Little Bits of History

Selling Air (Time)

Posted in History by patriciahysell on August 29, 2015
NYC's Jackson Heights

NYC’s Jackson Heights*

August 29, 1922: The first paid radio commercial is aired. In the early 1900s, radio programs began broadcasting, but they were irregular. By 1919, the airwaves were kept in continuous use as all day broadcasts began. In the US, on November 2, 1920 KDKA began the first commercial broadcast. More radio stations began the process of regular all day broadcasting. With the increase came the need to pay for the maintenance of the stations since they were becoming significantly costly. In February 1922, AT&T announced their intention to sell “toll broadcasting” to advertisers. The idea was that businesses would underwrite or finance broadcasts in exchange for their businesses to be mentioned on the radio.

Queensboro Corporation was the first to take advantage of this concept when on this day, they advertised their new apartment complex in the expanding neighborhood of Jackson Heights. There is some dispute about this being the first paid ad on radio as there was an amateur radio broadcaster who leased out his “station”. In exchange for $35 per week, he permitted others to use the facility twice a week back in May 1920. In Seattle, Washington in March 1922, Remick’s Music Store took out a large ad in the local paper advertising the radio station KFC and for their efforts were given a weekly show to sponsor. On April 4, 1922, Alvin T. Fuller, a car dealer in Medford Hillside, Massachusetts purchased time at WGI in order to secure mention of his dealership. Queensboro was the first to use the system we know today on commercial radio stations.

During radio’s Golden Age, advertisers would sponsor an entire program which usually lasted between 15 and 30 minutes. Their product would be mentioned at the beginning and end of the show with a message acknowledging their sponsorship. Radio, by its nature, is limited to just sound, but some of the larger stations began to experiment with different formats. Advertising became a commodity and there was money to be made by creating great ads. The advertising director of Shell Oil Co. urged station managers to deal with relevant advertisers and sell tie-in commercials in established radio shows. It was hoped that like with newspapers, both the medium and the advertisers would benefit.

Even though radio was an already established entity before this time, it was seen as the industry “growing up” in terms of a business venture and how advertising could best be utilized. The use of sound effects was essential to the success of programming – and advertising. There are, even today, two types of radio commercials. There are “live reads” and produced spots. Some DJs will ad-lib or improvise when doing a live read while others stick strictly to the script. Some give a personal salute to the product, then making it an endorsement. Produced spots are far more common and are the prerecorded ads made via the station itself or an advertising agency. Today, different times of the day demand different rates for airtime and ads can run from ten seconds to sixty seconds.

Advertising treats all products with the reverence and the seriousness due to sacraments. – Thomas Merton

A good advertisement is one which sells the product without drawing attention to itself. – David Ogilvy

There is no advertisement as powerful as a positive reputation traveling fast. – Brian Koslow

Law Number IV: If you can afford to advertise, you don’t need to. – Norman R. Augustine

Also on this day: Have You Hugged Your Hog Today? – In 1885, Gottlieb Wilhelm Daimler patented the motorcycle.
Last Man Standing – In 1911, Ishi was found.
The Ashes – In 1882, The Ashes rivalry began.
Day Tripper – In 1966, The Beatles gave their last paid concert.
Quebec Bridge Collapse – In 1907, the bridge collapsed before construction was finished.

* “NYC Jackson Heights 3” by The original uploader was Jleon at English Wikipedia – Transferred from en.wikipedia to Commons.. Licensed under CC BY 2.5 via Wikimedia Commons –

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: