In This Documentary
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.