On a hot August afternoon in 1922, Mr. H. M. Blackwell, representing the Queens-boro Real Estate Corporation, stood before a microphone within the studios of radio station WEAF in New York City, and read a ten-minute script inviting audiences to visit his new suburban housing development in nearby New Jersey. Within moments after the announcement, the developer’s office began receiving dozens of phone calls from people who had listened to the broadcast. Most historians credit this episode as the first known broadcast commercial.

Simultaneously, young men such as William S. Paley and David Sarnoff recognized the commercial viability in this newfangled wireless source of entertainment. Sarnoff had become famous in 1912 for staying at his ...

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