What you may not know is that FDR’s use of a new medium—radio— was how he calmed Americans’ financial fears and began moving the nation slowly out of the Depression.
In a nutshell, he did it by:
- Breaking with tradition. Roosevelt decided to make the first presidential broadcast a folksy “fireside chat” instead of a formal address.
- Visualizing a family and some neighbors listening.
“As he talked, his head would nod and his hands would move in natural, relaxed gestures,” said Frances Perkins, FDR’s labor secretary. “His face would light up as though he were actually sitting with people.”
- Focusing on clarity. Roosevelt explained the basics of banking and how banks would reopen, without talking down to people.
“He made everyone understand it,” said humorist Will Rogers. “Even the bankers.”
- Guiding his listeners’ thinking. Assuring Americans that banks were a safer place for their money than under their mattresses, FDR gently derided hoarding as “exceedingly unfashionable.”
—Adapted from “Voice of Courage,” Jonathan Alter, Reader’s Digest.