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J. Leonard Reinsch Oral History Interview

Oral History Interview with
J. Leonard Reinsch

Former radio adviser to the White House, 1945-52; radio consultant, Democratic National Convention and executive director, Democratic National Convention, 1960 and 1964; and TV-radio director, Democratic presidential campaign, 1960.

Atlanta, Georgia
March 13, 1967 and March 14, 1967
by J. R. Fuchs

[Notices and Restrictions | Interview Transcript | List of Subjects Discussed]

 


Notice
This is a transcript of a tape-recorded interview conducted for the Harry S. Truman Library. A draft of this transcript was edited by the interviewee but only minor emendations were made; therefore, the reader should remember that this is essentially a transcript of the spoken, rather than the written word.

Numbers appearing in square brackets (ex. [45]) within the transcript indicate the pagination in the original, hardcopy version of the oral history interview.

RESTRICTIONS
This oral history transcript may be read, quoted from, cited, and reproduced for purposes of research. It may not be published in full except by permission of the Harry S. Truman Library.

Opened November 1967
Harry S. Truman Library
Independence, Missouri

 

[Top of the Page | Notices and Restrictions | Interview Transcript | List of Subjects Discussed]

 



Oral History Interview with
J. Leonard Reinsch

 

Atlanta, Georgia
March 13, 1967
by J. R. Fuchs

[1]

FUCHS: Mr. Reinsch, to start with, I thought you might just give a brief autobiographical resume of your life to the time you met up with Mr. Truman; when and where you were born, and your schooling and what your major subject was, just briefly, and your career up to that time.

REINSCH: I was born in Streator, Illinois in 1908; had my schooling in Chicago. I majored in advertising at Northwestern University while working at Radio Station WLS. I started in radio in 1924; did my first television in 1931; and I wrote a thesis on radio which won the D. F. Keller prize

[2]

at Northwestern and was instrumental in my getting an association with Governor [James M.] Cox in Dayton, Ohio in 1934. I took over the development of what is now WHIO for Governor Cox. I was sent to Atlanta, in 1939, when the Governor purchased the Atlanta Journal and Georgian and the radio stations. I was put in charge of WSB radio. In 1942 I was put in charge of our three radio stations.; station WIOD Miami, WSB Atlanta, WHIG in Dayton. In 1944 my national political works started with a call from President Roosevelt to Governor Cox. The background there, of course, is that in 1920 Governor Cox had run for President on the Democratic ticket and selected as his running mate Franklin Delano Roosevelt; these two men had a close friendly relationship, When the Democratic Party needed a radio man in 1944 President Roosevelt called Governor Cox and asked to borrow his radio man, Leonard Reinsch…

[3]

FUCHS: Was this for the convention specifically?

REINSCH: ...I was asked to handle radio arrangements for the convention and the radio campaign for the Presidency and the Vice Presidency. As a result of the President's call I went to Chicago where the convention was to be held -- Bob [Robert E.] Hannegan was chairman of the Democratic Committee at that time -- I was tossed in the middle of convention planning. The program chairman of the convention really was George Allen who was in England at that time getting acquainted with General Eisenhower and meeting old time friends. I found as a result of that I not only had the problem of arranging facilities for the radio part of the program but that I was forced to make decisions about the convention program itself. Senator Samuel Jackson of Indiana was the chairman of the convention and was known as a pro-Wallace man,

There were some interesting developments

[4]

in the 1944 Democratic convention; this is one of the many political conventions in which counterfeit tickets showed up, and Bob Hannegan, Ed Pauley, Mayor [Frank] Hague, and a number of others prominent in Democratic politics, had received word that Harry S. Truman was to be the vice-presidential candidate. Thursday night the west gallery of the Chicago stadium was packed with people holding counterfeit tickets and by strange coincidence all of them were Wallace supporters. As a. result, there was a tremendous amount of cheering and yelling for the Wallace candidacy and it was felt by the party leaders that the best thing to do was to adjourn the convention and reconvene on Friday morning. This was done and the next morning Harry S. Truman was nominated as the vice-presidential candidate for the Democratic Party of 1944, He was sitting on the north side of the stadium with Mrs. Truman at the time the nomination was made. The platform

