This week marks the 90th anniversary of the first radio commercial. On August 28th, 1922, radio station WEAF in New York City broadcast a 10 minute "talk" by the Queensboro Corporation to promote the sale of cooperative apartments in Jackson Heights. The commercial ran four more times over the next few days for a total cost of $500 ($6850 in today's dollars). Just like now, radio advertising proved remarkably effective and Queensboro reported selling two apartments as a direct result of the campaign. Other notable advertisers on WEAF in 1922 included Macy's, American Express, Colgate, and Met Life.
WEAF was owned by AT&T, the telephone company. AT&T saw radio as an electronic phone booth to create "long distance" charges for one person to share a message with the world. WEAF would later go on to become WNBC, the flagship of The National Broadcasting Company.
No recording of the first radio commercial could be found, but you can click here to read the original script.
Mainers' Favorite Radio Commercials of All Time
To help celebrate the 90th anniversary of the radio commercial, we asked local business people, civic leaders, and celebrities to share their favorites of all time. Here are a few of their choices:
MOTEL 6: The "We'll Leave A Light On For You" radio campaign of Motel 6 was chosen most often as a favorite. Maine author and humorist Tim Sample said, "I liked the fact that this was a series of commercials. Each featured a folksy, humorous approach...a slice of life captured in 60 seconds. I became attached to character and looked forward to each new installment."
The voice of Motel 6 belongs to writer Tom Bodett who once explained to me why he thought the Motel 6 commercials were so successful. Tom recounts when people meet him they always say, "You don't look like I thought you would." Tom would ask in response, "What did you think I looked like?" According to Tom, people would vaguely describe someone who resembled themselves. So Tom surmised that the success of the Motel 6 commercials was due to people casting themselves as the star. "And who's better at selling something to you than you?"
Here is an example of one of the award-winning Motel 6 radio commercials:
Molson's Golden Ale: Many people, including Karen St. Clair, President of St. Clair Media Group, selected the commercials featuring the sexy, flirty, funny Molson's Couple as their favorite of all time. Karen exclaimed, "Oh, that Molson girl! The bar scenes were stellar. Magnificent theater of the mind!"
Christina Kelly of Ads Magazine explained the appeal of these commercials this way: "Molson’s radio spots, which dominated the brand’s advertising for five years, featured a modern man and woman trading witticisms in contemporary settings: camping, at the supermarket, as rivals in a baseball game. Both are represented as fully-developed, yet vulnerable, human beings. The results: appealing spots that have received record recognition scores."
Here is an example from the award winning Molson's Golden Ale campaign:
Chevrolet: Car commercials are a fixture of radio advertising. Now days, however, the commercials are about the dealers, the prices, and the models. In the 50s and 60s, the commercials were all about the nameplate: "There's something extra about owning an Oldsmobile," "Have you driven a ford lately," or "Cadillac, universal symbol of achievement." But Betty Angell, Senior Media Planner at Burgess Advertising & Marketing gives high marks to Dinah Shore singing, "See The USA In A Chevrolet." Betty said, "My best high school girlfriend and I used to ride around in her bright red Chevy and it makes me think of those fun times."
The editors of Ad Age magazine concur with Betty's choice. They named "See The USA in a Chevrolet" as the 5th best advertising jingle of the 20th century. Here is Dinah Shore from 1961:
Drag Racing Commercials: Drag racing commercials were part of the radio soundtrack for many years and are the favorite of Former Maine Governor Angus King. "The old drag race commercials from the 60's always started off with two announcers shouting "SUNDAY, SUNDAY" and continued with something like (first announcer) "jimmy Jones and his chopped and channeled 49 Ford; (second announcer) Frankie smith and the monster Plymouth 407; Beach Ridge Speedway, this Sunday---They were memorable, fun, and conveyed the spirit of the races. Advertising at its best, with no need at all for pictures!"
These commercials can be traced back to disc jockey Jan Gabriel who first uttered the words, "Sunday, Sunday, Sunday" for The US 30 Drag Strip and Santa Fe Speedway in Hobart, Indiana. Here is an example of this uniquely radio genre from the Thompson Drag Raceway in Cleveland, Ohio.
We would love to know what your favorite radio commercial of all time is. Please share in the comment section below.