The Radio Advertising Bureau (RAB) is largely responsible for the continued success of radio as entertainment, communication, and advertising medium. Going about our lives in 2020, broadcast radio is one of the many things that we take for granted. Moreover, it’s unlikely many people alive remember the time before radios were standard in every home. For most of us, they’ve always been there. Just another fixture in our lives. 

While radio today seems like the most simple of things, its discovery took numbers of men many years. Painstakingly, individual components were developed over decades before the first broadcast in 1906.

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A Complicated, and Somewhat Sordid, History of Radio


  • In 1888, German physicist Heinrich Hertz first detected and produced radio waves. Unfortunately, he would die tragically, six years later and never see the result of his commitment to this significant discovery. 
  • In 1891, Nikola Tesla, a Serbian-born inventor, rarely given adequate credit for his contributions to the radio, invents the Tesla Coil. A version of which is still used in various applications today. 
  • In 1893, Tesla demonstrated the transmission of signals across distance in St. Louis, MO. 
  • In 1894, British physicist Oliver Lodge perfected the coherer, an original idea of French scientist Edouard Branly. A component that was capable of harnessing electromagnetic waves. 
  • Meanwhile, in that same year, an Italian scientist, Marchese Guglielmo Marconi, built a radio device that used waves to ring a bell at a distance of 30 feet. 
  • In 1895, Tesla was prepared to demonstrate a significant advancement by transmitting signals more than 50 miles. Unfortunately, before he could, his New York laboratory, including all of his notes, research, and prototypes were destroyed in a suspicious fire of questionable, yet unproven, origin
  • Between 1897 and 1899, petty drama reared its ugly head in the development of radio when Lodge began publicly questioning Marconi’s accomplishments. This particular squabble would not be resolved until 1911 when Marconi lost a legal battle and was forced to purchase Lodge’s 1897 patented syntonic tuner. 
  • In 1899, Marconi established the first radio link between England and France. 


  • In 1900, an American scientist, R.A. Fessenden, for the first time, transmitted human speech through radio waves. 
  • In 1904 the Austrians became the first to use the medium as entertainment, transmitting music via radio waves. 
  • On Christmas Eve in 1906, the American, Fessenden produced the first radio program of voice and music in the U.S. when he transmitted his narration of the story of Christmas with a violin playing in the background. The transmission was received by radiomen monitoring morse code aboard ships off of the New England coast. 

what is the radio advertising bureau

  • In 1908, General Electric developed a 100 kHz, 2 kW alternator promoting radio communication. 
  • In 1918, Edwin Armstrong, an American inventor, developed the superheterodyne radio receiver, a principle that is still in use today. 
  • General Electric opened its radio division, Radio Corporation of America (RCA) in 1919. 
  • In 1920, Westinghouse, through KDKA in Pittsburgh, PA, broadcasted the first licensed radio programming on election day. Of great historical significance, the radio station beat the newspapers to the announcement of President Warren G. Harding’s victory. 

The rest, as they say, is history. A legal battle-peppered and drama-riddled history filled with rumor, speculation, back-stabbing, and deceit.  Imagine, the stories of the physicists, inventors, engineers, and investors in the early days of radio could fuel years of primetime TV drama. Disappointingly, this brief historical drama doesn’t include the stories of how pirate radio fueled rock ‘n’ roll revolutions and underground political demonstrations during actual wartime. 

Radio Advertising History

When and what was the first radio commercial? Easy answer: in 1922 WEAF in New York broadcast a radio commercial for Hawthorne Court Apartments in Jackson Heights. However, radio advertising has its own complicated history. 

In the early stages of mass radio broadcasting, there was a lot to be sorted out. Interestingly, the key players had their technologies in place, the public was interested, but financial feasibility left a big question mark for the majority involved. 

In the decades leading up to WEAF’s radio ad for Hawthorne Court Apartments, other stations and investors had dipped their toes into the realm of radio advertising. Many had long since figured out that what radio had to sell was time, and businesses had figured out that it was a hell of a way to be heard. 

Admittedly, a Hungarian telephone broadcasting company was way ahead of the game, selling 12-second spots as early as 1893. Then, in the early 1900s, it became common practice for developing radio stations in the United States to have access to popular phonographs in exchange for naming the producing companies on air. Were these radio advertisements? Maybe they were just plugs, but definitely radio ads in infancy. 

Radio advertising really exploded in the United States in the 1920s and 30s and was a fixture of American culture by the 1940s. Globally, radio advertising got a much slower start because many countries didn’t widely adopt commercial radio until much later. 

