Sponsorships in Radio

"Visit our new apartment homes in Hawthorne Courts, Jackson Heights, where you may enjoy community life in a friendly environment."

That's it. The very first radio advertisement from 1922. The advertisement could not contain a sales pitch: direct on-air selling was not allowed. (Boy, I wish we could bring back those days and apply it to TV!!

The program was ten minutes long and promoted the joys of life in the suburbs. And it closed with "Let me close by urging you to hurry to the apartment house near the green fields..... the community life and friendly environment that Hawthorne advocated."

This was indirect selling - no prices were given and the company was only mentioned once!

Leonard Maltin in "The Great American Broadcast" made the point that many shows had long time relationships with their sponsors.

Johnson's Wax sponsored Fibber McGee and Molly, Pepsodent - Bob Hope, Blue Coal and the Shadow. Many of these relationships came out of the company owners' personal tastes. They were not the choice of advertising agencies or market testing or demographics.

Early radio was not heavily commercialized. There were fears that doing so would damage broadcasting. In 1924, Herbert Hoover, then Secretary of Commerce stated "I believe the quickest way to kill broadcasting would be to use it for direct advertising. The reader of a newspaper has an option whether he will read an ad or not, but if a speech by the President is to be used as the meat in a sandwich of two patent medicine advertisements, there will be no radio left. To what extent it may be employed for what we now call indirect advertising I do not know, and only experience with the reactions of listeners can tell. The listeners will finally decide in any event."

Ten years later when advertising was a fundamental part of radio, theatrical impresario S. L. Rothafel wrote "As a direct sales agency radio is a flop. And the sooner the sponsors realize it the sooner they'll eliminate the plethora of commercial advertising that is stuffed into the ears of potential patrons. Radio is the greatest builder of goodwill. But that good will may be destroyed by irritating interruptions of a program to plug a product. The very purpose of the broadcast may be thwarted by a lack of discernment, lack of showmanship.

"If I were a merchant I would advertise my wares through a combination of radio and newspaper advertising. I'd build good will on the air, and I'd tell 'em what I had to sell in the advertising columns."

For many OTR fans, the ads
are the best part of the show.

Listen to the Blue Coal ad.