Radio Programs For Women
( Originally Published 1932 )
TOOTHPASTES and cigars may disport themselves among the night air waves at the very top of their voices. Cigarettes may outdo themselves every night to win the favor of fathers and mothers and youths and maidens alike. But many products turn a cold shoulder to the lure of big nighttime audiences and put their radio programs on in the daytime hours. Their makers know how much smaller this daytime audience is. But they also know that it is made up almost entirely of housewives and that these women are the market they're out to reach.
So every weekday morning and, increasingly, every week-day afternoon finds practically every sponsored quarter-hour filled with programs on cooking, child health, beauty, fashion, etiquette, gardening and every other known topic of interest to wives and mothers. In fact, most of the sponsored daytime programs are almost like the special feature articles of a woman's magazine. So much so that any one morning on WEAF, for instance, is very much like an issue of the Ladies' Home Journal or Good Housekeeping or the Woman's Home Companion—if the simile may be varied enough to substitute the sustaining musical programs for the magazine fiction.
These morning "service" or "educational" programs, as they are more or less officially known, seem the logical type for products whose chief appeal is to women and which need some interpretation.
A cooking ingredient such as a shortening or a baking powder or a canned milk really should be translated for a woman and presented to her as part of a finished dish. She is interested in a shortening, for instance, mainly for what it can contribute towards a fine pie or cake. So it seems to follow that recipes and cooking ingredients are blood brothers. Everybody knows husbands and youngsters and even the women themselves would not want recipes in the evening. Mornings, and to some extent, afternoons, are women's working hours. Cooking is part of their work. So any talk or instruction on that subject belongs within their working day.
The same thing is true of talks on child health, which might be a very logical feature for a program designed to promote cod liver oil, soap or strained vegetables. It applies also to such a feature as beauty talks, which might be sponsored by the makers of cosmetics, toilet soaps or shampoos.
WHAT ABOUT COMMERCIALISM?
There has been a great deal of agitation, both from within and without, about the way the names of products are hammered into the ear of the listener because of the resentment it arouses and the harm it therefore does to a product.
A superficial listening to a number of programs suggests that many of these complaints are justified. But careful examination seems to show that the fault lies not so much in the extent of commercial hammering, but in the way it is done. The commercial talk on many programs is written around a stencil that runs something like this: "This program comes to you every Tuesday and Thursday at this time through the courtesy of Brown and Brown, makers of Blue Rose, the Baking Powder that gives you lighter, fluffier cakes and biscuits. Until you try Blue Rose Baking Powder, you'll never know how light and tender cakes can be. Your grocer has Blue Rose Baking Powder in 6 and 12 OZ. cans. Buy a can today and surprise your family to-night with the finest cake they ever tasted. And remember only Blue Rose can raise your cakes and biscuits to the pinnacle of feathery lightness."
Such "commercial credits" make demands on a woman's attention with only a selfish excuse. They do not pay for her attention with information or entertainment. She is justified in feeling a resentment against them.
Some programs go to the other extreme. They give the product such scant mention that a listener could hardly be expected to know it was there. I listened to one admirable illustration of this point not long ago. The program was built particularly to sugar-coat the mention of the product and make it easy to swallow. A sketch had been written around a husband who telephoned his wife he was bringing the "big chief" home to dinner unexpectedly. Much bustling then ensued, but the dinner was a great success, particularly, I was forced to judge, because at the end the wife announced, "And now I have some Smith Brothers' Coffee all made for you." That was the only mention of any product anywhere—no commercial announcement, nothing but that one casual statement.
Judging from listeners' letters women do not mind having a product mentioned, if the mention is made in connection with something that takes account of their problems. They know manufacturers are in business to sell their products. And that radio programs are one way of accomplishing this result. If they appreciate the program they seem to feel no resentment at hearing the name of a soap mentioned in connection with washing directions. Authoritative washing directions are a help to women. They have had garments shrink or stretch or fade or get yellow. They are glad to listen to good advice. And far from resenting the mention of a soap in such a connection, they actually seem to regard this as part of the good advice. ,
Not long ago I went to a cooking school up in Yonkers. It was a rainy, cold day. The auditorium was stuffy. The air was bad. The seats were uncomfortable. And yet there wasn't a vacant seat in the place.