[5]

was on the south side of the stadium. Candidate Truman proceeded to the platform and stepped up to the microphones and thanked everyone for the nomination. This chance remark later led to quite an argument that I had with the network regarding the presentation of acceptance speeches. In the same stadium, in 1932, Franklin Roosevelt had flown from New York to make his acceptance speech. This instant acceptance speech set a new pattern, and the networks had felt that they had complied with the equal opportunity obligation when Mr. Truman said, "Thank you very much." The networks gave John Bricker, the vice-presidential candidate on the Republican ticket, a thirty-minute broadcast on a Saturday night from French Lick Springs, Indiana, to make an acceptance speech, I was successful in persuading the network that the mere thank you did not constitute an acceptance speech. As a result we

[6]

got thirty minutes of network time for the vice-presidential candidate to make his acceptance speech, which he did from Lamar, Missouri.

FUCHS: Did Bricker not make a short speech at the convention, is that why they gave him this thirty minutes at a later date?

REINSCH: No. The Republicans were able to persuade the network that they should have thirty minutes for the acceptance speech, and we had an interesting argument but we were persuasive and we got thirty minutes of free time for our candidate as well.

FUCHS: Had you met Mr. Truman prior to his nomination?

REINSCH: I had appeared before a Senate committee for the radio industry. I did not meet him personally. I had called on him during the hearings that the Senate was holding on the Federal Communications Commission. I called on many senators at that

[7]

time. The first time that I met with Senator Truman was to discuss the campaign of 1944 at his home in Independence. You recall that this was during the wartime and we had severe travel limitations, so that we had some problems of coordinating all of our travel plans. I had secured, following the nomination, a transcript and also a transcription of a speech that Mr. Truman had made in Philadelphia, which ran fifty-five minutes. The delivery was very rapid to the point that sometimes the material was not intelligible. One of my first questions to the vice-presidential candidate was, "Why did you go so fast at this speech in Philadelphia?"

And he said, "Well, I didn't think it was very interesting and I wanted to get it over with."

FUCHS: This was as a Senator?

REINSCH: As a Senator, he had appeared in Philadelphia

[8]

giving this talk. And I said, "Well, why didn't you cut the speech?"

He said everyone that worked on the speech felt their material was important and he just didn't feel like hurting their feelings in cutting the speech. So, he raced through the material to get it over with as quickly as possible. I had dinner at the home the night of our first meeting. Dinner was served by Mrs. Truman. Matt Connelly was present and Margaret was present. We discussed plans for the vice-presidential participation in the campaign, and I made several suggestions I had about the use of radio.

FUCHS: Could you date this meeting approximately?

REINSCH: In September of 1944.

FUCHS: This was after his acceptance speech at Lamar?

REINSCH: After the acceptance speech at Lamar, but

[9]

prior to the campaign. Now, prior to the acceptance speech at Lamar, however -- but let me go back to this meeting at his home. Following the meeting, I was to catch a train to go to Chicago to meet regarding other radio placements for the campaign for President Roosevelt. At the conclusion of dinner I suggested a cab be called to take me to the railroad station. And the candidate said, "No, I will drive you to the railroad station."

And I said, "No, that is too much of a bother."

He replied, "You were kind enough to come to Kansas City to talk to me about my campaign, and to make suggestions; the least I can do in return is to drive you to the railroad station." And he got in the car and drove me to the station.

The Lamar, Missouri acceptance speech was at a location selected by the candidate. I

[10]

went to Tom Evans' radio station at the suggestion of the candidate to make arrangements for a rehearsal of his speech. Obviously, the first problem was to slow the candidate down in his delivery, and second, to bring more emphasis to the important points and make a better radio presentation than is normally the case with someone with the midwestern twang, or a Missouri twang, whatever you want to call it. We were fortunate in that we had a much better voice and a better man, an easier man to work with than the Republicans did in 1936, when Al [Alfred M.] Landon had so much of a problem with radio delivery. In Tom Evans' studio we recorded the speech and played it back and it was apparent that the speed was still part of the reflex delivery action of the candidate. Then I started the idea of putting less and less material on each page, so he would have to turn pages frequently. The turning of the pages

[11]

would take time and the mechanical process would slow down his delivery.

