Fizzy Pain Reliever
Provides Own Sound Effects
“When your tablets get down to 4…..
that’s the time to buy some more.”
-- Gene Baker
Lincoln, Me. (DG)—
On Saturday, September 30, 1933, listeners who tuned into the network radio debut of NBC(Blue’s) ALKA-SELTZER NATIONAL BARN DANCE heard some good things about the program’s sponsor, an unusual and strange product called Alka-Seltzer. The listeners who used it found out this product wasn’t your everyday pain reliever. Instead of taking 1or 2 tablets and washing them down with a glass of water, 2 Alka-Seltzer tablets were plopped directly INTO the glass of water. Once the tablets were dissolved, a typical human who was suffering from minor aches and pains could drink it. Although it took some getting used to, the people took announcer Jack Holden’s advice and tried Alka-Seltzer for any minor ailment they may have. To make a long story short, the network debut of both program and sponsor were both successful--- and the era of Alka-Seltzer advertising began.
Unlike other radio sponsors, Alka-Seltzer provided its own sound effects. Instead of using fancy gadgets to make noise, all the sound effects man had to do was to hold a glass of water next to the microphone; drop 2 Alka-Seltzer tablets into that glass of water; and the listeners heard a refreshing fizzing sound. The announcer said that fizzing sound meant Alka-Seltzer was ready to go to work.
Since its introduction to network radio, Alka-Seltzer sales increased dramatically, and the product became a leading brand of pain reliever. It was also a sought after radio sponsor. With the popularity of the ALKA-SELTZER NATIONAL BARN DANCE, a spin off program was created featuring one of the program’s regular characters. The program, UNCLE EZRA’S RADIO STATION, starred Pat Barrett as Uncle Ezra, the operator of E-Z-R-A, a “powerful 5 watter” radio station in the town of Rosedale. The program was originally heard on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday evenings at 7:15 PM on NBC’s Red Network. Of course, since it was an ALKA-SELTZER NATIONAL BARN DANCE spin off, Alka-Seltzer was the sponsor. The program, in this format, enjoyed a 4+ year run on the air.
As you might have already noticed, the 2 programs I’ve mentioned had a rural touch to them--- and successfully at that! To keep the hot streak going, Alka-Seltzer sponsored a third radio program with a rural background. The only difference, this program was already established on network radio. On Monday, September 29, 1941, Alka-Seltzer began sponsorship of the popular serial LUM & ABNER over NBC’s Blue Network. The adventures of Lum Edwards and Abner Peabody enjoyed a 7 year run on the air over NBC(Blue), Blue (renamed ABC), and finally CBS.
Alka-Seltzer had a knack of sponsoring popular radio programs during the golden age. It was also the sponsor of THE QUIZ KIDS. Although this program doesn’t have a rural theme as the others I have already mentioned, there is a connection from the ALKA-SELTZER NATIONAL BARN DANCE. Joe Kelly, who was the M.C. of the ASNBD, was also the M.C. of THE QUIZ KIDS. For music lovers (and maybe for music haters), Alka-Seltzer sponsored ALEC TEMPLETON TIME on NBC(Red). On this entertaining program, Alec Templeton combined classical music with his own unique brand of humor.
During the daytime and early evening, Alka-Seltzer sponsored QUEEN FOR A DAY on the Mutual Network; the second version of HILLTOP HOUSE on CBS; and ONE MAN’S FAMILY on NBC. All had respectful runs on the air.
We all know of the classic and clever advertising for Alka-Seltzer on television. Although the commercials weren’t necessarily humorous during radio’s golden age, Alka-Seltzer had an array of popular slogans--- and of course, the sound of it fizzing in a glass of water. Over the span of radio’s golden age, listeners heard slogans like, “Listen To The Fizz”, ”There’s Nothing Quite Like Alka-Seltzer”, “Favorite Of So Many For Relief That Does So Much”, and “Be Wise, Alkalize With Alka-Seltzer.” On the ALKA-SELTZER NATIONAL BARN DANCE, the program opened with “Alka-Seltzer For Headache, Alka-Seltzer For Acid Indigestion, Alka-Seltzer For Colds….. Ask Your Druggist For Alka-Seltzer.” This introduction informed the listeners that Alka-Seltzer was an all-purpose pain reliever. Not only could Alka-Seltzer be used for relieving a headache, it was also effective for easing the aches and pains of a cold or flu, and to soothe excess acidity in the stomach after the sufferer went a little overboard with eating or drinking. For those people who had a blah feeling in the morning, a sparkling glass of Alka-Seltzer instantly picked up their spirits.
There were also friendly reminders for the radio listeners on when to buy more Alka-Seltzer. Gene Baker, LUM & ABNER’s announcer, said it this way: “When Your Tablets Get Down To 4, That’s The Time To Buy Some More.” The main objective here was to remind the listeners never to run out of Alka-Seltzer. Considering that human beings were (are) human, it was too easy to put it off until the bottle was empty--- but it also had the potential of someone who needed Alka-Seltzer desperately at that very moment--- and there was nothing but an empty bottle! The empty bottle may say Alka-Seltzer on the label, but it will not fizz when placed in a glass of water. What you end up with is a bottle in a glass of water--- and nothing more!! To avoid this problem, Alka-Seltzer launched another reminder to the listeners when it had to be purchased, buy 2 packages instead of 1. The second package was like a spare tire for a car--- it wasn’t needed at that moment, but it was nice to know it was there. With this method of keeping an extra package on hand, the chances were slim to none of running out of Alka-Seltzer--- especially when it was needed the most.
Alka-Seltzer was such a popular product, other Miles Laboratories products also shared in on that success. As an added sponsor, the listeners heard about One A Day B Complex Vitamin Capsules and One A Day Multiple Vitamins, the potent vitamins that when taken once a day and provided the minimum daily requirement of vitamins. Nervine was a product that helped calm down nerves. It was made in liquid form and effervescent tablets--- the same type of effervescence Alka-Seltzer made famous. When anti-histamines became popular, the people were seeing red--- the red boxes of Tabcin, that is! Tabcin was the “Bright Red Tablets In The Bright Red Box” for easing the discomforts of colds. Rounding out this list was Bactine, an antiseptic liquid/germicide that was used for first aid and disinfecting.
Alka-Seltzer was an instant success story. When television became the dominant means of communication, the torch was passed from the slogans on radio to television, where a character named “Speedy Alka-Seltzer” became the commercial spokesman. Speedy continued the tradition of selling a popular product that people in 1933 thought was a little unusual.