This story was published in Radio Recall, the journal of the Metropolitan Washington Old-Time Radio Club, published six times per year.
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ASK THE EXPERT...
Our expert in this issue is Elizabeth McLeod, well-known OTR historian and researcher.
(From Radio Recall, February 2005)
QUESTION: Has anyone determined what was radio’s first singing commercial? I’ve heard a number of them proposed for this honor, but do we really know for sure? (from K. N. Pecore, Oshkosh, WI)
ANSWER: It's been claimed that the "Have You Tried Wheaties?" jingle was first aired around 1926 on WCCO, Minneapolis, then owned by Washburn Crosby Company, the makers of that cereal, but I've never seen proof of this claim. (By 1933, this jingle was used with slightly altered lyrics, as the closing theme for Jack Armstrong.) But it's quite probable that this wasn't the first, because singing commercials were not a sudden innovation. Nobody invented them -- they just evolved.
Musical themes with a link to the product dated back to the 1923-25 era, and such original compositions as the "Cliquot March," for Harry Reser's Cliquot Club Eskimos or the appropriation for commercial purposes of such pre-existing compositions as "Smiles," used as a theme by the Ipana Troubadours -- S. C. Lanin, Director.
One of the first vocal examples of this genre of musical theme song was the use of "Brighten The Corner Where You Are" as the theme for Harvey Hindemeyer and Earle Tuckerman, who were Goldy and Dusty, The Gold Dust Twins. The opening announcement for their Red Network program clearly tied the theme song to the product, by suggesting that Gold Dust Washing Powder really did "brighten the corners." Strictly speaking these theme songs weren't commercials -- but they got the point across.
1928-1930 was the period which really led to the flowering of the "singing commercial theme song" idea -- in part as a way to get around NBC's lingering restrictions on direct advertising in nighttime shows. During this time, the names of sponsors and specific product plugs were being inserted into the theme songs of many programs. Some examples were "Hello! Hello! The R-K-O!" which each week opened The Radio Pictures Hour; “On The Road To Sunshine" (or, "Sunshine Vitamin Yeast") which was used as the theme for Rudy Vallee's Fleischmann's Yeast Hour until Vallee insisted otherwise.
"Oh, My! It's Eskimo Pie!," which cued The Adventures of the Jenkins Family over CBS beginning in the fall of 1930; and "Tastyeast Is Tempting," which beginning in 1930 introduced Dwight Latham, Wamp Carlson, and Guy Bonham as the Tastyeast Jesters. Billy Jones and Ernie Hare, of course, were early practitioners of the singing theme song, and by 1929 were integrating Interwoven Socks into the lyrics of "How Do You Do Everybody, How Do You Do?" as they would continue to do with subsequent sponsors.
There were many other such "singing commercial" theme songs during this early era -- these are just ones that immediately come to mind. But the idea of commercial messages set to music was well established long before the craze for free-standing singing jingles hit in the late thirties.