(Photos: Franklin D. Roosevelt Presidential Library)(Photos: Franklin D. Roosevelt Presidential Library)

The First Family of Radio

Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt's Historic Broadcasts

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When Franklin D. Roosevelt was elected president in 1932, he and first lady Eleanor Roosevelt both used the new medium of radio to reach into American homes like never before. They rallied the nation to combat the Great Depression and fight fascism. The Roosevelts forged an uncommonly personal relationship with the people. This documentary explores how FDR and ER’s use of radio revolutionized the way Americans relate to the White House and its occupants.

Explore some of the duo’s milestone speeches by navigating the timeline below.



    In This Documentary

  • President Franklin D. Roosevelt delivers a Fireside Chat, January 11, 1944.  (Photo: Franklin D. Roosevelt Presidential Library)

    Radio: FDR's 'Natural Gift'

    President Franklin D. Roosevelt was a radio natural. He spoke in a confident, informal way, using simple words and phrases that were easy to grasp.
  • “Mrs. Eleanor Roosevelt’s Own Program” was an afternoon radio series broadcast twice a week on NBC.  (Photo: Franklin D. Roosevelt Presidential Library)

    Eleanor Roosevelt: The First Lady of Radio

    Franklin D. Roosevelt was a consummate broadcaster but Eleanor Roosevelt was the actual radio professional. During her years in the White House, ER made some 300 radio appearances, about the same number as her husband. But for dozens of those broadcasts she got paid handsome talent fees by advertisers.
  • President Franklin D. Roosevelt and First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt. (Photo: March of Dimes)

    The Roosevelts as a political team

    Eleanor and Franklin Roosevelt were not the first White House couple to act as political partners, but they were the first to do so in such a public fashion.
  • (Photo: Library of Congress)

    Radio: The Internet of the 1930s

    Some predicted radio would be a powerful force for democratizing information and spreading knowledge to a vast population previously separated by geography or income. But the new technology also raised anxieties.
  • President Franklin D. Roosevelt received an average of 8,000 letters, cards and telegrams daily. (Photo: Franklin D. Roosevelt Presidential Library)

    Letters to Franklin Delano Roosevelt

    Americans responded to FDR's radio talks with an unprecedented tide of mail. A Fireside Chat could generate some 450,000 letters, cards and telegrams. FDR's predecessor in the White House, Herbert Hoover, had received an average of 800 letters a day; FDR got more than 8,000.
  • First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt delivers an speech at the Chicago World’s Fair in 1933. (Photo: Franklin D. Roosevelt Presidential Library)

    Letters to (and from) Eleanor Roosevelt

    In her newspaper column and on the air, First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt invited the American people to write to her. In 1933 she received some 300,000 letters and cards. She often worked late into the night reading her correspondence.
  • Roosevelt Envelopes001

    Envelopes and cards sent to the Roosevelt White House

    When people wrote to Eleanor and Franklin Roosevelt they often added a final thought or demand on the outside of the envelope. Others sent pre-printed cards supporting or opposing a given policy.

Further Reading

Credits

Producers: Stephen Smith, Kate Ellis
Editor: Catherine Winter
Digital Producer: Andy Kruse
Audio Mixing: Craig Thorson, Stephen Smith
Assistant Producer: Suzanne Pekow
Project Manager: Ellen Guettler
Managing Director, National Content Development and Arts & Ideas Programming: Peter Clowney

Consultants: Maurine Hoffman Beasley, University of Maryland emerita; Brian Horrigan, Minnesota Historical Society; Bruce Miroff, State University of New York at Albany; Susan Smulyan, Brown University.

Interns: Dylan Peers McCoy, Minna Zhou, Manda Lille.

Special thanks to Kohnstamm Communications and Rabbit Ears Audio.

Support for The First Family of Radio was provided by the National Endowment for the Humanities and the Roosevelt Institute.