The lecturer had about twenty-five products she had to sell and sell hard—tea, baking powder, an electric ice box, a washing machine, paint, radio cabinets, soap, silver plate, furniture—the most incongruous possible assortment.
Those women sat there and drank all her talk in. It was hard-boiled selling talk, straight from the shoulder. After two and a half hours of it they trooped up to the platform and asked questions and overwhelmed the lecturer with their enthusiasm for the wonderful work she was doing for them.
WHAT DO WOMEN WANT TO HEAR?
Women want to know what is newest and most correct. No matter how slender their budgets they want to be able to impress a friend, a relative, a neighbor.
A woman whose dishes are limited to what she calls a breakfast set, and who must borrow chairs from the local undertaker when she wants to have a party, writes to Emily Post asking advice on what "refreshments" to serve.
Another who lives in a little New England town writes a fashion authority that she is going to a banquet. She encloses a sample of horrible black and brown striped material to show the kind of skirt she has made over to wear. With it she plans to wear an overblouse. But she has read that long white kid gloves are the newest Paris and New York fashion. Question: Should she buy a pair to go with her costume in order to shine at the banquet?
Letters by the thousand come to cooking experts re-questing recipes for dishes that are easy to make and that look pretty. Cooking is women's biggest and most constant job. And they take it seriously. So seriously that cooking talks are easily the most popular morning pro-grams. In fact, a mediocre or even a bad cooking talk is likely to be more popular than a really good program on any other topic.
Beauty talks are another daytime favorite. This is hardly to be wondered at, for women still hope against hope for miracles which will bring back youth. Wrinkles, double chins, blemishes can all be banished, they're convinced, if only they can find the magic potion.
Aside from these things, women like music. Not jazz, usually. They get that in plentiful measure, at night. Mornings they like the rather sentimental type of thing, it seems—Drdla's "Souvenir"; Friml's "Mignonette"; Massenet's "Elegie."
Radio talks addressed to the large national audience must be simple and clear. A woman's attention is pretty sure to be divided. She goes about her housework as she listens. And she has interruptions—the telephone, the doorbell, a cake in the oven, the baby crying.
Besides, the average woman listener is neither cosmopolitan nor sophisticated. Nor does she have much imagination. She does not want to feel she is being talked down to. But certainly her enthusiasm for a product cannot be won if the talk about it is over her head. She may be keenly interested in a talk on how to improve a double chin. But if the speaker says (as I heard one say), "Take a look in the mirror. Now don't edit your chin," how is she, with her negligible quantity of imagination, going to know what editing her chin means?
And isn't it bad for a menu in a cooking talk to contain lime ice as a dessert when even in a city the size of Cincinnati, limes can be bought in only two high-priced fruit stores?
So many radio talks, too, are cut and dried. They have little human interest or warmth or personality. No listener could possibly get a feeling that the speaker is talking straight to her. A woman writer of beauty articles told me not long ago about a talk she gave before a large group of women. She had been having interviews with all kinds of celebrities and felt she had a wonderful talk for her audience. Strangely enough, they were polite but totally apathetic until she suddenly said: "Now this is the way to attain correct posture," and proceeded to give them explicit directions and instructions.
A radio speaker, unfortunately, has no way of realizing that his audience has suddenly become apathetic and that he must switch his talk to something more personal. He must know before he starts speaking what the audience he is trying to reach really wants to hear.
If only our radio talkers could take political speeches, or the good old revival type of sermons as patterns. Preachers and politicians know they must sway their audiences and win them over. They know it is a. technic, and they work to acquire it.
But almost the greatest difficulty with radio is the appalling lack of trained people. Radio to-day is pretty much where Hollywood was twenty years ago. Every-body wants to get on the air. We are deluged with people who are sure they have ideas for outstanding radio programs. One woman wanted to put on a series of talks about darning and tried to convince us of the appeal her talks would have because of the thousands of letters Phil Cook's program pulls. She seemed to feel her talks would have much the same effect on the general public!
