The world of commercial broadcasting during the “Golden Age” of radio was much different from the one we know today. Back then, sponsors didn't merely buy a few minutes of advertising during a program; they produced the show. They created it, hired the talent, called the shots and paid the bills. The networks simply broadcasted the shows produced by the sponsors.
Coca-Cola was in the game early, starting with a serial
called Vivian the
The program primarily featured Vivian and her beau, Jim, "meeting in different parts of the country and enjoying an ice-cold Coca-Cola," Ryan says. Promotional materials portrayed the show as Vivian's "vivid romance with the public, personified by Jim."
From 1937 to 1942,
In 1943, Coke launched its first major series, Songs From Morton Downey (later retitled The Coke Club), which, like the Singin' Sam series, was a 15-minute, five-day-a-week broadcast. Known as "The Irish Thrush," Downey was one of the most popular crooners of the era.
"Downey was a prototypical
radio host who latched his star to
Coca-Cola took a new track in the later years of radio's Golden Age, hitching its wagon to a star by sponsoring the long-running Edgar Bergen and Charlie McCarthy Show in 1949. Bergen and his dummy had ranked among the biggest names in the business dating back to the late 1930s, defying all logic by turning a ventriloquist act into a radio sensation. When Bergen decided he was ready to make the move to television, he did so with the help of Coca-Cola, who sponsored Bergen and McCarthy's first TV performance on Thanksgiving Day in 1950.
It was the beginning of a new era. Radio soon became an
also-ran as television swept into American households. Radio's secondary status
was clear even in
The most telling aspect of the show was that it wasn't really a radio show at all. The broadcast was cobbled together from highlights of the Coke Time television show. It was official: Radio had become an afterthought.