Radio Broadcasting Commercials throughout the 20th Century

Only a few years after the first radio broadcasting proved a success, businesses began utilizing this new form of broadcasting information out to the public.  By promoting commodities and material goods over radio waves, companies could cover a greater area of listeners at all times of the day and night.  Since the early 1920s, companies all across the United States have employed the services of radio broadcasting stations to get there products and services out on the market and directly to the listeners.  Over the decades since, the styles and formats of these radio commercials have adapted and changed to the times and the people listening.  While commercials have been updated over the years, there are two distinct periods that can classify two different types of radio advertising: pre multi-sponsored advertising and post multi-sponsored advertising.

The advent of radio communication marked a new beginning for advertising.  During its humble beginnings, Secretary of Commerce Herbert Hoover claimed it was “inconceivable that we should allow so great a possibility for service and for news…to be drowned in advertising chatter.”[1]  Therefore corporate sponsors could not directly advertise their product to the people.  However, advertisers were able to find loopholes in this clause.  The basic ways to bend the broadcasting rules were for advertisers to sponsor an entire show and drop indirect hints of their product throughout the program.  The first commercial ever on radio airwaves included a 10 minute radio program discussing an apartment complex called Hawthorne Heights by a Queensboro Corporation representative.  During the program, the representative never discussed the pricings of the apartment complex.  The representative simply advertised “a life away from the hustle and bustle of the big city.”[2]  Not only did Hoover condone the use of direct sponsorship over the air, corporate sponsors were fearful direct advertising would alienate listeners.[3]  In a certain case, the Colgate-Palmolive-Peet company hosted a Palmolive Variety Hour, featuring two singers called Paul Oliver and Olive Palmer.[4]  The sponsor was indirectly advertising the Palmolive product by fusing the product and the program.[5]  This style of advertisement was popular throughout the 1920s, 30s, and 40s, but as the prevalence of FM radio took hold during the 50s and especially the 60s, a movement towards multi-sponsored advertising took hold.

FM radio began to become more popular and listeners of a new generation began to express the need for broadcasting certain genres of music on the radio waves.  Instead of broadcasting variety shows and competing with television, radio stations broadcasted rock and roll music among other genres to Americans across the country.  Corporations picked up on the transformation and sought to promote their products on multiple frequencies throughout the entire day.  However, more sponsors meant less air time for each commercial so it’s no surprise that the length of the commercials decreased.  Starting in the 60s and 70s, commercials averaged under a minute and normally ended around 30 second mark.  Advertisers needed to become creative and add more than just a jingle to their commercials.  Commercials started to take on comedic qualities or tried to act more conversational as opposed to previous commercials where companies utilized experts in certain fields to persuade consumers.  In a Toyota commercial from the 1970s a man is taken on a driver’s test that goes awry when the driver gets a little dangerous.  Another mean of advertising included the usage of celebrities in commercials.  N’Sync was used on a Chili’s commercial and Britney Spears was used in a Pepsi ad during the 90s and 00s.  The necessity for companies to stay current with popular trends and culture took hold of advertising and weaponized comedy and pop-culture icons as talking advertisements.

Radio has recently taken the backburner to many other modes of communication and advertising including television and the internet.  However, radio is still an important tool for companies to communicate to a mass number of people.  While virtually all radio stations practice the multi-sponsored form of advertising, this technique proves beneficial to listeners, companies, and radio stations.  Listeners hear more of a variety of advertisements including certain local events that can be entertaining, companies can advertise using several radio stations and throughout the day instead of just during their sponsored show, and radio stations can receive more money from competing corporations for shorter time slots.  Radio broadcasting has still proven itself to be an effective means of communication to a large, populated area and the evolution of broadcasting from its primitive forms of the 1920s benefit listeners, companies, and radio stations alike.



Blackwell, H.M. Hawthorne Court Apartments, 1922., (accessed December 14, 2011).

Bartlett, Tommy. Cheer, 1953., (accessed December 14, 2011).

Collyer, Clayton. Duz, 1951., (accessed December 14, 2011).

Downey, Gregory. Technology and Communication in American History (American Historical Association, New York: 2011).


Holden, Jack. Alka Seltzer, 1933., (accessed December 14, 2011).

Kawasaki, 1976,, (accessed December 14, 2011).

Lifebuoy, 1945,, (accessed December 14, 2011).

Marx, Richard. Trojan Condoms, n.d., (accessed December 14, 2011).

Newman, Kathy. Radio Active: Advertising and Consumer Activism, 1935-1947 (University of California Press, Los Angeles: 2004).

N’Sync, Chili’s Babyback Ribs, 2000,, (accessed December 14, 2011).

Quartet, The Wheaties. Have You Tried Wheaties, 1926., (accessed December 14, 2011).

Real American Heroes, Mr. Chinese Food Delivery Guy, 2000,, (accessed December 14, 2011).

Spears, Britney. Joy of Pepsi, 2002., (accessed December 14, 2011).

Toyota, 1975,, (accessed December 14, 2011).

[1]               Gregory Downey, Technology and Communication in American History (American Historical Association, 2011), 36; for more information see Margaret Graham, “The Threshold of the Information Age: Radio, Television, and Motion Pictures Mobilize the Nation,” in A Nation Transformed by Information: How Information has Shaped the United States from Colonial Times to the Present, ed. Alfred D. Chandler Jr. and James W. Cortada (New York: Oxford University Press, 2000), 137-75

[2]               H.M. Blackwell, Hawthorne Court Apartments, 1922,

[3]           Kathy Newman, Radio Active: Advertising and Consumer Activism, 1935-1947 (University of California Press, 2004), 27.

[4]               Ibid.

[5]               Ibid.

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