ROI: 1st Radio Commercial Sells 3 Condos
February 13 is World Radio Day; despite the internet and streaming, nothing beats radio for capturing your audience, especially in the car. Recently, I was an invited guest on WPKN radio playing many vintage spots; click here to enjoy.
The first radio commercial was on August 28, 1922, by Queensboro Corporation for condominiums in Jackson Heights, Queens, New York City. The buy was for $50 to play a 10-minute spot once a day for five days. They quickly sold three of the Hawthorne Court apartments, establishing the viability of the medium. Hear the clip.
In the 1930s, radio hit the public by storm and ad agencies totally by surprise. Radio’s growth was fueled by advertising, just like magazines at the turn of the century. Similar to the bubble in tech stocks in the 1990’s, radio stocks also exploded. RCA went from $5 a share to over $500, and then back down to $5 by the time it was over.
The ad agency Blackett-Sample-Hummert had the idea for detergent companies to sponsor the radio theatre shows every afternoon. BSH rode these soap operas to the #1 position for radio agencies.
They brought to radio the newspaper practice of daily serial installments: new segments of a long-running show. There was Just Plain Bill, the barber who had married out of his social class. Ma Perkins was Just Plain Bill with skirts. Jack Armstrong, the All-American boy, hocked Wheaties to kids.
BSH hired writers to churn out soap opera scripts. They paid $25/script and often sequestered writers in hotel rooms until the work was done. At their height, they had 14 writers penning 50 scripts a week. Hummert paid himself well, too. His $132,000 salary, plus bonuses and a share of the soaps, made him the best-paid man in advertising.
Brands generally produced and sponsored the radio shows directly. The A&P Gypsies, Fleischmann Yeast Hour (with Rudy Vallee) and Kraft Music Hall are just three examples. They were the show sponsors. This branding is more powerful than just buying ad time.
The Lucky Strike Dance Orchestra was popular and their advertising effective. The tagline Lucky Strike Means Fine Tobacco evolved into LS/MFT. The acronym was well leveraged, especially as a radio pneumonic. The catch phrase was so widely known that it entered the public lexicon, which is a brand’s often dreamt but rarely achieved goal.
This era around the Great Depression is generally considered the Golden Age of Radio. By the the 1950’s, TV had emerged in full force to further crowd the field. Today, though, despite the web and the online revolution it brought, radio remains a powerful channel to reach the masses, one pair of ears at a time.