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Timeline by Carrie McLaren and Rick Prelinger


Entertainment and salesmanship collide: department stores hire circus clowns and acrobats; movie theaters project slides advertising local businesses; vaudeville theater curtains carry painted ads; utility companies sponsor cooking demonstrations with a cast of orchestra, singers and skit players; trolley companies invest in and promote amusement parks; companies sponsor sporting events, barn dances and college proms. Later, Esso Gasoline sponsors Guy Lombardo’s orchestra, with a gas sales receipt required for admission.

Bandwagon ad

Ad for Chesterfields starring starring Fred Astaire and Adele Astaire from the 1931 production of The Bandwagon.


Throughout the nineteenth century, advertisers tended to break out into rhyme when writing copy, partly in jest and partly because rhymes made brand names easier to remember. In 1891 the De Long Hook and Eye Co., commissions a series of "jingles" (known then as rhymed verses) and the phrase "See that Hump" becomes a part of everyday language.

He rose, she took the seat and said,
"I thank you," and the man fell dead.
But ere he turned a lifeless lump.
He murmered: "See that Hump."

Thus is born a jingle craze, which peaks around 1900—1903. Memorizing jingles becomes a fad. One campaign chronicles the travails of old man Jim Dumps, who was rehabilitated into "Sunny Jim" when treated to Force cereal. Over 5,000 unsolicited jingles are mailed in from readers, many unprintable. Another jingle hero: Phoebe Snow becomes a national pin-up girl and a household word in a series describing her sanitary railroad trips.


The song "In My Merry Oldsmobile" by Johnny Marks becomes a popular anthem of the emerging car culture. Recognizing its sales potential, the Oldsmobile Motor Company uses the song in its advertising and promotion.


ASCAP is founded to issue licenses and collect royalties


Amateur radio operator Arthur B. Church advertises radio parts–the first use of radio for advertising.


Variety organizes an effort to curb payola, then known as paying sheet music performers to plug songs. Money that was formerly used to advertise songs in trade magazines (such as Variety) was increasingly spent on song pluggers.


Frank Conrad, a Westinghouse employee, airs recorded music from a transmitter in his Pittsburgh garage. His employer notices that these broadcasts increase radio equipment sales, moves Conrad’s transmitter to its factory roof, applies for a government license, and starts pioneer station KDKA.

Early 1920s

"[It would be] inconceivable that we should allow so great a possibility for service to be drowned in advertiser chatter." – Herbert Hoover

Debate rages over how to make money off radio. Some support a European-style tax on radio owners, others suggest that stations scramble their programs and sell decoders, like today’s cable TV operators. Many solicit philanthropic contributions and listener support, but these are unsuccessful. Over half the stations established between 1922 and 1925 close, mostly due to financial problems.

Meanwhile, the main financial motive for making programs is selling receivers. Stations don’t concern themselves with creating an audience for advertising. And advertisers don’t set out to capture radio, either. In fact, the overwhelming majority of advertisers view radio as culturally uplifting, a veritable public service. The wealthier classes are the first to own radios and early broadcasts feature classical music and other "civilizing" programming.

Between 1922 to 1925, Printer’s Ink, a leading trade magazine, rails against radio as an "objectionable advertising medium" (perhaps in part because the editors focused on publishing). The journal emphasizes the dangers of creating public ill-will: "The family circle is not a public place, and advertising has no business intruding there unless it is invited." To sponsor a program as a public service is deemed commendable but advertisers fear a direct sales pitch would turn people off.

Advertisers thus find they can best gain brand recognition by naming shows and bands after products: the Royal Typewriter Salon Orchestra, A&P Gypsies, Lucky Strike Orchestra, Vick’s Vap-o-rub Quartet, and the Cliquot Club Eskimos. Palmolive Soap goes whole hog by renaming its soloists (Frank Munn and Virginia Rea) Paul Oliver and Olive Palmer. Unknown artists are preferred over vaudeville performers so they don’t compete for name recognition.


Singer Vaugn De Leath originates "crooning," a method of singing that is adapted to match the limited range of early radio equipment. Until now, high soprano notes have often broken delicate transmitter tubes.


