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Measuring the efficacy of the weekly presidential radio address

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  1. Background
  2. Understanding the Presidential Weekly Radio Address
  3. Hypothesis
  4. Issue Selection
  5. Research Methods and Design
  6. Interpretation of Results
  7. Analysis

The first presidential radio address in United States history was delivered by President Warren G. Harding on June 14th, 1922. He delivered a speech in Baltimore, MD and it was broadcasted by WEAR (now WFBR). Perhaps more historic than this was the first official radio address delivered in 1921 regarding the recent election results. Equally important was the first annual address delivered by President Calvin Coolidge in 1923. This innovation established a continuing tradition of regularly scheduled addresses that were meant to inform the public about the President's agenda. However, it was not until the year 1933 that the official presidential weekly radio address was truly popularized by President Franklin D. Roosevelt. FDR captivated the nation with his famous fireside chats that were delivered during nights, when families often gathered around the radio and could afford to spend some time actively listening to the presidential messages. Ever since then, U.S. presidents have given weekly addresses, though some (Nixon, Ford, Carter, H. Bush) chose to engage themselves in the tradition less than others (Reagan, Clinton, W. Bush). Nonetheless, presidents have realized the strategic potential of radio ever since the end of WWI, when the industry was officially commercialized and the market first began to flourish from coast to coast. It is plausible that radio will one day be rendered obsolete by the proliferation of the Internet and increasing reliance on television news, but these are topics that will discussed later in light of the research I have conducted.

[...] Interpretation of Results As can be seen in the tables I have presented, there does not exist compelling evidence to suggest that the weekly radio addresses had any significant influence on the issues attended to by major media outlets. I have developed a quantifiable measure of the messages' effects in Table which measures the range between the difference of the mean value and standard deviation for a given issue. A value that lies below this range implies a highly deviated value from the mean, and thus a negative correlation, while a value lying above this range should imply a positive correlation. [...]


[...] These results are quite puzzling, as there clearly exists no trend whatsoever in the relationships between media coverage of an issue and the time that the president discusses it in his radio address. Overall, we observed five positive correlations, two negative correlations, and six negligible correlations in the time studied. The fact that there is no consistency whatsoever in these findings suggests that the effects of the radio addresses were in fact inconsequential and the positive correlations were most likely attributable to other causes. [...]


[...] Analysis and Conclusion In order to understand why the weekly radio address failed to present itself as an effective tool of political communication, perhaps we should examine some of its most defining characteristics. To begin with, the weekly radio address utterly lacks drama. The importance of the regularity of these weekly speeches is paramount to understanding their inefficacy because countless studies have shown that there is a positive relationship between increased public attention (and often approval) and presidential drama (Ostrom and Simon). [...]

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