The fireside chats were a series of thirty evening radio addresses given by United States President Franklin D. Roosevelt between 1933 and 1944. Although the World War I Committee on Public Information had seen presidential policy propagated to the public en masse, "fireside chats" were the first media development that facilitated intimate and direct communication between the president and the citizens of the United States. Roosevelt's cheery voice and demeanor played him into the favor of citizens and he soon became one of the most popular presidents ever, often affectionately compared to Abraham Lincoln. On radio, he was able to quell rumors and explain his reasons for social change slowly and comprehensibly. Radio was especially convenient for Roosevelt because it enabled him to hide his polio symptoms from the public eye.
Origin of radio address
According to Pulitzer Prize winning historian and Roosevelt biographer James MacGregor Burns, Roosevelt first used what would become known as "fireside chats" in 1929 as Governor of New York. Roosevelt faced a conservative Republican legislature, so during each legislative session, he would occasionally address the citizens of New York directly. In a New York History journal article on the origin of the fireside chats, Geoffrey Storm notes that while a WGY radio "address of April 3, 1929 was Roosevelt's third gubernatorial radio address, historian Frank Freidel asserts that this was the first fireside chat." In these speeches, Roosevelt appealed to radio listeners for help getting his agenda passed. Letters would pour in following each of these "chats," which helped pressure legislators to pass measures Roosevelt had proposed. He began making the informal addresses as president on March 12, 1933, during the Great Depression. According to Russell D. Buhite and David W. Levy, in their introduction to Roosevelt's Fireside Chats, "The term 'Fireside Chat' was not coined by Roosevelt, but by Harry C. Butcher of CBS, who used the two words in a network press release before the speech of May 7, 1933; the term was quickly adopted by press and public, and the president himself later used it."
Chronological list of Presidential fireside chats
Roosevelt's first Fireside Chat on the Banking Crisis (March 12, 1933)
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- On the Bank Crisis - Sunday, March 12, 1933
- Outlining the New Deal Program - Sunday, May 7, 1933
- On the Purposes and Foundations of the Recovery Program - Monday, July 24, 1933
- On the Currency Situation - Sunday, October 22, 1933
- Review of the Achievements of the Seventy-third Congress - Thursday, June 28, 1934
- On Moving Forward to Greater Freedom and Greater Security - Sunday, September 30, 1934
- On the Works Relief Program - Sunday, April 28, 1935
- On Drought Conditions - Sunday, September 6, 1936
- On the Reorganization of the Judiciary - Tuesday, March 9, 1937
- On Legislation to be Recommended to the Extraordinary Session of the Congress - Tuesday, October 12, 1937
- On the Unemployment Census - Sunday, November 14, 1937
- On Economic Conditions - Thursday, April 14, 1938
- On Party - Friday, June 24, 1938
- On the European War - Sunday, September 3, 1939
- On National Defense - Sunday, May 26, 1940
- On National Security - Sunday, December 29, 1940
- Announcing Unlimited National Emergency - Tuesday, May 27, 1941 (the longest fireside chat)
- On Maintaining Freedom of the Seas - Thursday, September 11, 1941
- On the Declaration of War with Japan - Tuesday, December 9, 1941
- On Progress of the War - Monday, February 23, 1942
- On Our National Economic Policy - Tuesday, April 28, 1942
- On Inflation and Progress of the War - Monday, September 7, 1942
- Report on the Home Front - Monday, October 12, 1942
- On the Coal Crisis - Sunday, May 2, 1943
- On Progress of War and Plans for Peace - Wednesday, July 28, 1943
- Opening Third War Loan Drive - Wednesday, September 8, 1943
- On Tehran and Cairo Conferences - Friday, December 24, 1943
- State of the Union Message to Congress - Tuesday, January 11, 1944
- On the Fall of Rome - Monday, June 5, 1944
- Opening Fifth War Loan Drive - Monday, June 12, 1944
Sometimes beginning his talks with "Good evening, friends," Roosevelt urged listeners to have faith in the banks and to support his New Deal measures. The "fireside chats" were considered enormously successful and attracted more listeners than the most popular radio shows during the "Golden Age of Radio." Roosevelt continued his broadcasts into the 1940s, as Americans turned their attention to World War II. Roosevelt's first fireside chat was March 12, 1933, which marked the beginning of a series of 30 radio broadcasts to the American people, in which he reassured them that the nation was going to recover and shared his hopes and plans for the country. The chats ranged from fifteen to forty-five minutes long, and eighty percent of the words used were in the one thousand most commonly used words in the English dictionary.
No longer was the message of the administration to be tinkered with by the interpretations of the press; Roosevelt was simply going to tell the people what he was doing and why. This level of intimacy with politics made people feel as if they too were part of the administration's decision-making process and many soon felt that they knew Roosevelt personally. Most importantly, they grew to trust him, and thus he was able to implement the most radical social overhaul in U.S history without much internal dissent.
Weekly address and effect on the press
Every U.S. president since Roosevelt has delivered periodic addresses to the American people, first on radio, and later adding television and the Internet. The practice of regularly scheduled addresses began in 1982 when President Ronald Reagan started delivering a radio broadcast every Saturday. Conservative journalist William A. Rusher, who publicly urged Reagan to begin the series of broadcasts, explicitly referred to the "fireside chats" and compared Reagan's communications skills to those of Roosevelt. Although the "fireside chats" are sometimes thought of as weekly events, Roosevelt delivered just 30 addresses during the course of a presidency that lasted for 4,422 days, or 631 weeks, an average of one address every twenty weeks.
