This is an online encyclopedia of personalities of Old Time Radio. It is designed for educational and entertainment purposes.

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Billy Jack Long is a professional musician and author from Southern California. Any paid advertising you see on this page was not put her by Bill. Ignore it and it should go away.

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Saturday, July 26, 2008

And now, a word from our sponsor...

Sponsors on radio did more than just promote their products so the programs could be produced. They actually owned the shows. The sponsors, not the networks, usually had more to say about the content of the program or the content of it. Many programs on OTR (Old Time Radio) often gave up sponsorship because of the way the performers acted in public.

That isn't to say the networks had nothing to say take Ex-Lax. How did such a product as a laxative get promoted when such words as toilet, bowel movement, poo, or stronger words that aren't used in this 'blog couldn't be heard on the radio?

The sponsor had to figure how to get prospective customers to use the product with a direct message without offending anyone. So they'd used expressions like, regular, meaning one has at least two bowel movements a day, or irregular, meaning that one has one bowel movement a week and it comes out like concrete. Everyone was happy and Ex-Lax sold as well as Hershey bars.

Speaking of Hershey bars, did you know that this was one product which was never promoted on radio? The original great American chocolate bar, as it came to be known in its first commercials (on television) in 1982! To some people this is absolutely shocking. In the movie that won the first Oscar for Best Picture, Wings (1927), Gary Cooper, in his screen debut offered the hero of the story, Buddy Rogers, a Hershey bar before going off into battle. Rogers survived. Cooper didn't. And it was a pretty good picture of the bar, too. It was a lot like the picture here. Today, I'm sure with product placement (something that didn't exist until the 1980s), the Hershey Food Corporation would get several thousand dollars for that promotion. Yup, that's how they see it now. The candy bar gets more money than the background actors.

Another product that wasn't promoted on radio was Levi's jeans. This is interesting because EVERYONE wore them. Now there are some interesting facts about Levi's:
  • Until the 1960s, Levi's only made jeans and jean jackets.
  • All the jeans the company made through 1965 were Lot 501, Shrink-to-Fit. There was a complicated way to know one's size, since there was substantial shrinkage from the marked size. (501s are still very popular today.)
  • The company made bib overalls from the 1870s through the beginning of World War II.
  • The first "non-jeans" product the company made was colored jeans.
  • The first non-shrink product the company made was children's jeans.
  • Women's clothing were not made until the late 1960s.
  • Until the late 1970s, all the products sold with the Levi Strauss label were manufactured in the United States.
  • The first dress slacks made by Levi Strauss were called Nuvo (Nouveau). The material used to make them was similar to burlap. They were introduced in 1967. (Bill's Note: They itched, but they looked good, so we never complained!)
  • Levi's were banned schoolwear (along with plain white T-shirts) until the late 1960s. Girls were not allowed to wear pants/trousers (slacks) to school until the 1969-70 school year.
Some products were advertised on radio that were never advertised anywhere else. One such product was Horlick's Malted Milk. The product is quite popular in the United Kingdom to this day but it never got a lot of exposure in the United States. Horlick's is still made today (as Horlicks) in England. But in 1935, Lum 'n' Abner found itself suddenly without a sponsor. Ford sponsored the show. When that contract ran out, Quaker Oats took over. For a few weeks, the program was sustaining, meaning it didn't have a sponsor.

William Horlick, the founder and CEO of J. & W. Horlick of Racine, Wisconsin, wrote to NBC in Chicago and expressed interest in sponsoring Lum 'n' Abner. He explained how much he loved the program and that he would like to have his company's product linked with it. Chet Lauck and Tuffy Goff said, "I guess, they think we really are a bunch of hillbillies here. Who uses this stuff?"

Previously, Horlick's put his name on a band that was on the show, the A & P Gypsies in the early days of NBC. It wasn't a true radio sponsorship, but it was heard on radio. When Horlick's sponsored Lum 'n' Abner, many stations on the network quit airing the show. In fact they all did, except WCCO in Minneapolis! In time, the program got a new sponsor, Alka-Seltzer. All the stations were back playing the program. William Horlick died in 1936 at the age of 90. Younger brother James's sons ended up going back to England where the business thrives.

One program which united the idea of the product and the program was Death Valley Days (aired on radio 1930-44 and on TV 1952-75). The radio program was sponsored by the Pacific Coast Borax Company. Borax was gathered from Badwater, the lowest point in the Western Hemisphere, located at Death Valley, California, and taken by wagons pulled by 20 mule teams. Actually, these teams consisted of 18 mules (a mule has a donkey father and a horse mother) and two horses. The wagons went from Death Valley to Mojave, California, not far from the towns of Palmdale and Lancaster. Pacific Borax had a company town nearby called Boron (which is one of the components of borax). The refined product which is still found in many American homes is 20 Mule Team Borax. One thing noticed in listening to older radio programs is how the pronunciation of borax has changed over the past 78 years. It has changed for BOH-rucks to BORE-ax. In 1957 the U.S. Potash Corporation merged with the Pacific Coast Borax Company to create the U.S. Borax Corporation. U.S. Borax was acquired by the British-Australian-American mining conglomerate Rio Tinto in 1988. The products Boraxo, Borateem, and20 Mule Team Borax are manufactured by the Dial Corporation.

