Sunday, March 31, 2013

The New (1940) RCA Personal Radio

Marketing the RCA Personal Radio

At the time of its introduction RCA didn’t realize the eventual impact of the BP-10 personal radio.  Although David Sarnoff (RCA CEO) was behind it, most within the company thought that the radio was of no importance to the radio industry nor would gain much public acceptance.  Apparently, they were wrong David Sarnoff was right, but not necessarily for RCA.

The following is an excerpt from an article entitled “Adventures in Marketing” which appeared on page 28 of the October 1945 issue of Radio Age magazine.  Radio Age was a quarterly magazine produced by RCA for RCA personnel as a source of information about activities within the company.

“A New Exploit in Marketing”

One of the greatest marketing exploits in radio occurred in 1940, when a group of RCA Victor merchandising men decided to ignore the results of a survey and market analysis. 

As early as 1922, David Sarnoff had instructed the RCA research staff to keep in mind the development of an individual portable radio receiver—one small enough to be carried like a camera. In 1940, the creation of miniature vacuum tubes and batteries, made this possible. Our engineers and designers came up with what is now universally known as the "Personal Radio". Merely lifting the lid causes it to operate; its tone quality is excellent.

But the marketing of this camera type radio receiver presented new problems. We had to sell at least 25,000 units to amortize the costs of plant tooling, and we had to price the set at approximately $20 retail.

No comparable radio product had ever been sold, so it was decided to run a market survey among dealers.  The results were almost completely negative. Dealers agreed that the set was smartly styled, but they said that it didn't look like $20," and that the public "wouldn't pay that much for it." It had only four tubes, whereas a five-tube table model receiver could be bought for as low as $9.95. As a result of the survey, we were led to believe that most radio dealers, being unaccustomed to this type of product, might not be the best outlets or it.

Merchandisers Held Faith

But the merchandising group at RCA Victor did not lose faith. Here is the way they looked at the "Personal Radio".
- It was new and novel.
- A demonstration created the desire to own one.
- It had a new and smart style, and could be featured in the most fashionable stores. Name personalities would be proud to own and use one, and their name or initials could be engraved upon its jewel box case.
- As a gift item, it was a natural.
- It appealed to the impulse buyer.
- It was easy to use, convenient to carry.

So the enthusiasm of our merchandising group won! A comprehensive program of manufacturer, distributor and dealer activity was developed to cover all phases of merchandising with intensive advertising, sales promotion, publicity and initial exploitation in the metropolitan New York market. A careful distribution of sets to radio artists, columnists, and leading stage and screen personalities resulted in an exceptionally fine reception. Lucky owners found themselves demonstrating the sets to their friends and acquaintances at home and in fashionable meeting places. Such ideas as the use of this set in the musical, "Walk with Music", playing on Broadway, resulted in extensive interest and comment. Magazine pictures revealed that one was on the President's desk in Washington.

Backed by a generous advertising budget, including full page advertisement in several New York papers, the sales campaign featured a broad scale tie-up at the New York World's Fair. Remarkably enough, less than half of the original advertising budget allocated for this campaign was used, yet the first 25,000 radios were sold out in the first thirty days. Retailers, who originally turned down the opportunity to buy jumped on the band-wagon and the rush was on. With such acceptance, the question arose as to the next market to be opened. It appeared that the one additional major field where we could fully capitalize on the initial momentum generated by the New York campaign was Hollywood.

By that time, the early enthusiasm had generated into company wide interest. RCA Victor executives were photographed in shirt sleeves loading the first freight cars for the Coast. The "red carpet" was out when the sets arrived in the West, and an intensive promotion campaign had been organized, in the best Hollywood manner. With the cooperation of the National Broadcasting Company and Warner Brothers, an exploitation campaign was started with practically every star on the Warner lot using this "Personal Radio" in still photographs for advertising and sales promotion. 

Instead of selling only 25,000 "Personal Radios" during two summer months, we sold more than 225,000 in six months. Faith in the product, backed by the imagination and drive engendered by faith, turned the trick.

Saturday, March 2, 2013

1940 RCA news release about the BP-10 radio

The following is the text of a November 1940 memo from Julius Haber (then the head of RCA’s Press Division, Camden, NJ) to the RCA advertising department regarding RCA’s new BP-10 Personal Radio.

From:                                                                                                 To:
Julius Haber                                                                            RCA Advertising
Press Division                                                                         November 1940
RCA Manufacturing Company                                              Release upon Receipt
Camden, New Jersey 


            The RCA Victor Personal Radio, object of the most enthusiastic buyer’s run in radio history, has at last achieved distribution throughout the country after unprecedented demand retarded its advance on new markets for several months.

            First announce in the New York area in June, the Personal Radio set up sales records in virtually every marketing area when it was introduced.  While buyers were still clamoring for it in New York, stocks in dealers’ hands on the west coast were exhausted in a matter of hours after its official debut in that area.  The same thing happened in Boston, Detroit, Cleveland, Chicago, Pittsburgh and an ever-lengthening chain of new markets.

RCA Manufacturing Company plants at Camden (New Jersey) and Bloomington (Indiana), are now operating every available facility at capacity to keep up with the continuing demand for the tiny instrument.  Deliveries are being made at present at a rate considerably above 500,000 sets a year.

            RCA dealers and distributors report a tremendous interest in the Personal Radio as a gift item.  Thousands of football enthusiast and followers of other sport have made it a “must” item for themselves.  New sales increases are evident as the Christmas season approaches.  Dealers tell of numerous “repeat” sales to owners presenting the tiny instrument to their friends

            The phenomenal public interest in the Personal Radio has been heightened by the enthusiasm with which well known figures in virtually every walk of life have publicized it.  Newspaper photographs of film and stage stars listening to the Personal Radio, and of prominent public officials such as Mayor La Guardia (New York) with it on their desk, has brought the utility of the instrument, and its truly “personal” character, home to the public.

RCA Victor dealers, as well as proprietors of various types of specially shops, have reaped the reward of newspaper advertising.  Ringing from lavish spread in New York Newspaper to clever mention in “persona” columns, the ads have pulled purchasers into stores by the thousand, all field reports indicate.

            Extensive space is being devoted to promoting the Personal Radio in nationally circulated magazines during December.  A four-color double-spread in Life will give the instrument prominent mention, as will full page ads in Look and Esquire in December.