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Historical Highlights

The First Major Radio Broadcast of a Joint Meeting

March 04, 1939
The First Major Radio Broadcast of a Joint Meeting Collection of the U.S. House of Representatives
About this object
William Bankhead served 12 terms in the House, including three as Speaker of the House.
On this date, more than 400 radio broadcasters from the United States and Canada covered the proceedings in the House Chamber marking the 150th anniversary of the first meeting of Congress. A contemporary newspaper account described the media crush—which included "upward of a dozen international short-wave transmitters" used to air the commemoration to audiences as far away as Sweden—as “the most elaborate and extensive radio coverage ever set up for a single event.” Microphones placed throughout the chamber allowed people worldwide to hear the commemorative exercises. Gladys Swarthout—an American opera star who became the first woman to sing at a House ceremony—performed vocals for “America” and the “Star-Spangled Banner.” President Franklin D. Roosevelt, Supreme Court Chief Justice Charles Hughes, Senate president pro tempore Key Pittman of Nevada, and Speaker of the House William Bankhead of Alabama addressed the Joint Session. “To my brethren in both branches of Congress this should be embraced as an occasion of rededication to the best interests of our Republic,” Speaker Bankhead remarked. “Despite the limitations of our judgments and intellects—because, forsooth, at no time nor under any administration, have we infallibly measured up to the full needs of the hour—nevertheless, we are the emissaries of our constituencies and the symbols of representative government.”

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