The Visitor in Your Living Room:

Radio Advertising in the 1930s

On our last episode of "Patrick Walters, the Kind Shepherd", our strapping young hero finally decided that his peaceful flock and field were not enough to hold his heart any longer. While he had once been content only to thoughtfully stroke the fleece of his simple charges and write the sonnets that expressed his deepest hopes and fears through the lazy afternoon, he could no longer deny himself that which he truly needed: his love for the mysterious young woman who had sprung so suddenly into his life just one week ago. Only the most unlikely of fates could have thrown the ruddy-cheek'd lad together with the spunky newspaper photographer Kathryn Lane, but the occurrence was as inevitable as the return of songthrushes each spring. Young Patrick wondered each and every night how he had lived so many years without her piercing eyes and jaunty cigarette holder, not to mention the delicate ease with which she recorded scenes of his pristine life for her big-city weekly, and knew that he had but one choice.

We followed his journey through town and countryside, wishing him our most heartfelt encouragements, and hoped beyond hope that our rustic hero would conquer the teeming city with the determination only love can bring. We join him now as he makes his way up Fifth Street. There is bewilderment on his face as he experiences the hustle and bustle of city life for the first time, but there is purpose as well. Will he find the happiness he seeks amongst the throngs of humanity? Today, we shall all know the answers...but first, a word from our sponsor, Austin Graham:

Radio's "Golden Age" in the 30s didn't just provide romances, suspense stories, and comedy routines for an eager American audience: it brought a revolution in advertising as well. Advertising was at the root of much entertainment and the sponsor of most broadcast concerts; it was advertising that created the immortal "Shadow" and made a national phenomenon of swing music, all the while creating national brands and far-flung recognition of products. Comedian Red Skeleton perhaps best summed up the pervasive nature of ads in radio when he informed his audiences that "the single longest word in the English language is as follows: 'And now a word from our sponsors.'"

This project is a study of the radio advertising phenomenon of the 30s, including the structure of the common ad, the psychology at broadcast advertising's roots, and the radio's effect on mass culture. Red Skeleton was right; this will be a lengthy commercial break. By understanding radio advertising more completely at the end of this study, however, the audience that prays for "Kind Patrick Walters" will better understand where he and other memorable radio characters in the "Golden Age" came from.

The Structure of Advertising | Radio's New Psychology | Creating Mass Culture | Bibliography


This project contains streaming sound clips, and you will need a Real Audio player.

Please send comments and suggestions to Austin Graham at asuva@virginia.edu