The first program to make commercials an integral part of the show was Fibber McGee and Molly. When it debuted over the NBC Blue Network in 1935, the sponsor was S.C. Johnson and Sons. The show's announcer was Harlow Wilcox (1900-60). He was the announcer for many shows and many other sponsors. On the McGee show, Fibber would call Harlow, "Waxy." Well, that was when the sponsor was Johnson's Wax. The show would have two other regular sponsors before it became the property of the network in 1954, when the show went from a weekly 30 minute show with one sponsor to a daily 15 minute show with several sponsors. That version was actually recorded in the home of Jim and Marion Jordan in the Los Angeles/San Fernando Valley neighborhood of Encino, as Marion was deathly ill. The commercials were no longer an integral part of the show and were recorded at an advertising agency, either in Hollywood or New York.

The second sponsor was Pet Milk. Harlow then became "Milky." Besides selling evaporated milk, sometimes the shows would offer tips by Mary Lee Taylor, who had a weekly Saturday morning cooking show. The original Mary Lee Taylor, Erma Perham Proetz (1891-1944) had been dead for four years when these programs aired, so the Mary Lee Taylor heard was played by another woman.

The third sponsor was Reynolds Aluminum. Of course, today the Reynolds Metal Company is known as one of the greatest manufacturers of aluminum foil in the world (for those who live outside the United States, that's aluminium foil). Now here is some trivia about aluminum foil. Reynolds was the first aluminum foil. The company that made it was the R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Company. The original purpose of aluminum foil was to line cigarette packages!


Harlow Wilcox was best known, outside of Fibber McGee and Molly as the spokesman for Auto-Lite. The company still exists today as Autolite. That was on Suspense. On Amos 'n' Andy, Harlow was the spokesman for Rinso. For many years, Rinso was the main laundry detergent of Lever Brothers (now Unilever). Developed by the Hudson Soap Company (of England), that company was bought by Lever Brothers (also in England) in 1908. Ten years later, Lever Brothers (in the United States) began marketing Rinso as its premier laundry product. It was replaced by Surf in the 1980s, even though that brand was introduced in 1953.

If one listens to a lot of OTR (old time radio), it's possible to hear Harlow Wilcox selling almost everything. He was especially talented at handling public service announcements.

Feen-a-mint was the sponsor of Double or Nothing (starring John Reed King). Very rarely seen anymore, this was a chewing gum with some laxative thrown in. The announcers, like Ex-Lax, were always very careful to use euphemistic terms as not to offend anyone.

Archie Andrews was a very popular Saturday morning radio show. Based upon Bob Montana's comic book characters, it premiered in 1944 on NBC and had several casts, but the best known group had Bob Hastings in the title role. For most of the time Archie was on the radio, it was sustained, meaning that it had no sponsor. However, when Bob Sherry was the announcer, he pitched Swift's Premium Franks. There was a little jingle that went with the Swift hot dog ads:

Tender beef!
Juicy pork!
Known from the West Coast
To New York!
Swift's Premium Franks!
Swift's Premium Franks!

Now, it should be worth noting that the music for all of the Archie Andrews shows was done on a Wurlitzer theater organ, played by Felix McGuire. It's the typical hoky-ish stuff that we all love to hate!

The Gene Autry program and Yours Truly Johnny Dollar (in 1949-50) were sponsored by Wrigley's Gum. Those commercials made chewing gum sound like a health aid. The announcer pointed out all the healthful benefits of gum, although they are careful not to say chewing gum is nutritious!

The J.L. Kraft Company of Chicago, Illinois, sponsored many radio programs from the Kraft Music Hall to the Great Gildersleeve. Listening to Gildy, one would have heard many products which are still in production today: Kraft Dinner (now called Kraft Macaroni and Cheese, except in Canada, where it's still called by its former name), Velveeta, and Parkay margarine (now made by ConAgra Foods). Parkay was one of the first margarine products which actually claimed NOT to be margarine, although it was labeled as such through the 1980s. (Bill's Note: Checking a Parkay package, it doesn't say margarine anywhere.)

In the 1950s, programs began being sold by the advertisers to the networks. Originally, network owned shows were sustaining, without a sponsor. But this changed and the network shows would get a pool of sponsors. Have Gun Will Travel would have all these sponsors in one episode:
  • Rambler (cars--American Motors)
  • Pepsi-Cola
  • Crusade for Freedom (charity, but they were paying commercials)
  • Kellogg's All-Bran (reliable, effective)
  • Winston (cigarettes--Winston tastes good, like a cigarette





These ads are great, aren't they? Those Ramblers were great. Pepsi has had more reformulations than Coke ever thought of (Bill is a Coca-Cola drinker!) The man in the Crusade for Freedom picture is Tom Dewey, former New York City District Attorney, former New York State Governor, and former Republican candidate for U.S. President who lost to Harry S Truman (unless H.V. Kaltenborn's report after the 1948 election was true!) Bill would love to get one of those four way spoons! And, even though the resident blogger is a militant nonsmoker, the Winston advertisements sure bring back the memories.

If you collect old-time radio programs, make sure you can get as many commercials as you can. They are almost as much fun as the shows themselves. Sometimes more fun.

See you all on the radio!

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