A Historical Look at Telephone Town Halls

How telephone town halls have remained a staple of elected officials despite ever-changing technology.

April 19, 2019

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As we gear up for our IQ + Broadnet Reception next week to celebrate another year of successful partnership with Broadnet, the sellers of Access Live Telephone Town Halls, we thought it would be interesting to take a look at the history of town halls and the technologies that elected officials have used to reach their constituents.

Since the time of the pilgrims, town halls have been a vital channel of communication between elected officials and their constituents. Despite ever-changing technology, the basic concept of town halls has permeated every chapter of American history. So let's take a look at the evolution of this crucial communication strategy, beginning with one of the most famous examples: FDR's "fireside chats."

The year is 1933 and the country is in the middle of the Great Depression with a brand new president, Franklin Delano Roosevelt, at the helm. Less than two weeks into his term, FDR introduces a new way of communicating directly with the American public by holding his first of many "fireside chats." These casual radio broadcasts not only gave the president the opportunity to inform the public of what was going on, but they also provided a platform for him to explain the goals of his administration–much like a town hall.

Throughout his unprecedented four terms in office, FDR held 30 "fireside chats" to introduce new policy, such as the New Deal, gain support, and give the American people a calming voice in a time of great economic and political turmoil. In the year's to come, FDR's presidency would be seen as a turning point for the country. Not only did the U.S. survive the Great Depression but the country also entered the second world war. Yet FDR's direct leadership and communication style endeavored to give the public hope in times of uncertainty.

Although FDR's strategy of broadcasting directly to the American people was in itself revolutionary, so was the technology he was using: the radio. Since the days of FDR, many presidents have created their own versions of the "fireside chat." But as radio fell by wayside, elected officials began experimenting with new technologies to reach their constituents. In 1947, President Harry Truman gave the first televised presidential address to ask Americans to conserve food as the country's agricultural industry endured the aftermath of the second world warSimilarly, in 1999 President Bill Clinton held the first presidential web chat where internet users could ask the president questions as he answered them in real time. And in 2009, President Barack Obama was the first president to join Twitter and tweet his thoughts directly to the American people.

Now, whether it's via social media platforms or mass texting, elected officials have countless ways to connect with their constituents. Because, although the specific technology of telephone town halls has changed, the end-goal–engaging constituents–remains the same. 

Want to learn more about how your office can best reach its constituents? Then join us for our upcoming IQ + Broadnet Reception on April 25. Come learn about Access Live, Broadnet's telephone town hall offering, and how it integrates with IQ to provide a new way to engage with constituents. RSVP here: https://iqbroadnetreception.eventbrite.com

Can't wait? Schedule your telephone town hall today: https://www.intranetquorum.com/contact-us