Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s Fireside Chats

The President’s Strategic Use of Radio and Mass Communication


It is whispered by some that only by abandoning our freedom, our ideals, our way of life, can we build our defenses adequately, can we match the strength of the aggressors. … I do not share these fears.

— FDR’s fireside chat of May 26, 1940

In 1933, the President of the United States took to the airwaves to soothe the nation. The man was Franklin Delano Roosevelt. His topic was the Emergency Banking Act. This is the story of FDR’s “Fireside Chats” and how a leader used open and direct communication as a tool for good.

Roosevelt understood that favorable dialogue with the electorate was critical to the success of his administration, and saw the power of the presidency lied in the opportunity to take initiative. His opponents having control of most of the newspapers, Roosevelt opted to an emerging medium, the radio.

It cannot misrepresent or misquote. It is far reaching and simultaneous in releasing messages given it for transmission to the nation or for international consumption.

— Stephen Early, FDR press secretary, on the value of radio

The first “Fireside Chat” came only eight days after his inauguration, in the middle of a nationwide financial panic. After a week of bank closing decimated American families, FDR created a solution in Emergency Banking Act and the establishment of federal deposit insurance just days before his first Fireside Chat. In his first address, he explained to the nation “what has been done in the last few days, why it was done, and what the next steps are going to be.”

His experiment worked. According to economic historian William L. Silber, the result was a “remarkable turnaround in the public’s confidence … The contemporary press confirms that the public recognized the implicit guarantee and, as a result, believed that the reopened banks would be safe, as the President explained in his first Fireside Chat.”


The one thing I dread is that my talks should be so frequent as to lose their effectiveness. … Every time I talk over the air it means four or five days of long, overtime work in the preparation of what I say. Actually, I cannot afford to take this time away from more vital things. I think we must avoid too much personal leadership—my good friend Winston Churchill has suffered a little from this.


Roosevelt gave a series of 30 talks from 1933 to 1944, desiring to keep them infrequent enough to remain as impactful as they can. His Fireside Chats touched on topics ranging from World War II to proposed legislation.


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