Detroit radio reaches more area adults every week than any other medium. During a typical seven-day period, according to Nielsen, 3.1 million local consumers tune-in to their favorite AM and FM stations. This is significantly more than those who watch broadcast television, subscribe to pay-TV, browse social media, read a newspaper, or stream music from Pandora and Spotify.
Radio's omnipresence in the life of Southeast Michigan consumers is remarkable considering today is the medium's 100th birthday.
On this day in 1920 at 8:15pm, the Detroit News, owner of radio station 8MK, began broadcasting. The broadcast originated from the second floor of the newspaper's headquarters on Lafayette Boulevard.
The historic programming that night began with station operator Frank Edwards declaring, "this is 8MK calling." This was followed by the playing of 78 rpm records on a borrowed phonograph. The first selections played were two of the most popular songs of the World War One era, "Roses of Picardy" and "Annie Laurie".
The historic broadcast concluded with a salesman from the newspaper's advertising department playing "Taps".
Eleven days later, on August 31, the The Detroit News announced 8MK would broadcast real-time results from that day's primary elections in Michigan. Between updates of vote tallies that evening, the station presented live vocal performance by one of the newspaper's own columnists, Malcolm Bingay.
The next day, the newspaper wrote the following account of its over-the-air news coverage:
"The sending of the election returns by The Detroit News' radiophone Tuesday night was fraught with romance and must go down in the history of man's conquest of the elements as a gigantic step in his progress."
"In the four hours that the apparatus, set up in an out-of-the-way corner of The News Building, was hissing and whirring its message into space, few realized that a dream and a prediction had come true. The news of the world was being given forth through this invisible trumpet to the waiting crowds in the unseen market place."
On November 2, 1920, 8MK was joined on the air by a new radio station, KDKA in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. The station was owned by Westinghouse Electric Company. Both stations that evening would provide live results of that day's presidential contest between Warren G. Harding and James M. Cox.
At about 5:00 that evening, radio station WEAF in New York (later to become WNBC) broadcast the first-ever radio commercial. The advertiser was the Queensboro Corporation. The company purchased 10 minutes of time for $50 to promote its apartment complex in Jackson Heights.
This first commercial worked so well that Queensboro renewed for more. Perhaps the ultimate testament to the power of radio advertising is the fact that the apartment complex still exists and is thriving, says the New York Times.
Early broadcasts could only be heard in people's homes using DIY radio sets. These were replaced in the mid 1920s with massive, furniture-sized receivers. In 1930, however, radio became the original mobile device.
The first car radios were built by the Galvin Manufacturing Company of Chicago. They named their invention, and eventually their company, Motorola. The first dashboard units cost $130 or $1300 in 2020 dollars.
Today, more than 2.9 million car radios fill the ears of Metro Detroit drivers with music, news, sports, and information. Despite an abundance of dashboard options, however, consumers still prefer listening to local radio when they hit the streets.
For nearly a century, local small business owners have depended on Detroit radio to market their goods and services. By every key advertising metric, the medium remains the best way to advertise.
Over the past few years, Nielsen has conducted more than 20 studies to determine what type of return-on-investment (ROI) a business owner can expect from radio advertising. Although the results varied by industry, the average company generated $100 in sales for every $10 invested.
The chart below shows the range of returns from each study.
AdAge, a trade magazine for advertising professionals, calls these types of return "eye-popping". The magazine goes on to say radio's ROI is superior to commercials on TV, online, and social media.
When presented with this ROI data, marketing expert Doug Schoen wrote in Forbes, "The implications of results like these are profound for the communications and advertising industries and as a marketing professional with over 35 years of experience, I found this data nothing short of fascinating. It’s quite clear that we should all be paying more attention to radio, its reach and potential to help our businesses. It’s doing the job with expert efficiency."
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