Meyers, Cynthia (2014) A Word From Our Sponsor


Meyers argues that advertising agencies played a key role in carving out American radio as a commercial medium and positioned themselves at the controls.  The primary reason their role has gone unnoticed is due to the fact that they were never credited on air so as not to distract from the advertiser’s message.


Chapter 1 – provides an overview of early twentieth century advertising and describes how the industry eventually moved to a commission based model in which ad agencies sold ad space to advertisers and earned a 15% commission from publishers.

Hard sell Soft sell
“reasons why” associations, atmosphere
product features user’s feelings
Text Image
Immediate sale Ongoing relationship/loyalty
– Lord & Thomas
– Blackett-Sample-Hummert
– Young & Rubicam
Critique – “ballyhoo” and “puffery” Critique – can’t grab attention
more common in radio more common in print

Chapter 2 –  Station owners struggled to determine profit models and establish commercial guidelines for the emerging medium. Broadcasters, Meyers explains, recognized that ad agencies were far better positioned to understand both the needs of advertisers and the interests of radio listeners. The traditional commission structure of print advertising, she explains, uniquely situated advertising agencies as trusted intermediaries between publishers and advertisers. Furthermore, agencies could better convert airtime to product sales than traditional vaudeville and theatre producers who might prioritize artistic ideals over sales goals. By 1930 both NBC and CBS had hired their own adman to woo advertising agencies (and their clients) over to the new medium.

Chapter 3 – Whereas print ads could easily be skipped or ignored, radio listeners were required to sit through ads in order to enjoy the programming.  Ad men struggled to navigate the conceptual leap from print ads to radio programs which could be deemed offensive (by invading private family time), written off as puffery and ballyhoo (too reminiscent of traveling patent medicine men), and easily forgotten (due to the ephemeral nature of live programing).   Agencies began to organize in-house radio departments – often staffed by former radio network execs who understood the business.

Chapter 4- NBC saw itself as a public utility while CBS saw itself as an advertising medium.  NBC was owned by RCA who profited by selling radio sets so the airtime was a loss leader to generate sales of more radio sets.  Therefore NBC offered everyone equal access to its airwaves and didn’t want to interfere with the messaging (the same way the phone company doesn’t control what is said over phone lines).  CBS was a commercial network that considered itself to be in the entertainment (not radio set) business so it catered to advertisers and was more appealing to them.

Chapter 5 – Blackett-Sample-Hummert (hard sell) were the first to leverage half-price airtime during the day to pioneer a new programming format known as daytime serials aka. soap operas.  One of the most well-known was Ma Perkins (1933-60) sponsored by Proctor & Gamble’s Oxydol laundry soap.  All B-S-H soap operas were based on an ongoing problem that the main character must deal with such as finding a mate, marrying out of their class etc. In this way the program resembled the ad because the ads focused on a hard sell tactic that identified a problem and provided reasons why the advertised product could solve it.  The script was slow and repetitive so that new listeners could easily catch up.  B-S-H produced these radio serials like a production line and churned out more shows, for less cost, than any other agency.  This hard sell approach worked during the Depression years.

Chapter 6 – Young & Rubicam – soft sell.  Uses humour to grab attention and associate product with good feelings.  General Foods with Jack Benny made jokes about Jell-O but Jello sales acutally went up

Chapter 7 – BBDO sold advertisers’ corporate image to the consumer.  Theater Guild on the Air for US Steel and Cavalcade of America for Dupont.

Benton & Bowles – did not follow the rules.  “Radio renegades”

Chapter 8 – JWT – soft sell.  pioneered celebrity association for Lux soap in print and rewrote it into a radio show called Lux Radio Theatre.   Kraft Music Hall 1933-1958 used Bing Crosby to sell Kraft cheese.  JWT maintatin a roster of celebrities available to clients such as Humphery Bogart, Lauren Bacall, Rudy Valle, Eddie Cantor, Al Jolson, Burns & Allen etc.

Chapter 9 – Radio developed as a key cultural form even during the war.  The radio industry did thier part to contribute to the war effort and even used this as a tactic to attract more listeners.

Chapter 10 -Meyers outlines the drawbacks of sponsored programming for both broadcasters and advertisers and explains how listener backlash ultimately forced networks to regain control over programming and hand program production over to Hollywood film studios. Both NBC and CBS developed a new advertising model in which advertisers could purchase interstitial blocks of airtime during network-generated programming, the primary model still used on radio and television today.


-Based on historical analysis of industry documents, broadcast archives, and trade publications

-Rejects a Marxist conceptualization of media as a monolithic institution. Rather is is composed of many players


While female ad executives and writers are briefly mentioned in the text such as Anne Hummert (pgs 109-110), Irna Phillips (pg 119) their contributions could have been more deeply explored and linked to other female ad execs at the time in a separate chapter.

Little attention paid to children’s shows and how advertisers monetized this demographic.  Jack Armstrong All American Boy, Little Orphan Annie,  (For more detail on children’s shows, see Cox, Jim. 2008. Sold on Radio: Advertisers in the Golden Age of Broadcasting. North Carolina: McFarland.)



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