This story was published in Radio Recall, the journal of the Metropolitan Washington Old-Time Radio Club, published six times per year.
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SOLD ON RADIO: Advertisers in the Golden Age of Broadcasting
By Jim Cox
Published by McFarland and Company, Inc.
322 pages $55.00 Hardcover 7” x 10”
ISBN 978-0-7864-3391-9 (2008)
Reviewed by Michael J. Hayde
(From Radio Recall, December 2008)
“It is inconceivable that we should allow so great a possibility for service to be drowned in advertising chatter.” – Secretary of Commerce Herbert Hoover, February 1922.
Having documented soap operas, quiz shows, crime fighters, announcers and sitcoms, the prolific Jim Cox has turned his attention to the companies and conglomerations that made all of the above possible: sponsors. Sold on Radio: Advertisers in the Golden Age of Broadcasting is more than just “a word from our sponsor,” it’s over 300 pages of words about them!
Sold on Radio is neatly divided into two parts. In the first, Cox deals with the commercialization of radio, beginning with an overview of advertising, then of broadcasting, then zeroing in on the circumstances by which the twain did meet and prosper. Cox examines in loving detail the alleged first sponsored commercial message (for the Hawthorne Court apartments in Jackson Heights, NY, over WEAF-AM on August 28, 1922), making sure to address other claimants to the honor.
Controversy amongst the higher-ups in Washington D.C. about use of the airwaves for advertising (such as Mr. Hoover’s statement, above), which led to the formation of the Federal Radio Commission, precursor to today’s F.C.C., is also well-documented.
The second part consists of the history and heritage, up to the present time, for 24 of radio’s most prominent advertisers. Here readers will acquaint themselves with entrepreneurs and immigrants who, whether through schooling and skill, or trial-and-error, brought to market the products by which radio’s brightest lights were brought to our ears: Jell-O, Lux, Coca-Cola, Grape-Nuts, Lucky Strikes, Alka-Seltzer, Campbell’s Soups, Fleischmann’s Yeast, Ford Automobiles, Ivory Soap, Prince Albert Tobacco, Quaker Oats and many more.
Cox painstakingly details the complete histories of, among others, Kellogg’s, General Motors, Miles Laboratories, General Foods, Standard Brands, and no less than six tobacco companies: American, Brown & Williamson, Liggett & Myers, P. Lorillard, Philip Morris and R.J. Reynolds. Additionally, he answers a burning question I’ve had for a decade, concerning the Colgate-Palmolive Company: what was “Peet” and what happened to it?
For each advertiser, along with its history, Cox provides a listing of all the shows it sponsored, a thumbnail overview of its radio buying patterns and a sample commercial. Three appendices cover: a) 100 more advertisers, b) the different variants in radio advertising (i.e., contests, jingles, spokespersons and so forth) and c) a glossary of advertising and broadcasting terms.
Radio historians and scholars will find much of value in Sold on Radio, but the average hobbyist may decide Cox’s latest confection lacks a creamy middle. There is little or no behind-the-scenes information as to why certain shows or stars were bankrolled by the various companies, and why they did – or didn’t – stick with them. Arthur Godfrey’s relationship with Chesterfield cigarettes is discussed, although minus the claim of Liggett & Myers’ Larry Bruff that Chesterfield dropped Godfrey – not vice-versa – when “the Ol’ Redhead” switched to cigars in the wake of his lung cancer operation.
Of the working relationships between Jack Benny and Jell-O or Lucky Strikes; the why’s of Edgar Bergen’s lengthy stint with Chase & Sanborn; the mindset behind Campbell’s interest in Mercury Theater of the Air – to name just three – there is nothing. Perhaps the information died with the principals involved, but certainly there are archives (such as the N.B.C. files housed at the Library of Congress) that could likely provide more than a clue.
On the whole, Sold on Radio is worthwhile reading and a necessary addition to the documentation of America’s Old-Time-Radio heritage.
Available from publisher at website <www.mcfarlandpub.com> or phone toll free at 800-253-2187.