Those TV Commercials!
October 10th, 2011
A Catholic Digest classic article from July 1954
Photo from Photos.com
At 5:15 pm, August 28, 1922, people listening to WEAF-AM radio in New York heard Mr. Blackwell of the Queensboro Corporation encourage New Yorkers to leave the crowded, congested living areas of the city. “As you value your health and your hopes and your home happiness,” he said, “get away from the solid masses of brick, where the meagre opening admitting a slant of sunlight is mockingly called a light shaft, and where children grow up starved for a run over a patch of grass and the sight of a tree.” The place to go, he said, was only a short subway ride away — the Hawthorne Court cooperative apartments in Jackson Heights, Queens, where one could get to know one’s neighbors, while having “all the latest conveniences and contrivances demanded by the housewife and yet have all of the outdoor life that the city dweller yearns for but has deludedly supposed could only be obtained through purchase of a house in the country.”
Mr. Blackwell went on extolling the virtues of Hawthorne Court for ten minutes. The people listening to him were hearing what most historians think was the first bona fide radio commercial ever.
And as soon as there were radio commercials, there were complaints about them. Herbert Hoover, U.S. Secretary of Commerce, said that same year (1922) that “it is inconceivable that we should allow so great a possibility for service [as radio] to be drowned in advertising clutter." In the late 1930s when radio advertising was ubiquitous, a Catholic Digest article lamented that the most heartbreaking radio news of war and disaster would inevitably be followed by a cheery announcer telling us about the joys of aftershave.
Television followed the same course, from the first ad — for Bulova watches — in 1941, to the Super Bowl advertising extravaganzas of our own day. And from the beginning people have enjoyed them, complained abut them, and proposed pay TV models (including coin-slot televisions) that would do away with them.
In 1954, when our classic article was published, TV was still growing in popularity. Only 56% of American households owned a TV. But the thoughts and arguments in this article sound very familiar to what one might hear today, when advertisers spend over $70 billion a year on combined cable and broadcast air time.
So here from July 1954, “Those TV Commercials!”