Story: Advertising

Page 3. Radio and other advertising methods

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Until the arrival of television, newspapers were by far the most important medium for advertisements; but ads were found in other places too. There were some posters in shops or railway stations, billboards on trams and buses, free-standing hoardings along some main roads, and advertisements before cinemas began their programmes. Sunlight soap even advertised their wares on the back of New Zealand postage stamps.

Peep show


In 1922 a window display stopped the traffic in Hawera’s High Street. Fred Bone, the owner of a leading drapery store, had blacked out the shop window but left a peep hole through which female shop staff could be seen showing off the store’s latest silk stockings. The daring display created huge local interest until the police requested its removal.


In the first half of the 20th century city shops also put considerable energy into window displays.

Beginnings of radio

Radio was the only significant competitor to newspapers as an advertising medium, but it took some time before this occurred. The first stations began operation in 1922 and Charles Forrest, who ran a Wellington station, agreed to mention on air the name of the firm who supplied the station with records.

Listeners at this stage were few. In 1925, when there were under 5,000 licensed listeners, the Radio Broadcasting Corporation was set up to establish non-commercial stations in Auckland, Wellington, Christchurch and Dunedin. The stations were funded by licence fees.

Other stations, called ‘B stations’, also emerged. They hoped to fund themselves through advertising, though that was illegal at the time. In 1931 government agreed that these stations could mention the sponsor before and after a programme, but there was no advertising as such.

Commercial broadcasting

During the 1930s radio receivers became common in New Zealand homes. In two acts of 1936 and 1937 a non-commercial service, the National Broadcasting Service (NBS), was set up. Then, alongside it, a National Commercial Broadcasting Service (NCBS) was established under the leadership of Colin Scrimgeour. The Labour government was concerned to retain control of commercial radio rather than let newspaper interests take control. The commercial service was permitted to broadcast advertisements.



Soap operas – family dramas that were spun out over years – were standard fare of early commercial radio. The name came from the fact that the first such programmes in the US were sponsored by soap companies.


At first advertisers were hesitant about using the new medium, and the newspapers did everything possible to dissuade them switching to radio. Initially, advertising agencies had the responsibility of choosing and importing the programmes, arranging the sponsors and recording the commercials. However, when the NCBS merged with the NBS in 1943, the broadcaster chose the programmes and then offered them to advertisers.

From the late 1930s commercial radio became more popular, especially in the 1940s and 1950s when newsprint was scarce. During the day the audience was predominantly housewives, and Maud Basham – ‘Aunt Daisy’, as she was known – was the queen of the airwaves. She promoted household products on her morning show, and later established her own advertising agency.

In the evenings quiz shows featured a fierce rivalry between ‘It’s in the bag’, sponsored by Lever Brothers, a soap manufacturer; and Jack Maybury’s show sponsored by Colgate Palmolive. However, radio remained a low-cost back-up for the press.

Private radio

In 1966, before private radio licences were issued, Radio Hauraki went to sea as a pirate radio station. The new station offered pop music and more professional and interesting advertisements. Three years later private radio licences were allowed, and in the 1970s the private radio stations began to join forces to handle advertising.

FM radio started in 1983, and restrictions on the number of advertisements were lifted. While radio was never a dominant medium for advertising, it became established as an increasingly important way to appeal to younger people. In 2007, 11.7% of advertising spending went to radio.

How to cite this page:

Jock Phillips, 'Advertising - Radio and other advertising methods', Te Ara - the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, (accessed 22 July 2024)

Story by Jock Phillips, published 11 Mar 2010