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History of Radio Advertising

The history of radio advertising: Marketing with volume

The history of radio is an incredible story. 

It’s a tale of technological innovation, passion, popular culture, and social evolution. 

When you dive into the background of radio, you find everything from war and peace to patent arguments, and even pirates. However, there’s one crucial component of radio that remains a critical concern for companies around the world today: radio advertising. 

The history of radio advertising began almost a hundred years ago when businesses discovered that they could use the world’s favorite mode of communication to get customers buzzing about a new product or service. Organizations turned to radio advertising to promote themselves in 30 or 60-second spots. You could even sponsor entire shows or broadcasts. 

Today, despite countless evolutions in digital marketing, radio continues to be one of the most valuable methods of promotion – reaching 93% of adults each week

Television and digital media may have a part to play in your marketing world, but radio has an impact on the consumer world that simply can’t be matched. 

Whenever someone is sitting in their car, or waiting to get home on the train, the radio is always there to come to the rescue. 

Here’s our guide to the history of radio advertising, and why it’s still in use today. 

History of Radio Advertising

The brief history of radio advertising: Where did we begin?

Newspapers have been around for hundreds of years, ever since the invention of the printing press. However, it was radio advertising that offered companies a near real-time way to reach their target audience. 

According to most records, the first radio ad (officially) was developed by the WEAF organization in America, by AT&T. In 1922, the group offered businesses a chance to appear on their radio station in exchange for a fee of $50 – plus long-distance access fees. The first sponsor to take advantage of the deal was the Queensboro Corporation of New York, who used their advertisement to sell real estate. 

However, the question of “what was the first radio advertisement” can have different answers depending on who you ask. We’ll come back to that in a minute. 

Radio advertising history began because marketers had already discovered the benefits of newspaper marketing. Companies were looking for a way to reach more customers, and they paid for the ever-popular radio stations to plug their products with ads and sponsorships. Advertising on the radio appeared in America much earlier than it did in the UK and other parts of the world. 

After President Roosevelt appeared on the radio to discuss the events of Pearl Harbor, companies began to see how the medium could be used as a tool for communicating with their audience. During the “golden age” of radio, countless advertisers sponsored entire programs and worked with professionals to produce humorous messages and catchy jingles. 

By the early 1940s, radio advertising was already a deeply ingrained part of American culture. On the other hand, thanks to the BBC’s ownership of the radio waves in Britain for many years, commercial stations were far less common. The first radio ad in the UK didn’t appear until 1973. In the United Kingdom, radio advertising began with the launch of the London Broadcasting Company – the first commercial station in the country. The ad was for Birdseye Frozen Food. 

Far ahead of the UK when it comes to radio advertising history, America began developing the format before other countries ever embraced commercial content. Although the radio industry has evolved a lot since the first ad, there’s still a huge demand for advertising on the radio in the US. 

What was the first radio advertisement?

As mentioned above, the answer to the question “What was the first radio advertisement,” can be a complicated one. There are plenty of different stories out there, depending on who you ask.

If you know all about the invention of the radio, then you may also know that the first radio stations in the 1800s could only transmit Morse code. When the first transmitters capable of sending voice and sound across the airwaves were introduced in the early 1900s, they were typically used for person-to-person communication in government groups. However, there were some companies at the time experimenting with the broadcasting of entertainment and news.

History of Radio Advertising

In a way, the history of radio advertising began with those initial investors, who used their broadcasts to promote what their new systems could do. Additionally, it quickly became standard practice for stations to agree to play phonograph records in exchange for mentioning companies on air when they provided the records. In 1912, the San Jose, California station of Charles Herrold began making weekly radio broadcasts with music supplied by the Wiley B. Allen brand.

The history of radio advertising continued to evolve in 1916 after the De Forest station and company started experimenting with a new radio station named 2XG in New York. This station had an agreement with a Columbia Gramophone record company, where the station would announce the name of the Gramophone company at the end of each song.

Despite the initial experiments with radio advertisements, many people still point to the early 1920s when asked “When did advertising start in America?” for radio stations. Remick’s music store in Seattle constantly received sponsorship spots on the KFC radio station in 1922 (no relation to the other KFC). Additional, in Massachusetts, a car dealer named Alvin Fuller purchased a number of time slots on a radio station called WGI in 1922 as well. The US Department of Commerce sent Fuller a cease and desist order for this behavior, as he was violating advertising standards.