FUCHS: This was done for the Lamar speech?

REINSCH: The beginnings were made with the Lamar speech. The technique was fully developed in his first address as President before the joint session of Congress. We put each sentence on a page and the physical turning of the page slowed down the delivery. In the meantime, he was getting much better in his emphasis and in the tonal quality. We were not trying to make a finished actor; we were trying to get the true expressions of a man across to the American people. Some of the technique was intended only to let him better express his personality and his thoughts. The Lamar speech was a real headache, and, as I recall, Senator Connally was giving the introduction to the vice-presidential candidate...

[12]

FUCHS: You went to Lamar with him?

REINSCH: ...I went to Lamar with him and it was the first of many trips that I was privileged to make with him -- Senator Connally was making the introduction and it was made in a typical town square, with the county courthouse in the center. The public address system was set up so that we had a bounce of the voice all over the place.

The vice-presidential candidate had a talk that took twenty-five minutes out of the thirty minutes of free time. Senator Connally's introduction was a long speech in itself which got me quite upset and we had a long discussion -- Les [Leslie L.] Biffle and I had a long discussion with Tom Connally, and he agreed to cut out a lot of material. I figure we got him down to about ten minutes, maybe eight minutes at best. We had the speech redrafted, and then tried to cut more of it but unfortunately

[13]

Senator Connally added material instead of deleting material, and the vice-presidential acceptance speech was probably the shortest one on record.

FUCHS: You were working with Biffle and Connally in Washington?

REINSCH: In Lamar. I had no idea that the introduction was going to be a speech. But there was quite a delegation from Washington came to Lamar -- this was a big event. But it worked out as well as could be expected with all of the conflicts we had and the length of the speech and content and everything else. Anyway the campaign was successfully launched and we were on our way.

On another occasion, I met the Vice President on the train in Cincinnati. I had worked with President Roosevelt in an eastern city and had to double back and meet the Vice President in

[14]

Cincinnati to ride with him to St. Louis. In St. Louis our schedule called for attendance at the World Series game. This was one of the few times during the campaign when we had an extra that was quite pleasurable for all of us. There was a broadcast that night on one of the networks in which the vice-presidential candidate participated; and then early the next morning he had scheduled a breakfast, as I recall it was one of those 7:30 breakfasts out in the country with a friend of his. He was kind enough to ask me to go along. We had a lovely suite that the national committee had rented for us in this hotel, but it only had one bathroom. My first recollection of the next morning was the vice-presidential candidate, fully clothed, standing over my bed shaking me again and saying, "Leonard, I'm afraid it's time for you to get up." I felt quite apologetic and quite embarrassed that the vice-presidential

[15]

candidate got up before I did and I apologized. "Don't worry about that. I like to get up early." And he continued, "You're all worn out trying to bounce back and forth between the President and myself. You are entitled to a little sleep." Nevertheless, I was somewhat crestfallen that I hadn't come out with the bell that morning. We had an enjoyable breakfast, incidentally, from a hilly area overlooking a beautiful plain. It was a nice change of pace. From there we moved into other campaign talks.

It was in this campaign that I introduced the five minutes idea. At the time I had no idea of the difficulty of getting radio time. The theory behind it was that if you presented only a five minute talk, that the radio listeners -- and in those days the family was seated around the large radio set in the living room -- wouldn't go over and change stations if the talk only lasted five minutes. You could slide in this

[16]

talk with your Democratic message and a lot of Republicans would be exposed to it. The difficulty I felt with a thirty minute talk was that we had the people on our side listening and the people on the other side listening to their candidate. We didn't get a crack at Republicans or the doubtful voters. It looked like the five minute idea would be one way of reaching them. We sold the networks on this general idea and then we had to go to the agencies in the accounts. We had a lot of trouble with accounts that were Republican oriented. Some of the b