Radio Advertising Today

As you know, investing in radio advertising today is something altogether different than it was back in the day. Well-curated advertising plans use formats such as live read, read on-air by a trusted radio personality, jingles, popular for their memorability, testimonials, offering personal accounts of product successes, and personified ads, delivering relatable product stories.

Despite competition from TV and social media, radio is still holding its own.  In fact,  a recent survey of local advertisers places radio ads second only to social media for successful marketing. As with all things today, radio ads can be a hard sell and success completely relies on the quality of the concept and execution. However, radio will remain a viable and affordable resource, particularly for advertisers in local markets. Undeniably, we have the work of the Radio Advertising bureau to thank for much of that viability and affordability.

The Radio Advertising Bureau

The Radio Advertising Bureau, a non-profit trade association, was established in 1982 to assist the radio industry in driving revenue growth. To do this, the bureau provides various valuable resources to its member stations. These resources allow members to attract quality sales talent. At the same time, the bureau works in both local and national markets to promote radio as a suitable medium for advertisers and agencies.

Membership in the Radio Advertising Bureau

Membership in the RAB provides radio sales and management with resources and ideas to develop sales presentations through marketing research, case studies, co-op directory, training certifications, and monthly webinars.

The group concentrates on two areas of focus. First, the business development team of the RAB promotes the benefits of radio by calling on major advertisers across the country. Second, the Member Services side of the RAB work to provide their 6000 member radio stations support with the following goals in mind:

  • Building value and belief in radio
  • Saving sales teams and radio managers time
  • Helping members prepare for presentations
  • Teach members to become valuable marketing resources for clients
  • Assist radio stations in making more money

Unquestionably, the Radio Advertising Bureau’s website is the largest radio specific sales and marketing website in the world. Through the site, managers and ad sales teams from member stations have access to an unprecedented amount of useful research, tools, and trends. The basis for all of the information available on the site is RAB’s Seven Steps to Selling Success:

  1. Prospect
  2. Appointments
  3. Research
  4. Customer Needs Analysis
  5. Proposal
  6. Presentation
  7. Close

Radio Sales Today

Notably, one immediate benefit after joining RAB is that members begin receiving a daily email, aptly called Radio Sales Today. Members look forward to a quick glimpse into RAB and industry news highlights, trends in marketing and media, Daily Sales Tip, and Research Quick Hits – brief research finding that can be used to bolster client recommendations and sales presentations.

RAB @ Work

Once a month RAB gifts its members with a newsletter, RAB@Work, covering everything from updates to member benefits, more in-depth coverage of advertising and marketing trends, as well as radio industry happenings.

radio ads and the radio advertising bureau

Radio Matters

On the website, you will also find the RAB’s weekly blog, Radio Matters. Each week, contributors offer insights into current radio advertising trends and research from a myriad of perspectives. Covering everything from Celebrating the Black Consumer and Lessons Learned From Auto Advertisers to Why Teens Matter and The Importance of Local Connection.  If the benchmark for blogs today is to provide consistent quality content, RAB is nailing it!

Radio on Main Street

Further, the RAB produces a weekly podcast in keeping with the current topics highlighted in their newsletters and blog posts. Radio on Main Street shines a spotlight on people and organizations making a difference in radio. Think NPR’s How I Built This, but with a radio advertising spin.

Radio Advertising Bureau Tools for Buyers, Planners, and Sales Teams

On top of the vast amount of information that is available through blog posts, podcasts, emails, and newsletters, the RAB offers members several interactive tools.

  • Top 40 Business Survey
  • Instant Background
  • Sales Person Assessments
  • Training and Certification Courses
  • Copy and Promotional Idea Development
  • Promo and Broadcast Calendars
  • Chart Builder
  • Proposal Assistant
  • Cold Call Script Templates
  • Targeted Listener and Consumer Profiles
  • Customer Needs Analysis Q&A

The Radio Advertising Bureau Mission Statement Says It All

The Radio Advertising Bureau is the not-for-profit trade association representing America’s broadcast Radio industry. Our primary objective is to drive revenue growth through advocacy, providing the tools and resources to help the industry attract new sales talent to the medium and enhance industry professionalism through training and support.

The future of radio advertising looks bright. That, of course, is due to the hard work of the RAB’s Business Development and Member Services teams. In short, the amount of current information and tools available to radio sales teams is unmatched and invaluable.