1. Yet advertising with sound was used in one strikingly novel way. Sound could be used to make a program’s 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).

  2. The impetus for developing one’s 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 one’s 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 aids—all designed to help consumers construct personalities, fashion selves.

  3. 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.

  4. S.L. Rothafel
    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 performer’s 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 illusion—is, 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 10).
    NBC’s 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).

  5. What is interesting, however, is that advertising agencies extended the concept of personality to goods themselves. NBC’s 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).

  6. 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 building—but 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 listener’s imagination, “so that he cloaks an inanimate product in living personality” (National Broadcasting Company, Broadcast Advertising 31).

  7. Ipana Toothpaste Ad
    Inevitably, music frequently played a role in developing a product’s 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.

  8. 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 radio’s “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).

  9. 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.

  10. 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 product’s 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

  11. 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.

  12. “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 Electric

    Walter Damrosch

    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 known—Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony, Schubert’s “Unfinished” Symphony, and Wagner’s overture to Tannhäuser heading the list—but over half were light classics, such as Rudolph Friml’s The Firefly, Victor Herbert’s “Dagger Dance” from Natoma, and Edwin Poldini’s “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 light works.

  13. The archival records of the J. Walter Thompson company suggest that broadcasting of music was well underway before higher executives began to wonder 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.

  14. 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 air—which for them usually meant classical music—but the listening public might want something else.

  15. 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 Hawai’ian 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).

  16. 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 (Williams 10).

    This table shows that questions of which music was the most appropriate went beyond the image—the personality—desired for a particular product, the sponsor’s 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.

  17. 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 president’s 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).

1     2     3     4     Works Cited

21. See Taylor for a discussion of the crowd and radio.

22. Rothafel’s 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 guiding 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, Ch. 7.

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.


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