White House Wireside Chats

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There has been a lot of buzz recently about how President-Elect Obama might carry the online momentum created during his campaign into the White House with him come January 2009. Taking a step in that direction, the President-Elect announced this week that he may alter the traditional method of delivering the Presidential Weekly Radio Address.

Presidential Weekly Radio AddressAs the Washington Post’s Jose Antonio Vargas reported yesterday in The YouTube Presidency:

President-elect Obama will record the weekly Democratic address not just on radio but also on video — a first. The address, typically four minutes long, will be turned into a YouTube video and posted on Obama’s transition site, Change.gov, once the radio address is made public on Saturday morning.

According to Mike Allen, who writes Politico.com’s Playbook, the Obama-Biden transition stated on Friday that “No President-elect or President has ever turned the radio address into a multi-media opportunity before.”

Actually, that’s not true. All of President George W. Bush’s radio addresses have been published weekly since January 27, 2001 and available via WhiteHouse.gov on the White House Radio page. In addition, President Bush has delivered several LIVE radio addresses, many of which included a webcast, audio, photos and on demand video post event.

On a related note, Mrs. Laura Bush became the first First Lady to deliver an entire Presidential Radio Address when she spoke to the nation from Prairie Chapel Ranch in Crawford, Texas on November 17, 2001. She gave another radio address from the headquarters of Radio Free Europe in Prague, Czech Republic May 21, 2002 to discuss Afghanistan and again, most recently, on February 1, 2008 from her office in the East Wing of the White House to highlight the importance of heart health during American Heart Month.

White House iTunes RoomIn July 2005, as White House Internet Director, I worked with our web team and Apple to create a “room” in iTunes to house all White House Podcasts, starting with President Bush’s Weekly Radio Address in both English and Spanish.

We built it out further in September 2005 to include audio from all of the President’s public remarks, events and White House press briefings. We also added video such as State of the Union speeches and Presidential Addresses to the Nation.

At the time, washingtonpost.com’s Robert MacMillan wrote about the new WhiteHouse.gov feature in The Paradox of Podcasting:

I don’t know any other word to use besides “mainstream” when I hear from the White House that President Bush’s radio addresses will be offered via podcast. … Not only that, the White House has created RSS feeds for the radio addresses in English and Spanish. That means that anyone who wants to can sign up to receive the information through their RSS readers along with news and other Web site updates that offer this service. … Regardless of the current brouhaha over what that vision is, it might be possible to classify the Bush White House as jumping ahead of the curve on technology.

Why Audio?
President George W. Bush records his radio address for a Saturday morning broadcast in the Cabinet Room of the White House Thursday, March 17, 2005. White House photo by Eric Draper President Franklin D. Roosevelt spoke directly to the American people about thirty times via radio from 1933 to 1944 in a series of broadcasts which later became known as “Fireside chats.”

During this Golden Age of Radio, FDR envisioned American families huddled around the radio in homes around the country listening to the voice of their President providing them assurance and comfort as the nation struggled to endure the trials of The Great Depression.

Today, the president typically records the radio address on Friday in the Cabinet Room with audio broadcast and web transcript publication embargoed until 10:06 AM EST Saturday morning. Originally, that time was chosen because the five minute national news reports aired at 10 AM, with the address immediately following. To honor that past tradition, we usually published the content on the White House staging servers before we went home on Friday night, and set the pages to auto-publish on Saturday at the appointed time.

Using video is an interesting — and definitely more modern approach, but I think it defeats the spirit and purpose of a “radio” address. There’s a big difference between audio and video presentations. Anyone who has ever set the tuner to AM to hear a local talkshow, subscribed to XM Radio, enjoyed the long form style of C-SPAN Radio coverage, National Public Radio reporting or the CBS Sunday Morning’s use of ambient sound during the nature segment can certainly appreciate the nuance of the medium.

How will President Obama’s radio address differ from any other Presidential webcast or televised speech he gives? Will it lessen the value of other White House addresses to the nation, like those typically delivered from the Oval Office? What about the fact that it might be in YouTube as opposed to just on WhiteHouse.gov (assuming E-Gov policies are changed to allow it)?

Well, here is President-Elect Obama’s first one from today. What do you think?

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  1. No Straw Men : links for 2008-11-16

    […] White House Wireside Chats – David Almacy, Capital Gig In July 2005, as White House Internet Director, I worked with our Web team and Apple to create a “room” in iTunes to house all White House podcasts, starting with President Bush’s weekly radio address in English and Spanish. (tags: George_W_Bush_Administration) […]

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