Every man or woman who ever sang or "recited" or did amateur theatricals is convinced he'll be a radio star if only he can get on the air. And not even one in a hundred has so much as a glimmer of promise. This seems to be almost more true of daytime talent than of evening talent. Perhaps the reason is that more people have had experience along entertainment lines than in giving simple, straightforward, instructive and interesting talks.
We have been trying for more than a year to find some one who could do a good cooking program. All we want is some one who is really a cooking authority and who can talk in a simple, friendly manner. We have read scripts and talked to applicants and heard auditions, until we are almost ready to believe there is no such person.
Those who can write can't cook or can't talk (often both!). Those who have good voices talk about recipes and cooking hints either in the sonorous tones of a full-fledged actress of the era of melodramas, or in hesitant tones that proclaim the deepest ignorance of the business of cooking.
It is, of course, possible to have one person write a talk and then let a good "voice" deliver it. But we are convinced that the ideal way is to have an authority both write and give the talk. We believe this always sounds more convincing and it further allows for individual "ad lib" remarks or for little personal touches that help to keep a talk from sounding canned and stereotyped.
WHAT DAYTIME PROGRAMS HAVE GREATEST PERCENTAGE OF RECOLLECTION?
Six-time-a-week programs seem to be the ones most firmly entrenched in the consciousness of daytime listeners. Next to that come the ones that are on three or four times a week. And the lowest of all are the once a week programs—in some cases so much lower that they may be mentioned by only one or two Iisteners out of several hundred questioned.
Although this has consistently been true of daytime programs, it does not seem to be nearly so true of evening programs. Evening programs, by and large, have caught and held their audiences more by the size and length and importance of their features than by their frequency.
However, the Iast few months have seen several large and important evening programs started on a daily basis. The next year may find others changing over to this plan.
And, of course, the enthusiasm for Amos 'n' Andy's daily antics is still the yardstick against which an evening radio program's success is measured.
COST OF REACHING THE MORNING AUDIENCE
A conservative estimate of listening habits shows that 73 per cent of the country's sets are in operation at some time every day. Of these 75 per cent are operating in the evening; 33% per cent are operating every morning and every afternoon.
Daytime "space" costs just half the amount charged in the evening hours. Daytime talent is much less ex-pensive than evening talent.
Let us assume that a given program is on over the NBC Red network or the Columbia basic network of twenty stations. The National Broadcasting Company estimates there are 7,300,000 sets in this basic network area. (This, of course, reaches as far south as Baltimore and Washington and as far west as Omaha, Nebraska, and Wichita, Kansas.)
Then at some time during any given twenty-four hours, 5,475,000 sets are in operation in the basic network area. And 33% per cent, or 1,82 7,000 sets are in operation on any morning.
Let us suppose that our hypothetical program is at 10:30 to 10:45 Tuesday morning, and that 15 per cent of the 1,82 7,000 sets that are tuned in at some time during the day are tuned in at this one hour. Then 274,050 sets would be tuned in at this time.
Let us further assume that four different programs are dividing up this audience equally—a Columbia pro-gram; a program on the NBC Red network; another on the NBC Blue network; a fourth on a local station. Then each program would have 68,512 listeners.
A fair estimate of time and talent cost for such a program would be $1,200. At this rate, it would cost a manufacturer $.017 to reach one set—a very lost cost, indeed.
TO INTERPRET THESE LISTENING FIGURES
If we are to compare radio figures with magazine and newspaper circulation figures, then the 7,300,000 sets of the basic network area are really our radio "circulation" figures.
But listening figures have been brought much more nearly down to earth than magazine or newspaper reading figures. It is easy enough to figure how much it costs to deliver one four-color page into a home. But it is impossible to estimate how many people read it.
The morning radio figures given above show us how much it would cost one program to reach its actual audience. Furthermore, that audience by and large would be housewives, for during the day small childen are at school, older children and husbands are away at work.
Is it any wonder, then, that manufacturers who want to reach the ear of the family purchasing agent, have found daytime radio practically indispensable?