Outside of the United States, there are further reports that the radio advertising history goes back even further. A telephone broadcasting service from Hungary sold 12-second advertising spots in 1893, between music and news broadcasting segments. Each spot sold for about 50 cents.

Types of advertising on the radio

We’ve come a long way since the beginning of radio advertising.

Today, we have everything from podcasting to DAB broadcasting.

As radio has continued to evolve as a medium for promotion, the advertising opportunities that businesses have been able to explore have changed too. Radio advertising has become a broad topic that is both subjective and customizable, depending on the needs of the brand. For instance, some of the most common types of advertising on the radio include:

The live read: 

In a live read, you write a full commercial for a radio station, and someone voices that message live on air. Many stations today have incredibly well-known talent available to read ads for companies. The connections that these disc jockeys have with their fans make a live read feel a lot like influencer marketing. Having someone’s popular and well-known voice attributed to your company makes it stand out from the crowd.

History of Radio Advertising

The Jingle ad:

Jingles have become so popular over the years that they don’t just belong to radio advertising history anymore. There are also jingles for television ads and online promotion too! Since the connection between music and memory is strong, advertising on the radio frequently involves jingles that are designed to stick in the minds of a specific audience. Additionally, you’re benefiting from the fact that customers expect to hear music when they’re listening to the radio, so jingles aren’t disruptive.

The personified commercial

A lot of people assume that “social proof” is a relatively new aspect of marketing. However, it’s been around throughout the history of radio advertising. People always like knowing that someone else has already used a service or product and that they’ve had a good experience. If you can get a real-life person to talk about your company, a radio station will allow you to place that ad on their channel – for a price.

The sponsored ad

Finally, sponsored ads are probably one of the best-known and most subtle forms of radio advertising. There’s no specific message included. Instead, the aim is just to get the name of a brand out there by getting it mentioned after a traffic update, a news alert, or a weather report. For instance, your presenter might say something like “Brought to you by Radio Fidelity.” Sponsored ads are usually pretty affordable, and a great way to spread brand awareness.

Why use radio advertising today?

Over the years, as the history of radio advertising has evolved, audio promotion has transformed too. There are countless different types of marketing available around the world today, yet radio advertising remains one of the most reliable options, delivering an average of 770% return on investment. Providing reach, flexibility, and an opportunity to connect with customers on a deeper, more emotional level, radio advertising is still a fantastic opportunity today.

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So, why use radio advertising?

Incredible reach

Perhaps the most obvious benefit of using radio for advertising is that its reach is unsurpassed. According to the Nielsen research brand, radio draws a higher weekly audience than television, and a staggering 93% of adults listen to the radio each week. They’re not just listening through traditional means either – they’re also connecting via streaming platforms like Pandora and Spotify.

History of Radio Advertising

Radio has its own unique niche in the advertising world, offering unique forms of entertainment to customers wherever they are. Unlike any other form of marketing, radio broadcasts can connect with audiences in any location, at any time, no matter what they’re doing. There’s no need for anyone to sit down and read an article or even pay attention to something visual like a video. Radio advertising just washes over us.

Fantastic targeting opportunities

Throughout the history of radio advertising, marketing over radio networks has grown increasingly more efficient. We used to only have a handful of stations available to us. However, today, companies can broadcast their content on stations that are specifically suited to customers in their target region and even their preferred niche.

If you have a thorough understanding of the user personas that you’re trying to reach, then advertising on the radio should be a breeze. Most people will be able to generate a good idea of the sort of channels that their customers will listen to based on the personas they have in mind. Because radio advertising is targeted, it also means that companies can build deeper relationships with their audience through more emotional, meaningful messages. 

Additionally, because the human voice is more likely to spark our emotions than written text or images, the content sent over radio has a bigger impact too.

A chance to stand out

When the history of radio advertising first began, it was a way for companies to avoid the clutter and confusion of newspaper advertising. Even when television appeared on the market, many organizations still stuck with radio, because it allowed them to reach a different audience. 

Today, the most overwhelmed promotional channels are online. There are countless people competing for the same attention on social media channels, websites, and more. However, despite radio’s popularity, many companies forget to use it for advertising. That means that the brands that take a chance have a chance to separate themselves from the crowd. What’s more, because radio advertising is cheaper, there’s an option for companies to create and publish ads more frequently, without using too much of their budget. 

