Saturday, July 23, 2016


JFK+50:  Volume 6, No. 2018


Washington, D.C. (JFK+50) Historians say Franklin D. Roosevelt was the first "radio president."  His superb speaking voice and use of it in his frequent "fireside chats" support that argument.  Historians also say that John F. Kennedy was the first "television president."  JFK's charisma was evident in the presidential debates as well as his frequent nationally televised news conferences.

On July 23, 1962, President Kennedy made television history when his news conference that day was transmitted live to Europe via the Telstar satellite.  A reporter brought that up at the conference while putting in a "dig" against the communications medium.  

He asked...

"Mr. President, now that the US image is being transmitted instantaneously overseas by Telstar, do you think the (TV) networks should do something about the vast wasteland?"

President Kennedy deftly dodged the question by responding...

"I'm going to leave Mr. Minow to argue the wasteland issue, I think."

The "vast wasteland" was a term coined by Federal Communications Commission chairman Newton Minow* who gave his first speech as chairman to the National Association of Broadcasters on May 9, 1961.  

Mr. Minow said...

"When television is good... nothing is better (but) when television is bad, nothing is worse.  
I invite each of you to sit down in front of your television (and)...keep your eyes glued to that set until the station signs off.  I can assure you that what you will observe is a vast wasteland."

The FCC chairman also said that broadcasting was "a most honorable profession" and that TV was "the most powerful voice in America."  He added, however, that "history will decide whether today's broadcasters employed their powerful voice to enrich the people or debase them."

*Newton Minow was born in Milwaukee, WI in 1926.  He is a graduate of Northwestern University and the Northwestern University School of Law.
NM is Honorary Consul General of Singapore in Chicago.


"Newton N. Minow, Television and the Public Interest," May 1961, American Rhetoric, Top 100 Speeches,

Family Watching Television in 1958
Photo by Evert F. Baumgardner
NARA Image