Eleanor Roosevelt’s Own Program, April 30, 1940

by William A. Harris, Deputy Director

Eleanor Roosevelt prepares for the first broadcast of her new NBC radio series, April 30, 1940. (Harris and Ewing Collection, Library of Congress)

On April 30, 1940, with little fanfare, Eleanor Roosevelt commenced a new, commercial radio series on NBC. It is hard to imagine in this media era of ours that such an occasion would generate so little press coverage. Mrs. Roosevelt was no stranger to broadcasting having regularly appeared on radio over the past decade as a host of her own programs, as a guest on other shows, and as a speaker at live events. 

An article heralding the First Lady’s new program. (Broadcasting Magazine, April 15, 1940, p. 26)

The new program aired every Tuesday and Thursday from a location convenient to the First Lady’s travel schedule. The makers of Sweetheart Soap, the Manhattan Soap Company, sponsored the program for an initial 13-week pick-up. The focus would be on issues of general interest to Mrs. Roosevelt or her daily activities, much like her syndicated column, “My Day.” She broadcast the first program from station WRC in Washington, DC.

A brief audio clip of Roosevelt’s first program. (Eleanor Roosevelt’s Own Program, April 30, 1940)

Radio critic and columnist Fred Emery noted in July 1940 that the First Lady “brings to the microphone the ease and calm of the veteran.” She required only fifteen minutes to prepare for a broadcast and insisted on no special treatment in the studio. She preferred to sit for broadcasts, kept water nearby (though she rarely took a sip), and knew all the hand signals from the technicians in the control room.

A typical newspaper radio schedule, April 30, 1940. (The Danville [Virginia] Morning News, April 30, 1940, p. 2)

The quarter-hour program was carried over 46 NBC stations. Airing at 1:15 EST, Mrs. Roosevelt’s Own Program, as it was styled, faced stiff competition from the dramatic serial Life Can Be Beautiful and Ted Malone’s popular Between the Bookends. Well-known announcer Ben Grauer provided the introductions and read the commercials. According to a radio trade paper, the series ended its run on July 25, 1940, when the Manhattan Soap Company “shifted to spot advertising,” a polite way to note that it had been cancelled.

Mrs. Roosevelt’s hectic schedule, April 30, 1940. (White House Usher’s Log, FDR Library)

Though an important endeavor, the radio show was only one item on ER’s busy schedule that day. She blithely described a few highlights in her “My Day” column: “Today I began with a meeting of the Arthurdale, W. Va., Advisory Committee. Then I opened my series of broadcasts and went to my annual lunch with the Girl Scouts in their practice house.” She left out speaking to the Workers Alliance, hosting diplomatic teas, and capping the evening with nationally broadcast remarks to the Board of Trade. As for her radio salary, she donated it to the American Friend’s Service Committee.

Observing the Girl Scouts at work, April 30, 1940. (Harris and Ewing Collection, Library of Congress)