In this featured episode, radio advertising producer, writer and composer Clive Desmond covers the golden age of radio ads, including Frank Zappa, Ken Nordine, Linda Ronstadt, and Randy Newman.
While the 1960s shift in print and TV advertising has been heavily documented and mythologized by Mad Men, Madison Avenue’s radiophonic collision with the counterculture is less well known.
Desmond takes listeners on a highly subjective journey through one narrow, eccentric, corridor of radio advertising. He’s been working in the field for more than thirty years, and he’s won some of the industry’s top awards.
In this piece, he has rescued beautiful forgotten nuggets of radio history and delicately arranged them into a glittering associative chain—a constellation of jingles and spots that somehow all add up to more.
A version of episode was originally featured on The Organist, a bi-weekly experimental arts-and-culture program from McSweeney’s and KCRW, under the title A 700-Foot Mountain of Whipped Cream.
What an awesome episode on radio advertising. Clive Desmond is wonderful to listen to, and tells a great story. Thank you!
Gonna be honest, it felt kind of gross to hear Desmond espouse praise for advertising. When they make the comparison between advertising and garlic bread, how it’s like a nice side to the main content that’s expected, I couldn’t disagree more. Advertising is a necessary evil, an obnoxious side effect of our capitalist culture. Just look at the prevalence of DVR, or ad blockers, or how most phone games have a pay-to-remove-ads option, or how you can skip ads on youtube, or how youtube red removes ads entirely. I would never try to block garlic bread.
There are exceptions to disliking advertising, like the creative and entertaining super bowl ads, or when a marketing company makes a serious flub with their social commentary in their ads that make it a topic on social media. But these are exceptions.
Hearing about Desmond’s childhood was charming, but their effusive praise of this thing most everyone hates felt inauthentic, like its propaganda or like Desmond is possessed, or at least disconnected from normal experiences of advertising. Maybe it’s because they’re on the other side of the radio, but from this side? I’d rather pay 5 bucks a month to never have to hear an ad on 99% Invisible ever again.
I love your podcast, but I couldn’t make it passed the 5-minute mark of this episode.
Around 4 minutes in, this audio glitch/noise developed that was so distracting that I couldn’t penetrate through it to hear the words underneath. I gave it about a minute hoping the sound would correct itself, but it continued.
I usually don’t let audio issues bother me when listening to podcasts but this one was too much. I had to stop.
This isn’t a complaint. I love this podcast and I’ve listened to every episode as well as support it financially. But, if I don’t mention that there was an issue, then you might think that there wasn’t a problem, or that no one noticed.
I look forward to your next episode.
One of our team is going to email you about this – we weren’t able to replicate the problem on our end!
I realize I’m 4 years late to the party, but I felt the same way. I found that the discordant background audio frequently drowned out the narration. I’m catching up on the ancient episodes first, so I’m hopeful that this style is an exception…
Until I listened to this podcast yesterday I had never heard the “I’d like to buy the world a coke” song. I now have it as an earworm.
DEAR GOD MAKE IT STOP!!!!!!!
You said there was a link on your website to part 2 of this piece— where can I find that?
It’s not quite out yet, but we’ll add a link when it is!
I thought this was a great topic and for the most part enjoyed the narrator, Clive Desmond, tell his personal story, but MY GOSH he could lighten up a little. I’ve heard people give eulogies for loved ones after a long bout with brain cancer who were cheerier than this. Seriously, cool topic and great stories, but I promise it’s okay to smile once in a while!
I loved this episode and also your contribution on the Movie Crush episode that you were on with Chuck. However, I think you missed the point about Quint’s hatred for sharks in Jaws. The second time the audience sees Quint is where they are loading up his boat for the shark hunt. Throughout Quint’s shop, you can see lots and lots of shark mandibles, the only part in a shark not made of cartilage. My theory is that Quint removed his tattoo to keep him from remembering the time he was in the water after the Indianapolis sank. I felt that he hates sharks because he lost a lot of friends back then and now his life’s mission is to kill sharks. I think they borrowed this from Ernest Hemingway’s life since he was noted to hate sharks and would often hunt them down with a machine gun. My $0.02
Wow, this was a long episode, and by extension I agree with Loyd McIntosh’s comment above… Clive is a good narrator for short stuff. He’s refreshing at first, but 56 minutes of him is rough.
