- Yet advertising with sound was used in one strikingly novel way.
Sound could be used to make a programs stars, and even products,
come to life by emphasizing personality. Historian Warren
I. Susman has written influentially about the 20th century move away
from 19th century emphasis on character to personality, of
self-sacrifice giving way to self-realization. Susman locates evidence
for this change in the advice manuals published between 1900 and 1920.
The key quotation that Susman finds in almost all these manuals is Personality
is the quality of being Somebody (Susman 277).
- The impetus for developing ones personality came, Susman says,
from the problem of living in a crowd, a mass culture, in which distinguishing
oneself from others was a prime concern.21 This
new culture of mass consumption, mass production, mass media, and mass
society began to emphasize not just personality, but the fascinating,
stunning, attractive, magnetic, glowing, masterful, creative, dominant,
forceful. Cultivating ones personality was a way to stand out
from the crowd, the mass, and this could be accomplished through consumption,
purchasing goods that could be used to define oneself. Some of these
goods and services were self-help books, elocution lessons, charm courses,
and beauty aidsall designed to help consumers construct personalities,
- Conceptions of personality were also shaped by the mass
media. Susman does not examine radio, but his analysis of the role
of film is striking. Until about 1910, he writes, the identities of
film actors were concealed by the studios. But in 1910 the movie star
was born, necessitating the use of the press agent and the skills of
the advertising agency; the movie star was increasingly marketed as
a personality. And so were music stars. David Suisman has written vividly
of the marketing of Enrico Caruso by the Victor Talking Machine Company
before the arrival of radio to mainstream audiences, and there were
of course many recording artists from the popular realm who were well
known through their recordings.
Radio advertisers clearly meant to capitalize on this new emphasis
on personality, and, indeed, they helped drive it. Their discourses,
and those of their performers, are replete with references to the importance
of personality. As early as 1924, for example, S. L. Rothafel, known
affectionately to early radio listeners as Roxy, said that
I am convinced that the radio performers personality
is more important than his voice, his subject or the occasion. Any
of these may be poor or inopportune and still a speaker will succeed.
But if his personality is flat, his purpose vague, he certainly will
not command respect on the radio circuit (Young 246).22
William Benton, chairman of the board of Benton & Bowles, attributed
the success of an inexpensive little program in 1935 featuring
singer Lanny Ross by saying that they built an atmosphere around
him. Ross program, The Log Cabin Inn (sponsored by
Log Cabin syrup) was popular, according to Benton, because the audience
liked Ross, followed his exploits, and rooted for him.
This whole factor of personalization, of sympathetic
settings and background, of illusionis, in our
judgement, the most fascinating and important in any
study of the future of radio: How to get more of it,
how better to personalize the stars, how to put them
in situations where the public is with them and wants
them to succeed and your product along with them (Benton
NBCs used a standard form for auditioning new readers
and musicians, and one of the criteria to be addressed
by the auditioner was “Personality” (along with Quality, Musicianship, and
others, found in the Archives of the National Broadcasting
Company at the Wisconsin State Historical Society, Box
2, Folder 82).
- What is interesting, however, is that advertising agencies extended
the concept of personality to goods themselves. NBCs brochure
on the Clicquot Club Eskimos discussed the selection of music, which
was designed to emphasize the ginger, pep, sparkle, and snap of
the product: Manifestly, peppy musical numbers of lively tempo
were in order. The banjo, an instrument of brightness and animation,
was deemed most suitable in typifying the snap of Clicquot Club personality (National
Broadcasting Company, Making Pep and Sparkle 5).
- More generally, William H. Ensign said in 1928 that National
Advertisers find that radio ... carries their names or the names of
their products into millions of homes in a way which is not only conducive
to good will buildingbut which stamps those names with a personality
that makes them mean more than just something to be bought, as
though consumers were not merely purchasing a product but personality
itself (Radio Rays, J. Walter Thompson Company newsletter
no. 1, January 1, 1928, 20-1, quoted by Cohen, Making a New Deal
139). The advertising literature of the day was filled with discussions
of how to give a product personality. As early as 1929, an NBC promotional
book on broadcast advertising said that advertisers and their agencies
realized that they could devise programs to stimulate the listeners
imagination, so that he cloaks an inanimate product in living
personality (National Broadcasting Company, Broadcast Advertising 31).
Inevitably, music frequently played a role in developing a products
personality, and discussions of musical programs by broadcasters trumpeted
this. NBC concluded in its brochure on the Clicquot Club Eskimos program
that even a ginger ale may be personalized and dramatized (National
Broadcasting Company, Making Pep and Sparkle 24). A different
brochure produced by NBC about the
Ipana Troubadours program claimed
that the broadcast advertising of the toothpaste has given personality to
a Tooth Paste (National Broadcasting Company, Improving the
Smiles of a Nation! 24; emphasis in original). Not coincidentally,
both of these were popular programs with well-known musicians.
