Jennie A. Kerney
I want to give my students a brief history lesson about where the first jingle came from and who wrote it. It is interesting to note that the first "modern" jingle was played over the radio in December 1926. The song "Have you tried Wheaties?" was sung by the Wheaties Quartet in an effort to increase sagging sales. It was a simple song:
"Have you tried Wheaties?
They're whole wheat with all of the bran.
Won't you try Wheaties?
For wheat is the best food of man."
While adults and children alike may laugh at this today, at the time it was first aired, consumers loved the song and bought the product. In the regions where the commercial was heard, sales did indeed increase. Today, everyone has heard of Wheaties cereal, has seen their commercials, and recognizes the box in the cereal aisle in the store; yet before the jingle increased sales, General Mills had decided to discontinue the production of Wheaties. This was the first jingle composed for a product.
The first song to be used in a commercial was "In My Merry Oldsmobile", written in 1905. The song was written long before radio existed, but Oldsmobile decided to pick up the song for their advertising campaign in the late 1920s. This became the first popular song to be licensed for advertising.
It did not take long to realize that commercial time could be sold to advertisers and their sponsors. Jingles immediately began selling everything that audiences could imagine. Singers and musicians, who were already performing on the radio, became jingle performers.
The other important jingles in radio that deserve mentioning are known as radio call letters. These letters date back to the late 1800's and can be traced to Heinrich Herte and Guglielmo Marconi and their work with the "wireless" telegraphic signaling between ships and land. To avoid confusion and also to identify each other, land and ship stations were assigned three letters, or call letters. These identified the broadcast stations. In 1923, radio stations east of the Mississippi River would have letters beginning with "w" and those that were west of the Mississippi would begin with "k". In order for listeners to remember which stations they preferred, the stations started using catchy jingles with their call letters. The more recognized a radio station was, the more its commercial time was worth, therefore station jingles that were memorable became increasingly important.