You may not give much thought to the absolute avalanche of commercials and ads you’re peppered with on a daily basis, but when you take a step back, you can trace a marked line back through history to the start of it all. Very few mediums have been as storied and as influential as radio.
Although with today’s digital landscape, we’re inundated with viral videos, social media campaigns, and geo-targeted announcements sent right to our smartphones, there was a time when the humble radio advertisement reigned supreme; paving the way forward and shaping how companies reached their target audience and solidifying the relationship between commerce and entertainment.
In this blog post, we’ll take a closer look at the fascinating history of radio advertisements, highlighting key moments that marked its evolution through to the present time. Let’s take a look!
The First Radio Advertisement
In 1922, radio was still a novelty. New York’s WEAF broadcast the very first radio advertisement – a 10-minute commercial (yes, you read that right, 10 minutes) for the Queensboro Corporation, promoting apartment sales in Jackson Heights. It cost the company $50 for 50 minutes of airtime – or a little over $900 today adjusting for inflation.
It was the beginning of what would become a billion-dollar industry.
The Radio Act of 1927
As broadcasting became more and more popular, there started to become an increasing need for some kind of regulation. The Radio Act of 1927 was designed to help bring order to the airwaves. The act involved the creation of the FRC or Federal Radio Commission, which could approve or deny broadcasting licenses and assign frequencies and power levels for each licensee. This was designed to prevent interference between stations.
To be approved, stations had to show that “public interest, convenience, and necessity were served.” The FRC only lasted a few years before it was replaced by today’s FCC, the Federal Communications Commission.
The FCC Opens the Door for Advertisings
The FCC was established by the communications Act of 1934, which replaced the FRC. One of its most profound impacts was opening the door to explicitly allow commercial advertisements on the airwaves.
This transformed the landscape of radio programming, creating new revenue models and strengthening the relationship between advertisers, broadcasters, and their audiences.
Ad-supported revenue models allowed stations to produce high-quality content, which attracted more listeners, creating an ongoing cycle of engagement and profit.
The Creation of Jingles and Slogans
One of radio’s more iconic contributions to the advertising world is the creation of the jingle. These catchy, melodic tunes seem simplistic when compared to today’s video ads, but many of the ad jingles/slogans became a collective part of U.S. culture and history – for example:
Oscar Mayer’s “My Bologna Has a First Name”
Campbell’s Soup’s “Mm, Mm, Good”
Rice-a-Roni’s “San Francisco Treat”
Coca-Cola’s “I’d Like to Teach the World to Sing”
And many more
Memorable slogans and jingles not only made sure that the ads stuck in the listener’s minds but they also built up brand identity over time.
The Golden Age of Radio
The world as a whole went through the “Golden Age of Radio” from the 1930s to the 1950s. A boom in the production of radio dramas, comedies, news programs, and musical shows characterized this era. Well-known icons of the time, including Orson Welles, Jack Benny, and Lucille Ball weren’t just TV celebrities, but radio stars as well.
Advertisements played a significant role in average radio stations during this golden age. Sponsors would often have radio sets or entire shows named after them, such as the Lux Radio Theatre or the Colgate Comedy Hour.
A character might personally endorse a product or the host might integrate the ad with their presentation. The art of storytelling in ads reached its peak during this time, creating memorable jingles, characters, and stories that are still remembered even today.
World War II and Radio Advertisements
Throughout the tumultuous times of World War II, radio was a heroic ally and played a decisive role in communications. President Franklin D. Roosevelt used radio to his public service to the fullest, addressing the nation with his famous “fireside chats”.
Although these weekly radio broadcasts themselves weren’t advertisements in the commercial sense, they did do much to showcase radio as a tool for persuading, mobilizing, and unifying the country.
Commercial radio ads also played a role in the war effort. Companies would promote war bonds, encourage resource conservation, or rally support for the troops. Radio was harnessed for a national cause and its influence in helping to shape public opinion was undeniable.
The Shift from Live to Recorded Commercials
It may seem hard to imagine now, but in the early days of radio, many commercials were broadcast live. Although we might look at this as quaint and charming now, it was also prone to mistakes.
As technology improved, pre-recorded commercials became more commonplace which in turn allowed for more polished and sophisticated advertisements. This shift also paved the way for more creative ads including background scores, voice-overs, and sound effects.
Ethics in Radio and Broadcasting
Since the early days of radio, efforts have been made to ensure that broadcasts and ads alike adhere to a certain set of ethics. The Fairness Doctrine, which was introduced by the FCC in 1949 and ran until 1987, required broadcasters to present controversial issues in a way that was fair and balanced.
If a station gave airtime to one viewpoint, it had to give equal airtime to the opposing point of view as well. Although the Fairness Doctrine was eliminated in 1987, it nevertheless shaped how content was broadcast for decades.
Throughout the decades, other rules were also enforced by the FCC, such as in the 1950s and 60s, when “payola” (paying DJs to play certain records) and “plugola” (plugging or promoting one’s ventures or the ventures of friends) became so prevalent that the FCC needed to establish stricter guidelines to require full disclosure about sponsorship for promotions or played songs.
And what about the sheer volume of radio ads? It wasn’t until 2010 that the Commercial Advertisement Loudness Mitigation or CALM Act was introduced. Although it was primarily aimed at TV, radio was also included.
The act centered around broadcasters ensuring that commercial ads were not broadcast at louder volumes than the program material they were accompanying.
The Challenge of Television and Radio
The 1950s and 1960s saw radio take a backseat to a powerful newcomer: television. With its striking visual component, many people predicted that TV would be a death knell for radio broadcasting. Although radio advertisements and broadcasting did decline during this period, it never completely vanished.
Instead, radio evolved – focusing more on music, news, and talk shows and as a result, its advertising strategies shifted accordingly.
Radio in the Digital Era
Fast-forward to today, and we’re seeing another momentous shift in the audio world, namely in the form of podcasts.
As podcasting becomes more popular, its revenue model looks interestingly similar to that of the early days of radio – with integrated advertisements and hosts personally endorsing products. This modern twist on an old format only serves to reinforce the power and adaptability of radio advertising.
The Impact of Radio Advertising Today
The journey of radio advertisements, from the early days of sponsorships to the modern use of podcasts demonstrates radio’s impressive adaptability and resilience.
The ongoing recognition of radio ads also underscores an underlying truth in our collective consciousness – well-crafted audio messages have the ability to inform, persuade, and entertain in every decade.
If you’re looking to have a convincing, catchy, unique radio ad created for your product or service, the team at Jungle Communications is ready to help.
Our expert advertising professionals know what it takes to transform your airtime into revenue and can craft customized strategies that help you build brand awareness and recognition.
Contact us today to learn more!