Sparkle 5). 18
    Note here the use of language from print advertising used analogically. More interesting is the literalness driving such a conception of music; even though, as various advertising scholars have noted, tactics derived from psychological warfare employed in World War I found their way into advertising practices in the 1920s and after, the music used in the beginning of radio was not usually selected primarily for its affective qualities, but rather, its ability to reinforce imagery and text, to animate the product.19 Early radio advertising with music is a kind of a throwback to earlier advertising practices of selling the product based on its qualities, which are reinforced by sound, especially music, rather than attempting to use psychology to incite consumers to purchase.

  15. This is interesting. Radio—sound—forced advertisers and advertising agencies to rethink their work, and they responded at first by simply adopting print to advertising with sound analogically. Only rarely, however, did they implement what was the newest in print advertising strategies, that is, ads that relied on psychology. Print ads employing tactics that implied that a woman was a poor mother if she didn’t use a particular product for her children, or created anxieties in consumers worried about bad breath (“halitosis” was a term resurrected from an old medical dictionary by advertisers for Listerine in the 1920s) were only infrequently echoed in early radio advertising.20 As Printer’s Ink wrote in 1930, “advertising helps to keep the masses dissatisfied with their mode of life, discontented with ugly things around them. Satisfied customers are not as profitable as discontented ones” (Dickinson 163, quoted in Ewen 39). What was new about radio advertising was sound, but by comparison to print ads it was conservative in approach.

    1     2     3     4     Works Cited

9. See Smulyan, Selling Radio. Frank A. Arnold attributes Damrosch as saying that radio has done more to educate people “to an appreciation of good music in the last five years than all other methods used in the preceding twenty-five years” (Arnold, Broadcast Advertising 32). This was a familiar refrain in the early days of radio: that it could uplift the tastes of the nation. See Damrosch. For a study of Damrosch’s program, see Adorno.

10. Most of the music played was the familiar panoply of light classics, though the program’s theme was entitled “The Call of the Desert” (composed, I believe, by Howard Coates).

11. See “Branded Men and Women,” and Smulyan, “Branded Performers.”

12. It is not entirely clear which Maxwell House program Dunlap is referring to, for there were several in the late 1920s.

13. See Leiss, Kline, and Jhally for a discussion of this idea.

14. Some companies gave away massive amounts of free products. The George Ziegler Company gave away 27 tons of candy in five weeks in 1930, for example (see “Musical Contest Program Sells 27 Tons of Candy in Five Weeks”).

15. Reser (1896-1965) was a spectacular banjo virtuoso. For a compilation album, see Banjo Crackerjax, 1922-1930.

16. The last page of the sheet music of Reser’s “Clicquot Fox Trot March” is an advertisement for Paramount banjos and lists the instrumentation of the group: Paramount tenor banjo; two Paramount plectrum banjos; Paramount melody banjo; Paramount B-flat melody banjo saxophone, piano, tuba, drums, Paramount tenor harps.

17. This excerpt omits a 6-bar introduction.

18. The sleigh bells and barking dogs are not represented in the published version of the Clicquot Club March, excerpted in Example 1. As far as I know, no recordings of this program exists, though the program reappeared on radio in 1950. A recording of one of those broadcasts has been privately issued.

19. For more on the rise of psychological techniques used in advertising in this period, see Dyer, Lears, “From Salvation to Self-Realization,” and Leiss et al.

20. For a discussion of Listerine and the question of halitosis, see Marchand. In Middletown, Robert S. Lynd and Helen Merrill Lynd write that advertising was “concentrating increasingly upon a type of copy aiming to make the reader emotionally uneasy, to bludgeon him with the fact that decent people don’t live the way he does: decent people ride on balloon tires, have a second bathroom, and so on. This copy points an accusing finger at the stenographer as she reads her motion picture magazine and makes her acutely conscious of her unpolished finger nails, or of the worn place in the living room rug, and sends the housewife peering anxiously into the mirror to see if her wrinkles look like those that made Mrs. X— in the ad ‘old at thirty-five’ because she did not have a Leisure Hour electric washer” (Lynd and Lynd 82, footnote 18; emphases in original).


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