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
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
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
- 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, Printers 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).
- 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 (Radios Magic Carpet,
- 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 companys 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 Babys Birthday Party, or
that Erno Rapee and his General Electric Orchestra will bring
us the finale from Beethovens 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
- 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.
- 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.
- 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
- 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
- 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
- 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
- Without a clear idea of a programs listenership, agencies and
sponsors had difficulty formulating programs that would appeal to
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 withor createperceptions of
the product itself. J. Walter Thompsons Gerard Chatfield wrote
in the companys News Letter in 1928 that some products
simply suggest a kind of program, writing that Aunt Jemimaof
pancake mix fameshould 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
keeping with the product itself (Arnold 55).
- 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,
NBCs 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 its
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 marchClicquot.
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 refreshmentand what else would it be, but
Clicquot Club Ginger Alethe ginger ale thats aged six
months. Klee-ko is spelled C-L-I-C-Q-U-O-T. Youll 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
Note how the product advertisement is woven into the continuity (the
connecting prose) of the program in this era of indirect advertising.
2. The Clicquot Club Eskimos (Harry Reser, center).
- The Clicquot Club Eskimos
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
programs attributes, including the theme song, a
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
Figure 3. Harry Reser: “Clicquot Fox Trot March,” sheet
1. Harry Reser: “Clicquot Fox Trot March,” mm.
- 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 Companys 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 Companys 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.
This is interesting. Radiosoundforced
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
strategies, that is, ads that relied on psychology.
ads employing tactics that implied that a woman was a poor mother
she didnt 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
wrote in 1930, advertising helps to keep the masses
dissatisfied with their mode of life, discontented with ugly things
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.
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 Damroschs program, see Adorno.
10. Most of the music played was the familiar
panoply of light classics, though the programs 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 Resers 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 dont 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).