Ipana Toothpaste Ad
- Advertisers learned that personality could be made vivid through
music, and that musical programs were popular with audiences, so much
so that sponsored musical programs quickly became common on the airwaves
by the late 1920s and early 1930s. Advertisers discovered early on
that musical programs could reliably attract audiences, and the catchphrase
among advertisers was that music was radios safety first (see
for example, Dunlap 73). Frank A. Arnold wrote that in the early
days of national broadcasting the thing which probably saved the day
was the discovery that the great common denominator of broadcasting was
music (Arnold 29), because the great variety of regions, languages,
classes, etc. made it difficult to devise a program with mass appeal.
For Arnold, it was music that had created the national audience for
radio; regardless of language or country of origin, every one
in his group knew and appreciated the language of music (Arnold
30). P. H. Pumphrey wrote in 1931 that with rare exceptions,
the largest and the surest audiences are built by musical programs (Pumphrey, Choosing
the Program Idea 40).
- While peppy banjos might seem to be the right kind of music for the
Clicquot Club ginger ale, most musical programs were not so easily
conceived. Deciding what music should be featured on a sponsored program
was normally the subject of a great deal of debate between the sponsor
and its advertising agency, for there were competing ideas about which
music was most appropriate: sponsors wanted music that they felt best
projected the image they wanted for their product and addressed the
market as they saw it, as in the case of the Dutch Masters Minstrels program.
Advertising agencies frequently had differing thoughts about this,
and then there was the thorny question of audiences and their musical
preferences, which arose slightly later.
- Despite these tensions, the early debates about which music was most
suitable usually coalesced around the question of classical music or
jazz.23 Advertising agencies tended
to prefer classical music because of the prestige and legitimacy it
conferred on their young profession, an attitude aided by a potent
public discourse about the power of radio to uplift the tastes of the
nation.24 Sponsors, however, tended
to advocate music that would enhance their products image, or
sell it, and that was usually music more popular than classical music.
And sometimes meddlesome sponsors wanted to choose the music themselves.25
- The debate about classical music versus jazz has been discussed by
two major radio historians, Susan J. Douglas, and Michele Hilmes, but,
not being musicologists (or musicians) they take these terms largely
at face value. Both authors assume that jazz and classical
mean much the same now as they did then. In fact, the terms as used
by everyone involved in broadcasting were fairly close together in this
period. Jazz referred not to a music with a high improvisational
content performed mainly by African Americans, but, rather, highly arranged
quasi-classical dance tunes performed by white musicians, many with
classical musical training and backgrounds. Paul
Whiteman is the best example of a jazz musician in this
discourse, and indeed was the most prestigious and influential figure
in this music in this era.
- Classical in the late 1920s and 1930s in broadcasters
discourse referred not to classics, but mainly light works,
light classics, and a few warhorses. In his 1931 book on advertising,
Frank A. Arnold provided a script for the General Electric Hour
that aired on WEAF in New York City on November 8, 1930. This was an
hour-long program that featured speeches by Floyd Gibbons, famous
journalist and adventurer, and music performed by the General
Orchestra conducted by Walter Damrosch. The selections on that
particular program included Suite from Henry VIII
by Saint-Saens [sic]; Second and Fourth Movements
from Symphony in G by Haydn; Whispering of the
Flowers by von Bloom; and Overture
to Rienzi by Wagner. In 1927, a nationwide poll
of listeners resulted in a list of favorite compositions. Some are well
knownBeethovens Fifth Symphony, Schuberts Unfinished
Symphony, and Wagners overture to Tannhäuser
heading the listbut over half were light classics, such as Rudolph
Firefly, Victor Herberts Dagger Dance from
Natoma, and Edwin Poldinis Poupee
Valsante (Radio Listeners Vote for Favorite Composers,
606).26 There were many such lists
and surveys that contained a similar smattering of warhorses and many
- The archival records of the J. Walter Thompson company suggest that
broadcasting of music was well underway before higher executives began
about it. When they did finally begin to take it more seriously, the
first issue they wanted addressed with respect to the use of music
in advertising was this question concerning classical music or jazz.
This matter was confronted by J. Walter Thompson executives in their
staff meeting on April 3, 1929, at which point their broadcasting department
had been active for over a year. According to Henry P. Joslyn,
head of the radio department at the time, the question as it
came to me was the question of jazz and classical music as media for
radio advertising. Joslyn patiently explained to the gathered
executives, still thinking in terms of print, that this was the wrong
question; clients like different musics, as do audiences.
- The subtext, though, concerned the quality of programming.
Classical music, even in its lighter forms, was seen as more highbrow
than jazz, and thus a more suitable music for advertising, at least
in the ears of the J. Walter Thompson executives. But as one contemporary
guidebook to radio advertising put it, advertising agencies needed
to chart a path between popularity and distinctiveness (i.e.,
between lowbrow and highbrow) (Felix 134).27 Agencies
and/or clients wanted to put good programming on the airwhich
for them usually meant classical musicbut the listening public
might want something else.