Reagan's successors have continued his practice of making weekly addresses, though such addresses have rarely attracted large numbers of listeners (perhaps because of the much more fragmented mass audience than that of the Roosevelt era). When President Barack Obama took office, he began providing his address in both audio and video forms, both of which are available online via whitehouse.gov and YouTube. It has long become customary for the President's Weekly Radio Address to be followed an hour later (on the radio) by a 'response' (not always a topical response) by a member of the opposing political party. The respondent from the opposing party changes weekly, while the President is the same for the entirety of their term. Occasionally the Vice President may deliver the address in the absence of the President.
The conventional press grew to love Roosevelt because they too had gained unprecedented access to the goings-on of government like never before. Roosevelt’s opponents had control of most newspapers during his first bid for the presidency but he cleverly circumnavigated their influence by penetrating directly into the living rooms of citizens with radio addresses. It became increasingly difficult to voice opposition to government policy because the president carried more clout than any reporter or other politician. He was able to personally address the nation if any issue was controversial, like he did on October 16, 1940, when he spoke on the radio about the first ever peacetime draft he had ordered a month earlier. He did this less than a month before presidential elections were to take place, which for any other president would probably have been political suicide, but Roosevelt was able to use his new media techniques to garner domestic support for this international policy. The effectiveness was again proven when he was re-elected with 10% more of the popular vote than his opponent.
Radio technology, along with Roosevelt’s charm in his approach to the media, had once again revolutionized the relationship between the public and the administration. Simultaneously, the role of the president had begun to change; it was now imperative that he be a charismatic impromptu speaker as well as classically stoic in formal situations. The president’s personality was becoming an increasingly important factor in elections. Such a huge development would not be seen again until the next great technological communication tool reached maturity, and that was to be television.
- Eric Foner, Give Me Liberty! An American History, page 759.
- Lumeng (Jenny) Yu. The Great Communicator: How Roosevelt's Radio Speeches Shaped American History, pp. 89-106.
- "History". The Pulitzer Prizes. New York: Columbia University. Retrieved 2 January 2013. "1971 Roosevelt: The Soldier Of Freedom by James MacGregor Burns (the sequel to The Lion and the Fox, which discusses the development of the fireside chats)."
- Burns, James MacGregor (1996). Roosevelt : the lion and the fox. New York, NY: Smithmark. p. 118. ISBN 978-0831756116.
- Storm, Geoffrey (Spring 2007). "Roosevelt and WGY: The Origins of the Fireside Chats". New York History: Quarterly Journal of the New York State Historical Association (New York State Historical Association) 88 (2): 183–85 (177–197). ISSN 0146-437X. Retrieved 2 January 2013.
- Mankowski, Diana, and Raissa Jose (12 March 2003). "The 70th Anniversary of Roosevelt's Fireside Chats". museum.tv. Chicago: The Museum of Broadcast Communications. Retrieved 2 January 2013.
- ""Fireside Chat Microphone," 1930s". National Museum of American History, Smithsonian Institution. Retrieved 2008-07-07.
- Buhite, Russell D, and David W Levy (1992). "Introduction". In Russell D Buhite and David W Levy, eds. Roosevelt's fireside chats (1st ed.). Norman, Oklahoma: University of Oklahoma Press. pp. xv. ISBN 9780806123707. Viewed 2 January 2013.
- Freidel, Frank (1990). Franklin D. Roosevelt : a rendezvous with destiny (1st pbk. ed. ed.). Boston: Little, Brown. pp. 322, 360, 393, 409, 433, 438, 441, 503, 598. ISBN 978-0316292610.
- George E. Reedy. Review: The First Great Communicator, pp. 152-155
- "Reagan signs off with 331st weekly radio address". Deseret News. Associated Press. 1989-01-15. p. A3. Retrieved 2013-01-02.
- Skeens, Barbara Seuling ; illustrated by Matthew (2008). One president was born on Independence Day : and other freaky facts about the 26th through 43rd presidents. Minneapolis: Picture Window Books. p. 14. ISBN 9781404841185. Retrieved 2 January 2013. "Roosevelt ran for and was elected to four presidential terms. He was president for 4,422 days. (4422 days divided by 7 days in a week results in 631.7)"
- President Obama's Weekly Video Address from the White House website
- Weekly Address: Tax Cuts & Unemployment Insurance - YouTube
- Rinehart and Company. Roosevelt Selected Speeches, Messages, Press Conferences, and Letters, p. 258
- U.S election Atlas. "1940 Presidential General Election Results". Popular Vote Percentage.
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- The New Deal Network from the Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt Institute
- Miller Center of Public Affairs at the University of Virginia, with transcripts and MP3 recordings of most of the Fireside Chats
- The Real Deal: Media and the Battle to Define Roosevelt's Social Programs at the University of Virginia: audio with editorial and cartoon reactions.
- Vincent Voice Library at Michigan State University, with many Roosevelt speeches in MP3 format