On 12 March 1933, eight days after his inauguration, President Franklin D. Roosevelt spoke directly to America about the banking crisis over the airwaves .
The United States was in the middle of the Great Depression. According to NPR, “Five thousand banks had failed and nine million savings accounts had evaporated.”
The President’s radio remarks had been publicized beforehand in newspapers and on radio. Carried by all major networks at the time (NBC Red, NBC Blue, and CBS), he spoke from the White House promptly at 10:00 Eastern Time.
Roosevelt delivered another 30 broadcasts between March 1933 and June 1944. According History.com, “[j]ournalist Robert Trout coined the phrase ‘fireside chat’ to describe Roosevelt’s radio addresses.”
The Depression proved fertile ground for the adoption of radio. In 1930, 2-in-5 American households had a radio. A decade later that doubled to 4-in-5.
As with the telegraph, the radio was greeted with both optimism and pessimism.
Radio was the first truly mass medium, linking great cities and remote hamlets in the same instantaneous event. Some social commentators believed radio would unleash new democratic energies, creating a “national town meeting” on the air… Doubters of radio, as scholar Jason Loviglio writes, feared “hypnotized audiences falling under the sway of irrational forces like fascism, communism, or even a corrupt and bankrupt capitalism.”