- And the listening public might actually listen to music differently,
further influencing the choice of music. A 1930 article by Jarvis Wren,
Radio Advertising Specialist at Kenyon & Eckhardt in New York City,
argued that many musical programs tended not to grab the undivided
attention of the listener, at least if they featured unobjectionable
music. In such cases, the sales message might be lost. This was a particular
problem when the music was of a dreamy type, such as Hawaiian
guitars. Musical programs, however, could command a large audience.
For Wren, musical programs were the most effective when the product
was already well known, or when the sales message was simple and straightforward,
or when the program was going to be supplemented by a good deal of
print advertising. In other cases, such as a launching a new product,
he believed the dramatic program to be superior (Wren 27).
- These ideas appeared in a more formulaic way in a 1931 publication,
which included a table.
Table 1. Russell Byron Williams, “What Type of Radio Program,” 1931
This table shows that questions of which music was the most appropriate went
beyond the imagethe personalitydesired for a particular product,
the sponsors preferences, or even the preferred audience, revealing
a prejudice against the audiences for popular musics. From the highbrow perspective
of advertising agencies and their clients, popular music audiences were thought
to have short attention spans, necessitating reinforcement of the radio program
by print advertising, and were thought to be unable to digest longer sales
campaigns. Classical music audiences were assumed to be more intelligent,
and broadcasting classical music could still generate goodwill in this select
audience, grateful for classical music in an environment increasingly cluttered
by various kinds of popular music.
- The ideal, however, was a product that could appeal to large and
diverse audiences while offending the fewest people. The Clicquot
Club Eskimos was such a program. The company presidents idea
was to place that program on as many affiliate stations as possible,
a strategy summed up by NBC, which aired the program, as tell
it to the masses, and the classes will understand (National
Broadcasting Company, Making Pep and Sparkle 6).
21. See Taylor for a discussion of
the crowd and radio.
22. Rothafels program was Roxy
and His Gang, one of the earliest hit radio programs, a musical
variety show broadcast from 1927-1931. Later he became known as the
hand behind the building of Radio City Music Hall.
23. The question of what kind of music was
most suitable for advertising was mainly of concern to the major advertising
agencies and national brands. Small, rural radio stations would broadcast
almost anything that happened to come through its doors. See Grundy.
24. For more on the legitimation
of advertising, see Marchand. On the question of uplifting the taste
of the nation, it
is interesting to note that landmark classical broadcasts were repeatedly
reported as news and editorialized about in the New York Times and
other papers. And there were many published arguments about radio uplifting
tastes. For just a few, see Freund, de Forest, Radio Fan, Tremaine, Radio
Cultivates Taste for Better Music, Orchard, Wallace, Jordan, Kempf,
Damrosch, Hanson, and the chapter Radio as a Potential Force in
Music Education in Dykema and Gehrkens. For a thoughtful, less
boosterish consideration of the subject, see Simon. For interesting discussions
of a lowbrow product attempting to sponsor highbrow music,
see Finney, Ames, and Murphy. For a scholarly treatment of the larger
notion of taste and civilization in the face of mass culture, see Susman,
25. P. H. Pumphrey writes that in the
current state of collected data on this subject [of type of music used
in programs], the choice of music is really more likely to depend on
the musical taste of the advertisers president, chairman of the
board, sales manager, advertising manager, and others who make up the
committee on strategy (Pumphrey, Choosing the Program Idea 40).
Alice Marquis writes that the music played by Guy Lombardo and His Royal
Canadians was selected by the wife of the advertising manager for General
Cigar Company (Marquis 392, citing Carroll ix).
26. The complete list, in order of popularity,
is: Richard Wagner: Overture to Tannhäuser, Franz von Suppe: Poet
and Peasant Overture, Franz Schubert: Marche Militaire, Ludwig van
Beethoven: Fifth Symphony, Franz Schubert: Unfinished Symphony, Charles
Gounod: Ballet Music from Faust, Jules Massenet: Meditation from Thais,
Fritz Kreisler: Liedesfreud, Sir Arthur Sullivan: H.M.S. Pinafore,
Peter Tschaikowsky: Nutcracker Suite, Rudoph Friml: The Firefly,
Peter Tschaikowsky: Symphonie Pathetique, Victor Herbert: Dagger
Dance from Natoma, Edvard Grieg: In the Morning, Carl Maria
von Weber: Invitation to the Dance, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart: Overture
to the Marriage of Figaro, Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakow: Scheherazade,
Edwin Poldini: Poupee Valsante.
27. There was a public discussion of how radio
was changing tastes, with the terms highbrow, lowbrow, and
even middlebrow being bandied about with some frequency.
See Are You a Middlebrow?, Jordan, Mr.
Average Fan Confesses that He Is a Low Brow, Mr.
Fussy Fan Admits that He Is a High-Brow, and Murphy.