23 February: FDR’s fireside at war

FDR turned radio into a presidential art form. (White House photo.)

FDR turned radio into a presidential art form. (White House photo.)

Comprehending and embracing radio to a greater extent than perhaps any American politician of his era (Calvin Coolidge was merely the first President to appreciate the medium’s potential), Franklin D. Roosevelt introduced the Fireside Chats during his first year in the White House, when he went on the air 12 March 1933 at the height of the Depression-seeded bank crisis.

Whether they concur or demur from his pronouncements or stated plans, whenever he states them, Roosevelt’s listeners have responded broadly enough that the Fireside Chats have been a longtime, semi-regular feature of his presidency. The final Fireside Chat, concurrent to the opening of the fifth War Drive, will air 12 June 1944 . . . six days after D-Day will launch. (The night before D-Day, Roosevelt’s Fireside Chat will celebrate the liberation of Rome from Axis control.)

The Fireside Chats—four in 1933, 1942, and 1943; two each in 1934, 1937 (in one of which Roosevelt discussed his controversial and rightly doomed plan to pack the Supreme Court), 1938, 1940, 1941, and 1944; and, one each in 1935, 1936, and 1939—have been, are, and will be air live at 10 p.m., Eastern war time, the late hour allowing Roosevelt to transcend the time difference and reach West Coast families. The Chats also permitted the President to perform an end-run around newspapers (and there were plenty) whose editorial positions stood athwart the New Deal.

Which is probably pretty damn good considering that, among Roosevelt’s numerous excise taxes—perhaps the single most important revenue source for the New Deal—were excises on electricity . . . and radios.


Fireside Chat: “Don’t Slow Our Effort” (presidential broadcast; All Networks; 1942)

With the United States at war around the anniversary of George Washington, President Franklin D. Roosevelt asks Americans not to allow “our effort” to be slowed by “sniping at each other,” offering in hand a none-too-subtle retort to critics questioning both the reality of the New Deal and the actuality of the war.

For eight years, General Washington and his Continental Army were faced continually with formidable odds and recurring defeats. Supplies and equipment were lacking. In a sense, every winter was a Valley Forge. Throughout the thirteen states there existed fifth columnists and selfish men, jealous men, fearful men, who proclaimed that Washington’s cause was hopeless, and that he should ask for a negotiated peace.


Further Channel Surfing . . .

The Jell-O Program Starring Jack Benny: The Tee Pee Hotel in Palm Springs (comedy; NBC, 1941)
Fibber McGee & Molly: Poker Game (comedy; NBC, 1943)
The Lucky Strike Program Starring Jack Benny: Jack Fires the Sports Men (comedy; NBC, 1947)
Diary of Fate: Give Him the Simple Life (mystery/thriller; syndicated; 1948)
Duffy’s Tavern: Archie Wants to Patent Electricity (comedy; NBC, 1949)
Dragnet: The Big Grifter (crime drama; NBC, 1950)
Suspense: St. James Infirmary Blues (mystery/thriller; CBS, 1953)
Fibber McGee & Molly: Tall Tale McGee (comedy; NBC, 1954)

This entry was posted in classic radio, History/Documentary, News and comment, old-time radio, World War II and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink.