From Shoe Rationing to Dick Tracy: Mayor LaGuardia Reads the News on WNYC

Mayor Fiorello H. Laguardia reads the comics on the radio, 1945

In a slightly-belated celebration of Fiorello H. LaGuardia’s 130th birthday (December 11, 1882), I would like to remember one of the many things that made him a most memorable mayor of New York City during his 12 year tenure from 1934-1945.  Known as much for his strength and determination to stamp our corruption in New York City as his gentle kindness and compassion for New York citizens, LaGuardia is often remembered for reading the Sunday funnies on the radio.

Mayor LaGuardia had a weekly Sunday radio show on WNYC called “Talk to the People,” his own version of the FDR “Firesides Chats,” where he would discuss current events and the state of affairs.  He talked about national and international concerns, especially the war, and would also tell listeners where to get the best prices on vegetables and inform them that there would be shoe rationing.  Radio was the dominant electronic medium of the day, as television was in its infancy, and Laguardia had a large and diverse listenership.

On June 30, 1945, newspaper delivery drivers went on strike for 17 days, refusing to deliver any paper except PM, a leftist and pro-labor publication.  LaGuardia, concerned that the children of New York would be denied their weekly comics, decided to read them on the radio at the end of his broadcasts until the strike ended. Using different voices for different characters and describing each comic in detail, LaGuardia’s animated performances entertained listeners as he inevitably took his readings toward a particular moral, ending a reading of Dick Tracy by saying, “Say children, what does it all mean? It means that dirty money never brings any luck! No, dirty money always brings sorrow and sadness and misery and disgrace.”

Mayor Ed Koch commented on a November 30, 2008 broadcast of NPR’s All things Considered that the comics were very important to New Yorkers and were followed by children and adults alike.  He also explains that LaGuardia had a direct link with the citizenry of New York through his contact on the radio and that he conveyed a spirit of good citizenship and an honest administration.  In the same segment, Andy Lanset, WNYC’s archivist asserts that LaGuardia’s readings have become “aural icons.”

 

Audio: NYC Mayor LaGuardia’s Legendary Radio Readings on NPR’s
All Things Considered:
NYC Mayor LaGuardia’s Legendary Radio Readings

Follow Mayor LaGuardia on Twitter!:
@mayorlaguardia

 Biography of Fiorello H. LaGuardia:
Kessner, Thomas. Fiorello H. La Guardia and the Making of Modern New York. New York: McGraw-Hill, 1989

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  1. L. Williams’s avatar

    I do remember Mayor Fiorello H. Laguardia and his radio broadcast. His voice would never have gotten him a job as a professional broadcaster but he was listened to avidly and was truly liked and respected by the people of the city. He read “the funny papers” of the day. He followed the adventures of Orphan Annie and Dick Tracy very much like today’s celebrities are a subject of reportage. It was a different time – even the remnants of that world no longer exist.

    Reply

    1. Yukie Ohta’s avatar

      How luck you are to have heard it all firsthand! Yes, indeed, a different, bygone time.

      Reply

    2. Judith Washington’s avatar

      Glad I found this. I could listen to what my parents heard when I was 3!
      “So what does it all mean, kids?”

      My parents taught my brother and me, by word and deed, that good character, trustworthiness, honesty, and a regard for “the little guy” were the way to go in life…regardless of what others might tell you. And that one could influecne our communities if we lived by these values.

      Whenever the subject of politics came up, they would mention Laguardia and how he cleaned up City Hall. They found him honest, funny, and down-to-earth. (traits my mother exemplified). Since my parents–first generation Americans– always favored “the little guy”, I think even LaGuardia’s small stature and high voice made him a modern-day David and Goliath figure to my parents. Thank you, mom and dad, and thank you, Fiorella LaGuardia! Maybe these times are not so bygone after all??

      Reply

      1. Yukie Ohta’s avatar

        Yes! Those times are not so bygone as to be forgotten or considered irrelevant. I think LaGuardia, his larger than life personality and all that he accomplished, are still quite relevant today!

        Reply

      2. therealguyfaux’s avatar

        I recall seeing old newsreels (of a time before I was around, I hasten to add) of LaG telling New Yorkers of the WW II era that a delicious and nutritious way of getting protein into their diets without meat, which was rationed (and sometimes not even sold on particular days) then, was a wonderful dish his mother used to make called “Past’ e fagioli,” which he gave the Southern Italian pronunciation of “pasta fazool” to. In addition, he also appeared in one newsreel with Bud Abbott, LaG playing the Lou Costello part till Costello “shows up late.”

        Reply

        1. Yukie Ohta’s avatar

          Hilarious! What a guy that LaG was!

          Reply

        2. L. Williams’s avatar

          Once you heard that voice it was in your mined never to leave. He had a slightly feminine voice that people found humorous but the citizens of the city liked him and trusted him. Those were the days when there was a real connection between the mayor and the citizens of the city, he after all represented them not some shadowy corporate interest. The subways and elevators trains were a nickel to ride and trolley cars had open sides in the summertime for comfort. A 12 oz glass of beer was a dime and there was no air-condition or TV in the bars which led to much better conversations. Times were tough then but not lethal

          Reply

          1. Yukie Ohta’s avatar

            So there actually was a time when things “only cost a nickel”! Yes, LaGuardia was indeed the people’s mayor, connected to everyone.

            Reply

            1. Dave Heun’s avatar

              I am 80 years old and I remember hearing him reading the funny papers on Sunday morning on the Radio in Chicago. And yes he did the voices

              Reply

              1. Yukie Ohta’s avatar

                What a wonderful memory!

                Reply

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