March 1930 Radio News
Wax nostalgic about and learn from the history of early
electronics. See articles from
Radio & Television News, published 1919-1959. All copyrights hereby
"Are we killing the broadcasting
goose, layer of many golden eggs?" Dr. Lee de Forest asked in his inaugural address,
upon his election to the presidency of the Institute of Radio Engineers. So went
the opening editorial in a 1930 edition of Radio News magazine. It was
directed at the question of whether excessive, "gratuitous" advertising was going
to be so offensive to listeners that they would turn off the set and go back to
their former silent worlds. Remember that many, if not most, households, and certainly
not automobiles, even had radios at the time. Building an audience was essential
to nurturing the new phenomenon of radio, and to saturate the listeners with commercials
would surely doom the medium. Dr. de Forest would be truly depressed if he could
see the commercial broadcast landscape today with it consisting of 15-20% advertising
content and much of the rest filled with political and social subliminal and overt
The Broadcasting Goose
"Are we killing the broadcasting goose,
layer of many golden eggs?" Dr. Lee De Forest asked in his inaugural address, upon
his election to the presidency of the Institute of Radio Engineers. Are we? The
question has already aroused much controversy among radio broadcasters and in the
newspapers. And Radio News urges its readers to consider - what is excessive radio
advertising going to do to radio?
Advertisers were not slow to make the acquaintance of the broadcasting goose,
and to appropriate their share of its golden eggs. A magazine or newspaper reader
may deliberately let his eye slip over the "ads," if he is so inclined, but a radio
"listener-in" is taken by surprise, and hears large amounts of gratuitous advertising,
whether he wants to or not. In the earlier days of radio such announcements were
usually of short duration, simple and concise. The listener understood, without
any more ado, that a certain company had been presenting him with a program out
of the kindness of its own heart. The listener was usually grateful, or at least
did not cavil at this information.
But today advertising announcements over the radio have expanded to almost unbearable
dimensions. The average layman, comfortably listening to an evening's program, is
told at the end not only who the senders of that program are, and the name of the
product which they manufacture, but also a thousand and one superfluous and-from
his point of view - boring details.
The listener, however, has become canny. With the first sign of an overloaded
advertising announcement he arises from his chair and crosses the room, grinning
craftily, to turn the dial to another program. Or, if his radio is remote controlled,
he can switch the program and grin craftily without rising from his chair.
In other words. the radio advertiser today is fast defeating his own purpose.
He has become too greedy - too avaricious. He has lost sight of the principal object
of broadcasting - the presentation of a program. He is on the way to becoming a
megalomaniac. And he is demonstrating very poor psychology.
The broadcasters themselves, and a few advertisers, have mastered this psychology,
as is evidenced by their programs in which a mere mention of the sponsorship is
made. But the majority of advertisers follow one of two annoying methods - either
the frequent breaking into a program with their announcements, or continual references
to their own products woven into the program itself.
The general excellence of sponsored programs with their diversified presentations
is undoubtedly responsible for the widespread acceptance of radio and its engineering
development. But the whole thing is becoming too much like the old fairy story of
the little girl who had to eat her way through a world of soup. It was very good
soup, but there was too much of it. Our radio programs are presented by very good
advertisers, but we have to hear too much about them, Direct advertising by broadcasters
is ceasing to build good-will. Unless something is speedily done to remedy this
situation, it is going to promote animosity and active dislike.
Where does the solution of this problem lie? Not with the listeners-in - they
have already found their solution - turning the dial. Will it be necessary for the
broadcasting stations to restrict and censor the advertising given them?
That would be unfortunate indeed, and should not be the case. No - in our opinion
the solution lies with the advertisers themselves. It is time for them to summon
their good sense and to make a careful survey of the ground on which they stand.
If radio advertising is to regain a position of value for both the advertisers and
listeners-in, it must be censored by the advertiser himself! He must learn the psychological
value and increased effectiveness of short and simple announcements. He must realize
that he cannot pamper and overstuff his pretty goose, or there will be no more golden
Stuart C. Mahanay
Posted May 25, 2020
(updated from original post on 5/2/2014)