Author: Ben Nussbaum
President Roosevelt delivered his first fireside chat on March 12, 1933. It addressed the banking crisis that Roosevelt encountered on first taking office. Due to the Depression, banks were running out of funds. Panicked account holders were withdrawing their money – making the banks’ problems worse.
In that first address to the nation, Roosevelt calmly explained the crisis and the steps he was taking to address it. Here are nine facts about the fireside chats:
1. By speaking directly to the American people through radio, Roosevelt took advantage of a new technology. Radios in homes had only become commonplace in the 1920s; by the 1930s over 90 percent of homes had a radio.
2. Roosevelt modeled his presidential chats after similar addresses he gave as the governor of New York. Facing a heavily Republican legislature, Roosevelt appealed directly to voters on the critical issues facing the state.
3. The fireside chats were informal affairs. Roosevelt often began the speech saying “Good evening, friends,” and spoke in a friendly, colloquial manner.
4. The actual term “fireside chat” was coined by reporter Harry Butcher of CBS–even if the talks did not actually occur by fireside. The term quickly caught on, and Roosevelt himself began to use it.
5. The fireside chats were far from a weekly occurrence, with only 30 ever given. Roosevelt often addressed the nation on a Sunday evening for maximum impact.
6. Roosevelt would often ad-lib, causing discrepancies between the printed text of the speech—given in advance to reporters—and the actual words delivered on air.
7. Roosevelt gave the speeches behind a microphone-covered desk on the first floor of the White House. About 30 invited guests would be sitting in front of him, but Roosevelt ignored them as he did his best to have a one-on-one conversation with each listener.
8. Most of the fireside chats ended with the invocation of God and then the playing of the Star-Spangled Banner.
9. Roosevelt did not give a fireside chat in 1945 (he died in April of that year) and gave only one in 1935 and 1939. The most he gave in a year was four, hitting that mark in 1933, 1942 and 1943.