Since I’m already being critical, let me get this off my chest. You guys have been really focused on the design of radio and architecture lately, but there are SO many other areas of design. Isn’t that what made 99PI great to begin with? You covered the small decisions that designers make throughout their creative processes. That shouldn’t limit you to architects and radio producers! What happened to episodes like the flag design episode. That was epic and a standout.
I’d love to hear another episode about product design. The last one that you did, I think, was the sport bra episode. That sort of episode is the exception lately, not the rule. If you need ideas, take a chapter out of the book “The Evolution of Useful Things” and bring it alive for us. Cover how website design has changed over the years. Cover the stages of product design. How designers do research into the market place, sometimes referred to as capturing the “voice of the customer” (a little radio lingo, eh?). Please don’t pigeonhole yourself into “radio and architecture”, I can only take so much.
I think you’ll find a good variety of shorter, single-topic stories in a pair of episodes being released at the end of this year and beginning of next year. Also: you may want to check out some articles on the website which often cover everyday designs!
I wish I could have finished this podcast. Topic and history are great, but I’m shocked that a VO pro had to read this so ploddingly slow, with overly long pauses and absolutely monotone. Could have gotten in all of the content and made it :20 min shorter. I love 99PI, but cannot recommend this one, which is a bummer given the great content.
The delivery on this episode was languid and hypnotic, and not in a good way. There were some interesting nuggets to be sure, but I had to work to be patient enough to get to them. Not sure the juice was worth the squeeze on this one.
Just wanted to balance out the negative comments a bit, thought this was a great episode!
Great episode. Those who find themselves annoyed by advertising might enjoy knowing that Stan Freberg was often quite frustrated by the world of advertisers. He had his own radio program lasting for all of 1 season. But unlike most other radio programs his had no advertiser, one episode revolved around himself being the “product” being sold, complete with fake ads. You can listen to it for free on the internet archive (it’s episode 14). https://archive.org/details/stan_freberg_show
I’ve been listening to 99% for years, for all the reasons listed above, I hope this is not an indication of the direction you are aiming to take the podcast.
What’s the song that starts around 32:20? Doesn’t seem like it was in the credits.
Ah, nevermind, it’s “Machine Elves”
I’m so glad I found this episode. I’ve been making radio commercials professionally for the better part of the last decade. It’s very easy to get depressed when I think of the new media competition that is grabbing for the attention of consumers (I’ll save my thoughts on capitalism for another time). Knowing that the folks at 99percentinvisible might be out there listening is encouraging. I hope more people will make an effort to turn up the commercials when they are driving around. Writers, producers, and voice actors are a dedicated population in the seas of advertising that want nothing more than to keep their heads above water so as to see the stars just a bit longer.
I really enjoyed this episode because i’ve been a fan of radio advertising for a long time. But I couldn’t find Clive Desmond’s email address anywhere, here or elsewhere on the web. When you do a show via a 3rd party you should include some contact info for follow-up questions.
My question is this – he mentioned Ken Nordine’s voice jazz ads and gave an example. Is Mr Nordine the same person who did the Uniroyal “Rain Tire” TV ads?
Thanks in advance.
You can write me at [email protected]
I still have one of the CocaCola songs in my rotation. Still love it! https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lFYpNug4jpM
I don’t have any particular love of advertising but I did love this episode. So interesting to learn about the art and the craft that goes into the making of these advertisements that most of us never consider. Surprised at the negative comments about this episode, I found Desmond’s story fascinating and his presentation of the story very engaging.
Absolutely loved this episode…I know there are plenty of bad advertisements but the good ones stay with you…especially The Coca-Cola buy the world a Coke Ad. As an artistic nerdy kid really identified with the obsessed loner, me it was more books and television…anyhow a great episode…