Along Peterson Avenue on the city's northwest side sits a succession of relatively pristine, albeit aging, examples of garden-variety midcentury modern architecture. Among these mostly commercial properties, 3312 W. Peterson is unique: a building displaying 1960s design elements still occupied by a business straight out of the mid-20th century.
Radio Advertising Inc., which has maintained the same address in North Park since it opened in 1963, is built around the throwback concept of telemarketing for radio. The company employs more than 60 salespeople, spread throughout the split-level office's lower floor, who purchase unused airtime in bulk from more than 700 radio stations throughout the U.S. and sell it to small businesses looking to advertise on the cheap. RAI then produces public service announcements that are "brought to you by" the client's company.
"If you ever hear ads about safe driving during the holidays or saluting the troops, that's probably one of ours," says Ernie Sobjack, a partner and general sales manager at RAI. Some recent examples of the firm's handiwork: a Florida gun shop trumpeting blood donation, a Maryland pizza joint promoting sober driving, and an Alabama cabin-rental company raising awareness about women's health.
Over the years, RAI remodeled the interior of 3312 W. Peterson, but the location's fading cast-metal microphone sign, like the company's business model, has remained mostly unchanged since the 60s. While the retro facade might attract Mad Men fans and MCM fetishists, the look isn't always a boon to the business, Sobjack says, especially when it comes to recruiting new sales staffers.
"People that are coming in for job interviews walk up and kind of question [the building]. Some don't even walk in because they think, What kind of dump is this? When they get inside, that's when they realize that the company is up-to-date and that it's not what it looks like from the outside. But we kind of like it like that."
To be fair, RAI is acclimating (however slowly) to the contemporary market. The company is currently gearing up for an expansion beyond the terrestrial airwaves, into satellite radio.