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