A Word from Our Sponsor: Admen, Advertising, and the Golden Age of Radio

A Word from Our Sponsor: Admen, Advertising, and the Golden Age of Radio

A Word from Our Sponsor: Admen, Advertising, and the Golden Age of Radio

A Word from Our Sponsor: Admen, Advertising, and the Golden Age of Radio

Synopsis

During the "golden age" of radio, from roughly the late 1920s until the late 1940s, advertising agencies were arguably the most important sources of radio entertainment. Most nationally broadcast programs on network radio were created, produced, written, and/or managed by advertising agencies:

for example, J. Walter Thompson produced "Kraft Music Hall" for Kraft; Benton and Bowles oversaw "Show Boat" for Maxwell House Coffee; and Young and Rubicam managed "Town Hall Tonight" with comedian Fred Allen for Bristol-Myers. Yet this fact has disappeared from popular memory and receives little

attention from media scholars and historians. By repositioning the advertising industry as a central agent in the development of broadcasting, author Cynthia B. Meyers challenges conventional views about the role of advertising in culture, the integration of media industries, and the role of

commercialism in broadcasting history.

Based largely on archival materials, A Word from Our Sponsor mines agency records from the J. Walter Thompson papers at Duke University, which include staff meeting transcriptions, memos, and account histories; agency records of BBDO, Benton and Bowles, Young and Rubicam, and N. W. Ayer;

contemporaneous trade publications; and the voluminous correspondence between NBC and agency executives in the NBC Records at the Wisconsin Historical Society.

Mediating between audiences' desire for entertainment and advertisers' desire for sales, admen combined "showmanship" with "salesmanship" to produce a uniquely American form of commercial culture. In recounting the history of this form, Meyers enriches and corrects our understanding not only of

broadcasting history but also of advertising history, business history, and American cultural history from the 1920s to the 1940s.

Excerpt

Jack Benny: “Oh, come on in, Dennis. I’ll be with you in a minute. I’m calling
Mr. Duffy of Batten Barton Durstine & Osborn, my advertising agency.”

Dennis Day: “Why do you need them?

Jack Benny: “Well, Dennis. They put on my program for Lucky Strike. They
handle all the publicity, the exploitation, the advertising, the commercials.
They hire the musicians, the writers, the actors. They do everything!”

[a beat of silence]

Dennis Day: “Why do they need you?”

In this 1948 broadcast, radio comedian Jack Benny, who specialized in self-deprecation, acknowledges the key role of an advertising agency in producing his show: “They do everything!” In fact, the majority of nationally broadcast sponsored programs on network radio during the “golden age” of radio, from roughly the late 1920s until the late 1940s, were created, produced, written, and/or managed by advertising agencies. Consider a few examples: J. Walter Thompson produced Kraft Music Hall (1933–49); Benton & Bowles oversaw Maxwell House Show Boat (1932–37); Young & Rubicam managed Town Hall Tonight with comedian Fred Allen for Bristol-Myers (1934–40); and Blackett-SampleHummert produced dozens of soap operas, including Ma Perkins, for Procter & Gamble (1933–56). The historian Michele Hilmes, noting that advertising agencies of the radio era resemble today’s television production companies, argues that “[t]he full chronology of advertising agency involvement in radio does indeed deserve a history in itself . . .

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