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

By Cynthia B. Meyers | Go to book overview

4 “Who Owns the Time?”

Advertising Agencies and Networks
Vie for Control in the 1930s

Commercial radio developed in the 1920s amid a booming economy and progressive ideals. However, only a few years after the establishment of national networks, the Crash of 1929 and the ensuing economic crisis of the Great Depression severely challenged the young broadcasting industry. At the moment when radio was poised to complete its transition from a local to a truly national medium, capital markets dried up, consumption dropped, and unemployment soared. And yet, radio grew anyway. Despite the overall drop in consumer spending, the number of radio sets “in use” climbed from 9 million in 1929 to more than 16 million in 1932.1 Meanwhile, advertising expenditures overall plummeted from about $3.4 billion in 1929 to $2.3 billion in 1931.2 Newspaper advertising expenditures dropped from $260 million in 1929 to $160 million in 1932.3 However, national advertisers on network radio increased their spending from $18 million in 1929 to $39 million in 1932. Despite a dip in radio advertising expenditures between 1933 and 1935,4 by 1937 total annual advertising expenditures on radio (local and national) had climbed to $165 million, matching annual advertising expenditures on magazines.5 The economic exigencies of the Depression put pressure on the advertising industry, acutely in need of new revenues, to become more involved in radio, the only medium that was growing rather than shrinking.

Pressure to move more forcefully into radio came from three directions: from within the advertising industry, from advertisers, and from broadcasters. Faced with competition from within the industry, agencies offered radio services in order either to build a client list or to retain one. By 1931, the competition among agencies for radio business

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