Friday, March 12, 2010

Radio, Radio - FDR and His First Fireside Chat

Today marks the anniversary of President Roosevelt’s first fireside chat. FDR delivered his first radio address to the American people only eight days after taking office in 1933. He opened his address saying “I want to talk for a few minutes with the people of the United States about banking.” He wanted to explain his decision to close the nation’s banks for one day to prevent massive withdrawals by panic stricken Americans. At the time, the United States was at the lowest point of the Great Depression. FDR used these carefully calculated radio chats to address as many American households as possible about his plans to fix the nation, while also allaying the nation’s fears. The number of listeners to these addresses was always strong as about 90 percent of Americans owned radios in their homes.
FDR went on to deliver about 30 “fireside chats” in his twelve- year presidency – so called because they invoked the image of the president sitting by a fireside in a living room talking simply to the nation. He not only used them to explain his New Deal policies, but also to explain America’s role in the war after the start of World War II. They were consciously drafted with the simplest of language and often involving anecdotes so as to appeal to every American, no matter what level of education.
The idea that the president would talk directly to the people in their homes, and not through a press release or journalist’s column was groundbreaking. Every president since FDR has used radio addresses as a way to inform Americans about their administration’s policies and the state of the nation. President Obama has engaged the newer technologies of our time to continue this tradition of a weekly conversation with the public by posting videos of his addresses online. I can only imagine how future presidents will engage evolving technologies to communicate with us in different ways…

To read and listen to FDR’s first “fireside chat” – click here.

* I apologize for the lag time in posting, but I am working on several new pages to add to the website. One of them will be a “Presidential History” page which will allow you to engage presidential history through text, audio and video. I’ll keep you posted…

[Image via moah]

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