To understand how radio advertising has changed over the last century, you need to understand how radio technology has changed. Even though Marconi was officially recognized as the inventor of the radio; the actual concept of wireless communication can be attributed to everyone’s favorite mad scientist, Nikola Tesla.
In the early days of radio, stations were unable to broadcast voice but it was used for transmitting Morse code communication during World War I. During the early years after radio was released to the public, the radio dealt mostly with entertainment. They did not deal much with the news, and only a little in advertisements.
In those early days, radio stations used to be owned by smaller companies. These small companies would use radio to primarily advertise their own goods and services. Then as radio ownership grew, radio was owned by large companies that would sell advertisements to other that were willing to purchase the air time. In radio’s infancy, people would tune into their local radio station for entertainment. Some of the entertainment that the public enjoyed were variety shows and different kinds of stories. Think Marshal Dillon. Yup, that’s the stuff we’re talking about!
Such shows evolved to make their money through advertising. There were sponsors that paid for the show to be put on the air. With variety shows, the product was mentioned on the shows, and the fact that they were sponsors was no secret. In this current age if we listen to some of these early radio shows, we would see them as thirty-minute and hour-long commercials. While we no longer have radio shows like this anymore, companies still sponsor radio shows.
Consider the average daytime talk radio show. When you listen to the station you do not really notice when the products are mentioned as being an advertisement. That is till before a commercial break. A talk radio show host might say something like, “this segments sponsor is bed-be-gone. This is the only product guaranteed to wake up your deep sleeping partner with a single spritz. With one spritz they will feel like the bed was taken away from underneath them and will wake up instantly activating their reflexes! Not responsible for broken noses or disrupted marriages. Bed-be-gone, wake them up no!” Then they would go to a commercial break. Sounds absurd, but grabbed your attention didn’t it?
When they speak of the current sponsor, the host was usually live reading the copy script. This would cost more than having a prerecord advertisement, even if the same host is reading it. The idea is that if they are reading the product at that moment, it is more likely to be heard and can garner more customers because of a closer association with the product and the host. Also, it could be because it is more likely that people would not change the station.
Radio first started on the AM dial. There were fewer stations at that time. Then after the 1940 adaptation of FM radio, it became popular in the 1960’s. When FM was adapted, more stations were created. This allowed more shows to be broadcasts as well as more music stations. News became more popular as well. With a larger audience, there was a better chance of reaching more people through advertising. Advertisers had a way to better target their audience and get the word out about what they were selling. As a side note, reading the issues that there were during the introduction of AM and FM radio is a fascinating read. There are books that explain the history very well, and the rise and fall of radio during the early years.
Teleporting to a more current year. Two companies spent over $1.5 billion on purchasing satellite radio waves, whose frequencies were set apart in 1992 by the FCC. These two companies would eventually become the two satellite radio providers that we know today. The stations did not start having nationwide coverage until 2002. Satellite radio became a subscription based radio provider that catered to many different genres.
This was an advertisers dream. Targeting consumers has always been a goal in advertising, with the advent or subscription based radio stations that had stations geared to certain likes made advertising to those groups much easier.
Satellite radio had become king of subscription based, uncensored radio. With it being a subscription based service, the FCC allowed more items to be played on those airwaves than on others. This gives advertisers a better chance to get the audience that they want through targeted advertising. Satellite radio allows easy access to the kind of radio you want to listen too. There is even a station where you can listen to the old variety and entertainment shows from yesteryear. With the many different stations that exist on satellite radio, the chances to reach your targeted group has grown and will continue to grow exponentially.