Until I was 7 or 8 years old, our family (like most families) did not own a television set. I believe that we got our first black and white set about the time that Disneyland opened in California, and it wasn’t until I got to college that we finally got a color television.
Prior to the advent of our first television, the “family entertainment center” was a late 1940’s upright Philco radio that looked a lot like the one pictured below:
I remember that we had to let the tubes warm up before the radio worked, but I haven’t the faintest idea what we listened to as a family, other than a vague recollection of “The Lone Ranger Series”.
Franklin Delano Roosevelt was the first president to use the radio as a highly effective motivational tool. The very first “fireside chat” was on March 12, 1933, and its topic was the banking crisis (sounds familiar, doesn’t it?)
Over the course of 11 years, he completed 30 fireside chats. One of the last ones he did was on January 11, 1944, and it also contained a lot of familiar themes.
In January of 1944, the United States was deeply involved in working with our allies to end WWII as soon as humanly possible. At the time of the address, Roosevelt drew from his recent meetings in Cairo, Moscow, and Tehran to discuss our war strategy in more detail. He warned about the dangers of private profiteering at public expense , which politicians in Illinois are slowly coming to grips with today, nearly 70 years later.
President Jimmy Carter gave exactly one fireside chat (in 1977), which earned him the title of “Jimmy Cardigan” due to his wardrobe choice for the evening.
Although it was warmly received at the time, the speech lacked the sheer drama conveyed by Roosevelt, who successfully led the country through internal and external crises most men, and many of our presidents, would have been overwhelmed by.
In our society today, many homes have multiple television sets, and it’s very common for people to have internet access from their mobile phones, while they tune out the sound of the outside world with their I-pods.
As a result, it would be virtually impossible today to recreate the powerful messages conveyed by President Roosevelt, who (sight unseen) unified and reassured a nation that was sorely in need of his leadership.
For that, we are all a lot poorer.