The importance of radio advertising

It’s easy to assume that in a new world of advertising, radio marketing would be old, outdated, and even irrelevant. However, the truth is that new advances in consumer technology are just giving customers more ways to listen to the radio, and tune into the advertising they find there.

The Pew Research Center revealed that Americans are paying more attention to their radio stations than ever before. Terrestrial radio like AM/FM broadcasting still reaches a considerable majority of the public, and spot advertising makes up about 75% of the revenue for the average radio station. 

On the other side of the coin, digital radio has emerged as a separate powerhouse too. Users around the world are latching onto the convenience that comes with being able to stream music wherever they are straight to their phone or other devices. 

The importance of radio advertising is just as significant today as it has ever been.

For instance, let’s look at some of the benefits:

  • Radio reaches audience members faster: You can connect with your target customer and bring them to your store within the same day.
  • Radio sells everywhere: No matter where your customer is, there’s a good chance that they have access to a radio. 
  • Radio sells with intimacy: The human voice brings a level of emotion to radio advertising that’s difficult to achieve through images and text alone. 
  • Radio is cost-effective: Both now, and in the past, radio advertising has proven to be a cost-effective way for companies to share their products and services with the world. 
  • Radio offers frequency: Aside from offering incredible reach, radio ensures that you can get your brand mentioned as many times as you like. 

Most importantly of all, radio advertising gives companies access to an active medium of promotion in a dynamic society. When radio advertising history began, radio was the only way to consistently communicate to an audience wherever they were. Today, as we continue to rush around through busy lives, barely spending enough time at home to watch traditional television, radio can withstand our active lifestyles. 

Depending on where you work, you might even have radio playing in the background of your office, or keeping you entertained when you serve customers at the front of your store. Radio has become something of a soundtrack to the typical life, appearing in all parts of our day – from the moment we wake up with radio alarm clocks, to the second we fall asleep.

History of Radio Advertising

Is radio advertising still relevant?

Advertising on the radio began as the most exciting and reliable way to get a message across to a massive range of listeners at once. Today, it might not be the most glamorous way of connecting with your audience, but that doesn’t make it any less appealing. 

The importance of radio advertising may be greater than ever in a time where people are feeling overwhelmed by the amount of information they need to filter through online. The world of radio gives customers a chance to escape and relax in a place devoted to entertainment and information. When advertisements appear, they don’t feel overwhelming or annoying like pop-ups on a computer screen. Perhaps the fact that we’ve always had marketing to contend with on the radio means that we feel comfortable with it today. 

The importance of radio advertising may be greater than ever in a time where people are feeling overwhelmed by the amount of information they need to filter through online. The world of radio gives customers a chance to escape and relax in a place devoted to entertainment and information. When advertisements appear, they don’t feel overwhelming or annoying like pop-ups on a computer screen. Perhaps the fact that we’ve always had marketing to contend with on the radio means that we feel comfortable with it today. 

Even in the age of streaming content and smart TVs, radio still dominates several vital metrics in the advertising environment. It’s hard to believe that almost 100 years after advertising history first began in America, it’s still making waves in the promotional world. 

More than social media or smartphones – and certainly more than television, radio advertising has withstood the changes of an entire industry. You might be surprised to learn that radio’s audience is still growing today – adding new listeners every year. Additionally, now that customers are more comfortable with things like podcasting and talk shows, radio advertising has more scope and reach than ever before. 

When you think about it, the enduring impact of radio advertising makes sense. We interact with audio media like radio in a very different way to the way that we connect with other promotional opportunities. We don’t have to pay as much attention, but we still take things in. Indeed, some experts believe that listening forces us to use more of our brains than watching something. That’s because there’s no image in front of us to guide us.

When we hear an advertisement or a story on the radio, it’s up to us to create the visual in our minds. This makes whatever we hear so much more memorable in the long-term. Psychologists suggest that the cognitive processing involved in listening to the radio might be why this medium is still so effective at influencing behavior.

The history of radio advertising might have started several decades ago, but it’s a long way from over. If the studies available today are anything to go by, the continued impact of radio will continue to affect the way that we interact and advertise for years to come. 

Stay tuned to the latest radio industry insights with Radio Fidelity.

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