Advertising on Chicago Television

On  April 30th, 1941, after approving the proposals put forth by the National Television System Committee, the FCC authorized full commercial broadcasting.  As originally conceived, channels 1 through 7 would be available for commercial sponsorship, while channels 8 through 18 (part of the original VHF allocation) remained for experimental telecasting and relays.  One additional group of frequencies, above 300 MHz, were set aside for UHF experimentation.

Here in Chicago, after pioneering efforts in mechanical telecasting ended in the mid-thirties, Chicago opened it's first electronic station, Zenith Radio Corp.'s W9XZV  in 1939.  In 1940, Paramount, through it's Balaban & Katz subsidiary, signed on W9XBK.  Unfortunately the timing could not be worse.  Less than a year after the FCC authorization, the country would find itself involved in a world war, which it joined already in progress.  Commercial television would have to wait.

In 1943, W9XBK would become Chicago's first commercial station- WBKBW9XZV would remain  an experimental station involved in the development of subscription pay television.  

WBKB managed to secure advertisers, including many national sponsors.  These included- Commonwealth Edison Co ("Tele-Quiz Calls,"  Friday half hour viewer participation); Elgin Time; The Fair Store ("Telechats,"  fifteen minute news);  and Henry C. Lytton & Sons (hockey games from the Chicago Stadium through ABC). 

By 1948, and the war in recent memory, commercial television had become a reality.  The Chicago Tribune would join the ranks with WGN-TV and The American Broadcasting Company would debut WENR-TV.   Early 1949, NBC would jump in with WNBQ.  Four stations, owned by corporations with deep coffers (with the possible exception of ABC) and all of which would eventually become media giants, now competed for that advertising dollar. 

Paramount understood the attractiveness of multi station advertising deals.  Those of you who thought that Paramount's first foray into network television was with 1995's debut of UPN (or its ill-fated 1970s attempt) would be surprised to find in the January 1949 issue of Television a full page ad for The Paramount Television Network.  It's key stations being Chicago's WBKB and KTLA in Los Angeles.  The ad boasts "WBKB- First in televiewer popularity in Chicago.  WBKB leads in every poll!  First in the confidence of TV advertisers in America's No. 2 retail market."

Early success stories didn't just include national advertisers.  Chicago's Leaf Gum Company saw the effectiveness of video advertising when it bought time on WBKB during it's 7:30pm weeknight program "Tom Mix" in 1949.    Leaf's "Pal Bubble Gum" commercials were aired at the opening and closing of each program.  It offered each child viewer five pieces of gum free if he sent in his name and address on a postcard.  In return, the happy viewer would receive a voucher in the mail to redeem at any local merchant.  The first offer yielded 923 postcards.  By the end of four weeks, the total had risen to 3576 cards and letters.  Sales figures for Pal bubblegum rose 25 per cent which influenced dealer purchase of the product.  This had not been the first time WBKB involved it's viewers with it's advertisers.  The station had coined the phrase "clue-mercials" in 1947 during it's fifteen minute news program "Tele-Chats," which the station had debuted in the fall of 1945.  Viewers at home got a peak behind the scenes at some product.  Members of the studio audience were then called and asked to guess what the product was, which the stage hands had safely concealed from view, and given three clues to do it with.  A $5 gift certificate from The Fair Store was given if they guessed on the first try, $4 on the second, and $3 on the third.  If they didn't guess correctly at all, they'd still walk away with a $2 certificate. 

Rates for advertising varied.  ABC's WENR-TV charged three rates- Rate A- (Evening Rate) was Monday-Friday 7-10:30pm & Saturday and Sunday- 12-10:30pm; Rate B- (75% of Evening Rate- 5-7pm Monday-Friday and 12-10:30pm Saturday and Sunday; and Rate C- 60% of Evening Rate- all other times day or night.  The one hour A rate for WENR-TV in 1949 was $600.00.           

The following is a list of advertisers buying time on Chicago's television stations in 1949:

*denotes network advertiser

WBKB, channel 4, CBS-  American Tobacco Co; Botany Worsted Mills (weather reports); Brentwood Sportswear; *Chevrolet Dealers ("Telenews," a 20 minute weekly newsreel and "Chevrolet Tele-Theatre," a half hour drama); Curtis Publishing Co. (Ladies Home Journal); *Disney Hats ("Sunday Review Of The News"); Elgin; *Liggett & Myers (Chesterfield cigarettes); Philip Morris & Co., Ltd;  *Motorola (Rockets football); *Pabst Blue Ribbon Distributing Co. (6 day bicycle races); Pioneer Scientific Corp. [Polaroid] ("Young & Victor," ten minute comedy Fridays 8:30pm); *RCA Victor ("Kukla, Fran, & Ollie," half hour Monday through Friday children's program); Ronson; Unique Art Mfg. Co. ("Howdy Doody"); Royal Typewriter Co.

WGN-TV, channel 9, Du Mont & CBS-   B.V.D. Corp; Beltone Hearing Aid Co; Botany Worsted Mills; Bulova Watch Co. (time signals); Curtis Publishing Co. (Ladies Home Journal); DuMont Telesets ("Television Matinee");  Elgin; *Emerson Radio ("Toast Of The Town"); *Liggett & Myers (Chesterfield cigarettes); *P. Lorillard Co. (Old Golds- "Amateur Hour"); Philip Morris & Co., Ltd; Pepsi-Cola Bottling Co. ("Sparkling Time," half hour variety show); Pioneer Scientific Corp. [Polaroid]; Royal Typewriter Co; Unique Art Mfg. Co; Zenith Radio Corp. ("Television Matinee").

WENR-TV, channel 7, ABC-  *E.L. Cournand Co. ("The Greatest Fights Of The Century,  " five minute sports film); *Motorola (Boxing); National Plywoods Inc. ("Second Guessers,"  15 minute comedy quiz, Sundays, 9pm); *Pabst Blue Ribbon Distributing Co. (6 day bicycle races; football).

WNBQ, channel 5, NBC-  Note:  Since WNBQ did not begin its full commercial schedule until January of 1949, only one national advertiser appears on this list-  Philco Corp. ("Philco Television Playhouse," Sunday 9pm dramatic hour).

This list was compiled from the January 1949 issue of Television- The Business Magazine Of The Industry. It lists only national advertisers purchasing time on Chicago stations.  It does not include local sponsors and should not be considered complete.  It does show that WBKB led the four stations in advertising dollars, followed closely behind by WGN-TV.  ABC, pre-1953 Paramount merger, was struggling to find national advertisers to keep it's fledging network afloat as the list of advertisers on WENR-TV shows.  NBC's WNBQ was late in the running but would soon prove itself a powerhouse.





Bob Sterling- American Ranger American Television Inc.
Telenews Chevrolet Motor Co.
The Marriage Proposal Northwestern University Workshop
Junior Jamboree RCA Victor
WBKB Barn Dance New Era Potato Chips
Say It With Flowers Allied Florist Assn. of Illinois
Today's World Picture Reed Candy Company
Professional Boxing Motorola
Baseball Ford Motor Co.
Wrestling Edelweiss Beer
Admiral Theatre Of The Air Admiral Corp.
Learn To Rhumba Terman Television