Biden to Revive Weekly Address That Faded Under Trump

Call it the Fireside Podcast.

President Biden, seeking ways to advance his agenda in a cluttered media landscape, is set to revive a presidential tradition that faded under his predecessor: the weekly radio address.

The Biden version is not exactly just a man and his microphone. White House press aides said that some installments would follow a traditional president-talks-to-the-people format, but they were also planning to pair Mr. Biden with everyday Americans and other guests, recreating the informal style of popular podcasts.

The first installment is scheduled for Saturday, and it features Mr. Biden speaking with Michele Voelkert, a California woman who was laid off from her job at a San Francisco-based clothing company in the early months of the pandemic.

In a remote conversation, the president and Ms. Voelkert, 47, discuss her trouble securing unemployment benefits — she ultimately turned to a local state assemblywoman for help — and finding new employment. They also talk about her daughter’s virtual schooling.

The four-minute video segment is set to be published Saturday on the White House’s YouTube page and other social media platforms. (Officials said Ms. Voelkert’s husband, Joshua, was a videographer, allowing for high-quality footage on her end.)

“It’s a digital-forward way of thinking about it,” Rob Flaherty, the White House director of digital strategy, said in an interview. “We’re meeting people on platforms and formats that they watch, in places where they are.”

Mr. Biden’s aides have long cited his ease with average Americans as critical to his political appeal. When the coronavirus pandemic curtailed campaign events, effectively ending the rope lines where candidates shake hands and kiss babies, Mr. Biden’s strategists scrambled for alternatives. Among the solutions was a podcast, “Here’s The Deal”; the weekly presidential address is viewed inside the White House as a sequel of sorts.

One place the radio address may be hard to find: the actual radio.

Even under President Barack Obama, who brought the practice to YouTube and recorded an installment nearly every Friday, the weekly address saw a drop in distribution. “Is he even still doing them?” one executive at a major Boston public radio station asked The Boston Globe in 2014.

President Donald J. Trump, who was not shy about harnessing a variety of mass-media platforms, kept up the weekly address when he first took office. But the tradition soon faded. “The weekly address wasn’t being used to its full potential,” his former press secretary, Sarah Huckabee Sanders, said when asked about its disappearance in 2017.

Mr. Biden’s new version is the latest in a boom-and-bust cycle for presidents on the radio.

The weekly address was made famous by Franklin D. Roosevelt — and then essentially vanished. In 1977, President Jimmy Carter took viewer queries in a live national call-in show called “Dial-a-President,” which led to a searing “Saturday Night Live” parody with Dan Aykroyd playing the president. For Mr. Carter, “it diminished him,” said the presidential historian Douglas Brinkley.

President Ronald Reagan, an experienced broadcaster who admired Roosevelt’s “fireside chats,” brought back the radio address to great effect in the 1980s. His successor, President George H.W. Bush, mostly abandoned the practice, but it enjoyed a renaissance under President Bill Clinton, President George W. Bush and Mr. Obama.

Source: NYT > U.S. > Politics

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