Argument that the Rapid Commercialization of Radio Affected the Form and Content of Radio Programs

Argument that the Rapid Commercialization of Radio Affected the Form and Content of Radio Programs

The rapid commercialization of radio played an imperative role around the 1920’s, it considerably affected and created an impact in the form and content of radio programs. One of the ideas of commercializing radio appears in the article written by Michele Hilmes “Broadcasting Begins, 1910 to 1926”. This article discusses the idea of radio as a technology that would generate an income, a profit. The idea of making a profit comes with the commercialization of radio and its impact in radio programs such as Amos n Andy. Other ideas rise in the article “Radio Advertising to Women in Twenties America: A Latchkey to Every Home” written by Susan Smulyan. In this article the idea of the commercialization of radio comes with the view of women as the ultimate consumers, this altering the content and form of radio programs as they target women. Looking back at the history of Radio, it began as an analogy to and an extension of the telegraph rather than a method of broadcasting music, speech and advertising. Its large audience and popularity transformed it into a commercial technology, based merely in making profit.

The commercialization of radio started with the regulation of the medium, radio became commercial and was in private hands. This basically meant that advertising would provide the means of support to the radio stations, certainly displaying good taste. The commercialization of the radio was so big that about 75 percent of the early stations fell into the commercial category, this meaning that these stations’ purpose was to promote or publicize the main business of their parent company. Since the majority of radio stations had as main purpose advertising, the content of radio had already changed from being primarily music and speech to any form of indirect advertising like a performer, a publication or a company. The content was formed around the product that wanted to be advertised. The material on the early radio was based around what was the best form of doing indirect advertising (Hilmes 44).

Newspapers owned the major radio stations, as newspaper publishers had been among the earliest to see the publicity value of radio. Some of the newspaper owned radio stations used the newspaper model as a guide to radio content. Some stations experimented with what was most popular on the newspaper like the nationally sensational blackface comedy strip that became the “Amos n Andy” comedy series. Once again the content and form of the radio programs was influenced by the commercialization of radio, Amos n Andy was already popular in newspaper so it was adapted to the radio to attract more audience, therefore more profit (52).

The General Order 40 shows how everything moved around the commercialization of radio. This order stated that the public interest standard should be determined by “technological superiority”. The effect of this categorizing principle was to drive non-profit stations off the air. Thus, only the profit making, commercial based radio stations would survive as they had the resources for keeping up with this technological superiority demanded by the order. This principle affected the content of the radio programs as the radio stations had to have an income if they wanted to stay on the air, and this income usually came from advertising. They were basically dependent on it, this leading to the rising of commercial based radio stations were the content was primarily advertising all around (64).

The rapid commercialization of radio also affected the form and content of radio programs when advertisers saw women as the ultimate consumers. At beginning of the radio history broadcasters presented the radio as a male dominated and evening entertainment medium, thus for daytime broadcasting to become profitable the ideas about radio and the radio programs had to change to adapt to a female audience. The urge for making a profit out of radio led broadcasters and advertisers to think of daytime broadcasts targeted to women. Since the female audience for these broadcasts worked in the home and would only pay partial attention, the advertisers needed to redesign the programs and commercials to deliver their message to the more distracted daytime audience, housewives. To target women, the home had to be the center of commerce (Smulyan 3). Once again advertising couldn’t be direct but had to be indirect, this meant that the content of the radio programs was formed around the need to sell a product. The commercialization of radio influenced notoriously the content and the form of the radio programs as it was all formed and adapted around a product, just as it also depended on who the target audience was for every product. Indirect advertising allowed the airing of the sponsor’s name so that the company would receive the goodwill of listeners but forbade direct and obvious selling (6).

Commercialized radio altered completely the content of its programs, just as the daytime broadcasts were directed to women, broadcasters created an instructional tool staffed by home economists in order to appeal and sell to them. The commercialization changed the content and form of radio programs in this case as it passed from being directed from men to women, from nighttime to daytime, so the content had to change completely to be able to appeal and sell to the targeted audience. The daytime advertising content was created around the need to sell domestic products; this brought the development of instructional programs, spot advertisement and soap operas. All of these created around the product and targeted at women. Everything added to the complete commercialization of radio where every minute would be sold (7).

In conclusion, the rapid commercialization of radio not only affected but also had a major impact in the form and content of radio programs. Throughout the discussion it can be identified that the content and form of radio programs varied with the need to make a profit and the way to make it is through the commercialization of radio, through advertising. Thus, the content and form were altered, as they needed to be adapted either for the evening broadcast or the daytime broadcast. The content and form varied based on popularity, product and the target audience. Advertising attempted to make the audience insecure and then give the solution to their problems in an indirect way through the content formed around the product. Radio developed as an inevitable commercial medium, notoriously altering the radio programs on its way to make a profit.


Hilmes, Michele. "Broadcasting Begins, 1919 to 1926." Only Connect: a Cultural History of Broadcasting in the United States. Boston, MA: Wadsworth Cengage Learning, 2011. 41-66. Print.

Smulyan, Susan. “Radio Advertising to American Women in the 1920s: A Latchkey to Every Home,” Historical Journal of Film, Radio and Television 13 (1993): 299-314.