By David Rodriguez
Celebrity endorsements are commonly used to market products, and it turns out that Ravinia’s celebrity was used during the ’50s and ’60s to sell hi-fi stereo systems. Two Chicago-based companies, Webcor and Sherwood, even went so far as to release products using the “Ravinia” moniker in the names of their products!
Now, Ravinia has partnered with various piano manufacturers since 1936—first Steinway through the late ’40s, then Baldwin through 1988 (the 1956 ad at left very clearly states that “Baldwin is the official piano of the Ravinia Festival”), Yamaha through 2005, and Steinway again since 2006. This is hardly surprising, since soloists, chamber ensembles, and even conductors and orchestras have long had such symbiotic relationships with instrument makers, and still do today.
1957 Model included a remote control
But I was surprised when I encountered a 1957 ad for the “Ravinia” Webcor turntable with very little information about its connection to Ravinia. At first I thought maybe it was just a coincidence that it shared the name of America’s oldest music festival, but further digging uncovered another ad from 1954 that gets as close as possible to referencing the festival itself without explicitly doing so. It states, “… you have the unmistakable impression that a ‘live’ orchestra is performing in your presence. That’s why the experts call the Ravinia’s performance—‘living presence.’” Coincidence? I think not.
1954 Webcor ad
1959 Webcor ad
As it turns out, Webcor made a variety of models under the “Ravinia” name, including the later Ravinia Coronet.
1961 Sherwood ad
The Sherwood company also sold hi-fi equipment using the Ravinia name, but made the connection much more explicit in its ads. A 1961 ad by Sherwood might well have rubbed some Ravinia staff the wrong way with its headline: “So, who needs a ticket?” But the image of the festival’s main gate in the background is from that same year, so it’s difficult to say if there may or may not have been tacit approval.
1962 Sherwood ad for “Ravinia” speakers
A huge selling point of these “Ravinia” speakers was that they were made to take advantage of FM radio’s switching over to a stereo broadcast signal. A 1962 Sherwood ad includes a list of radio stations across the nation that were switching to stereo, the idea being that maybe you should pick up some “Ravinia” speakers in order to hear this new phenomenon.
After spending much time online looking at vintage ads for stereo equipment, I noticed that the concept of re-creating the sound-experience of a concert hall in your own home was very popular among advertisers shilling audio equipment. One of my favorites is a series of ads by RCA for its Victor Stereo system in which each ad showcases a different concert hall with a different model of the product.
1965 RCA ads for Victor Stereo