The first commercially sponsored radio program is broadcast on WEAF. Mr. Blackwell of the Queensboro Corporation discusses the works of Nathaniel Hawthorne and the possible influence of communities such as Queensboro’s "Hawthorne Court" apartments on his writing.


drum team

"A few good songs break down barriers and create a friendlier and warmer atmosphere at our meetings."
— Harry D. Riley Company.

In the 1920s, companies organize in-house musical groups to facilitate company loyalty, keep employees happy, increase efficiency, establish good will with the public, and advertise the company name. According to one source, railroad companies and department stores have the most groups. Macy’s, for instance, begins sales rallies with a group sing and ends them with a rousing stanza of "America." The store also holds an annual musical to "assemble a Macy audience interested in seeing Macy performers." The Girls’ Drum Corps (above) was but one of the music projects the Larkin Co., Inc. organized for its employees. Larkin also had community singing on Mondays, an orchestra, ukulele club, and daily recitals on a 4-pipe manual organ.


John R. Brinkley opens KFKB in Milford, Kansas, and finds fame and fortune by plugging his goat-gland medicine on air. KFKB also gives Brinkley a vehicle to promote himself for state office. Using a hillbilly band in his campaigns, Brinkley becomes one of the most powerful forces in the state.

When the FCC fails to renew his license, Brinkley moves to Del Rio, Texas, and launches the first Mexican border radio station, XER, in 1931. Operating outside U.S. jurisdiction, XER and the "X" stations that followed broadcast a steady stream of pitches for Resurrection Plants, autographed portraits of Jesus, prayer cloths, baby chicks, "genuine simulated" diamonds, and hillbilly and gospel songbooks.


The first radio jingle: Wheaties.


As indirect advertising thrives, advertisers experiment with "direct advertising." The NAB then declares that no commercials may be broadcast between 7 p.m. and 11 p.m. ("family hour"). The rule doesn’t last long. Once the stock market crashes in 1929, the need to sell takes over and buying becomes a patriotic duty. By 1929, insistence on sponsorship only dies. Guardians of radio’s sanctity ask only for moderation.


Cliquot Club Ginger Ale sponsors "Cliquot Club Eskimos" over the fledgling NBC network. According to NBC, "[Since] ginger, pep, sparkle and snap were qualities that form the very essence of the product . . . manifestly, peppy musical numbers of lively tempo were in order."


To pay for transmitting programs between stations, national radio networks begin a campaign to promote broadcast advertising. "In the process, [the campaign] developed the concept that time, as well as space, could be bought and sold for commercial purposes."


Country music becomes identified as the primary medium through which advertisers can reach rural audiences. It’s especially important for medical treatments: Alka-Seltzer, Black Draught (laxative), Wine of Cardui (for "women’s complaints"). The biggest advertiser: Crazy Water Company, which sponsors fourteen stations in the South, several bands (Crazy Hickory Nutes, Crazy Mountaineers, etc.), and the "Crazy Barn Dance." Around this time, some stations–particularly small, rural ones–start relying on "Per Inquiry" accounts. These stations receive royalties based on the number of inquires they get for an advertised product.


The Light Crust Doughboys are born when the soon-to-be-king of western swing Bob Wills and his fiddle trio are hired to advertise Light Crust Flour on KFJZ in Fort Worth, Texas. When not performing, Wills et al. work for the flour company as dock loaders, truck drivers, and salesmen. Five years later, after several lineup changes (Wills was gone), the man who hired them quits Light Crust and starts his own flour company, Hillbilly Flour. His new sales team: the Hillbilly Boys.


Kellogg’s conducts a hugely popular Singing Lady promotion where people send in box tops for the Singing Lady song book. According to a Kellogg’s memo: "This entire program is pointed to increase consumption–by suggesting Kellogg cereals, not only for breakfast but for lunch, after school and the evening meal."


Muzak, the leader in "business music" services, is founded.


FCC issues list of program taboos, including astrology; obscenity; solicitation for funds; and false, misleading, or too much advertising. The government frowns upon playing music over the air as a waste and for being deceptive. (Stations often pretended they were broadcasting live with major stars in the studio.) FCC rules require stations to identify recorded broadcasts.


Wurlitzer jukebox ad

BMI forms and welcomes everyone ASCAP turns down: Appalachian musicians, fiddlers, blues singers, etc. Professional recognition goes to the vast body of American music outside the commercial mainstream. In 1940, ASCAP withdraws all its music from the air so radio stations turn to BMI records. The public is eager for this music!


