Admen and the shaping of American commercial broadcasting, 1926-50
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The advertising industry made significant contributions to the development of American commercial broadcasting during the “Golden Age” of radio, roughly the late 1920s through the 1940s. “Admen” not only helped develop broadcasting as an advertisin g medium, they also produced the majority of prime‑time network programs, such as Show Boat, Town Hall Tonight, and The Jack Benny Program , and day time serials, such as Stella Dallas, Ma Perkins, and Just Plain Bill. This dissertation, based on an extensive review of surviving network and agency materials, describes the complicated, often conflicted, activities of admen as they sought to develop radio as an entertainment and advertising medium while balancing the competing demands of advertisers, networks, performers, and audiences. The Depression forced broadcasters to seek program financing from advertisers, who turned to advertising agencies to over see the complexities of integrating their advertising into entertainment. Relationships between networks and agencies evolved to manage the ongoing conflicts over program control and advertising standards. Meanwhile, admen struggled to develop new techniques fo r radio , focusing on “showmanship” as a set of strategies to be applied to both entertainment and advertising. Some advertising agencies, such as Blackett‑Sample‑Hummert, employed the “hard sell,” emphasizing product claims and “reasons why” to buy, while other agencies, such as Young & Rubicam, relied on humorous and indirect appeals, or the “soft sell.” These advertising strategies carried over into the agencies ’ programming. At the height of the radio era, advertising agencies expanded into Hollywood to oversee star‑studded radio entertainment programs, including Lux Radio Theatre, Kraft Music Hall, and Hollywood Playhouse. Radio revenues and audiences peaked in 1948, the same year of the first network television broadcasts. By the end of the 1950s, because of increased production costs, the networks had taken over most of the programming functions handled by advertising agencies during the radio era. However, this dissertation argues that the influence of admen and the advertising industry in shaping broadcasting institutions such as networks and cultural forms such as program genres has left a deep and significant legacy.