America's Town Meeting of the Air was on the air each week for nearly two decades starting in 1935. Along with The Chicago Round Table of the Air, American Forum of the Air, Vox Populi and innumerable other short-lived local and regional programs Town Meeting was part of a broad based and energetic attempt to use the new radio technology to enable broad participation in discussion of important public issues of the time.
Overall, the network variants of these programs represented the first truly significant nation wide attempt to create 'public radio.' And Town Meeting was probably the most popular and most open radio forum in the 1930s. Usually, the program format was a debate between opponents on specific topics that included prominent figures from politicians, bureaucrats, professionals, and writers including Eleanor Roosevelt, Langston Hughes, Carl Sandburg, Pearl Buck and John Gunther. In one broadcast on the topic Is America losing its morals? actress irene Dunne and the Reverend J. Herbert Smith thought yes while Eddie Cantor and historian Will Durant thought not.
But the distinctive feature of Town Meetings format was the participation of the audience which posed questions to the guests. Often contentious, sometimes comic, always revealing of the concerns -- and character -- of 'the people,' the audience created for the listener the sense that he/she was represented in the nation's bubusinessthat he/she had a voice.
Very little of this sort of public interest programming from the Depression seems to have survived. The programs we present here were found in the National Archives, converted to .mp3 on CD, then re-foformattedn ststreaminguick Time. They represent only a small portion of
America's Town Meeting of the Air
In the Great Depression