"Pepsi-Cola Hits the Spot" is the first jingle played on network radio. Pepsi releases more than one million copies for jukeboxes. Still, it’s no match for the Chiquita Banana jingle, which Time magazine declares "The undisputed No. 1 on the jingle-jangle hit parade." The Chiquita jingle is played 376 times a day on the radio. Carmen Banana Versions by the King Sisters, the Five DeMarcos, and Patti Clayton (almost 1 million records sold) are jukebox hits. In 1945, in cooperation with the U.S. Dept. of Agriculture, the lyrics are revised to urge Americans to eat more fresh fruit and vegetables.


J. Harold Ryan, president of the National Association of Broadcasters, commemorates the 25th anniversary of broadcasting with these words: "American radio is the product of American business! It is just as much that kind of product as the vacuum cleaner, the washing machine, the automobile, and the airplane. . . . If the legend still persists that a radio station is some kind of art center, a technical museum, or a little piece of Hollywood transplanted strangely to your home town, then the first official act of the second quarter century should be to list it along with the local dairies, laundries, banks, restaurants, and filling stations."


The Lucky Strike radio show–a music staple since the ’30s–is reincarnated as a successful NBC-TV show. The regular cast of singers, the Lucky Strike Gang, entertains viewers with "the songs most heard on the air and most played on the automatic coin machines," which the TV audience was assured represented "an accurate, authentic tabulation of America’s taste in popular music." The decisions were actually made by Lucky Strike’s ad agency, BBDO.

Why did advertising and programming separate?

ABC ad
As late as 1947, ABC's radio network could still boast that its station played a variety of music styles. This changed once TV became competition and radio turned to niche, signle-genre formats.

Actress Tallulah Bankhead wins $5,000 from Proctor & Gamble after charging that a jingle about "Tallulah, the tube of Prell shampoo" damaged her career.


The Weavers hit #1, setting up folk music as a lucrative commercial genre. Groups with names like the Cumberland Three, the Chad Mitchell Trio, the Wayfarers, the Travelers, etc., follow, cashing in by copywriting public domain material. The Kingston Trio tops the charts a decade later with their album Sold Out.


Morris Levy and Alan Freed try to trademark the term "rock and roll."

Bill Haley

The third time it is released, Bill Haley’s "Rock Around the Clock" hits #1, the only legit rock song in the Top Ten that year. Initially, the song bombed. It was only after appearing in the movie The Blackboard Jungle that it struck gold, establishing rock and roll as a commercial genre


Stan Freberg begins career as a radio adman singing jingles that make fun of singing jingles. An early example of anti-ad ads.


Ralston-Purina company commissions an "original" rock song to sell cereal: Who-ho-ho-ho / rock that roll / And roll that roll / Get that Ralston in the bowl.


American Bandstand joins ABC Television and becomes the single most powerful record promotion since the advent of Top 40 radio. Bandstand sells more records than any previous avenue of exposure.


Rock and roll dies.

J.C. Penny record

Corporations embrace albums as a tool for motivating sales staffs. These albums, or "industrial musicals," unlike jingles, are for company in-house use rather than for consumers. Selections from The Wide New World with Ford (1960) from the Ford Motor Company; Tunes for Toppies (1972) from Mary Kay Cosmetics; The Spirit of Achievements (1976) from Exxon, and others have been compiled on a bootleg CD, Product Music.

Corporations also churn out LPs as promotional items to give to customers: Colonel Sanders’ Tijuana Picnic (Kentucky Fried Chicken), Introducing the Sugar Bears (Sugar Crisps), Rodney Allen Rippy’s Take Life a Little Easier (Jack in the Box), and Music to Light Your Pilot Light By (Heil-Quaker Corporation), to name but a few.


Payola declared illegal. Alan Freed crucified.


Ad copywriter Richard Blake joins Epic Records and Lester Lanin’s orchestra in releasing Lester Lanin and His Orchestra Play the Madison Avenue Beat. The album cover encourages buyers to "have fun listening and dancing to 58 radio and TV commercials."


The Beatles’ A Hard Day’s Night presages MTV with its quick-cutting action loosely based around songs.

Monkees bracelet

Timeline continued