Presidential Nominating Conventions

In 1948, the major television networks televised both the Democratic and Republican presidential conventions on the few television stations on the air. Both political parties had chosen Philadelphia as their convention site out of consideration for network television’s technical requirements, and the conventions were broadcast to fourteen Eastern television stations in thirteen states. The convention attracted a television audience of ten million, a sizable achievement given the technical limitations of the networks and the youth of television.

Television dominated the proceedings during the 1952 and 1956 conventions. The audiences for the televised events were far larger than in 1948, and the massive television crews the networks used to staff the conventions seemed for the first time to intrude on turf previously reserved for delegates and for print and radio reporters. More than 60 million people watched the 1952 Republican National Convention, the largest audience for a live television event to that date. The major broadcast networks–ABC, CBS, NBC, and DuMont–each sent crews of 300 broadcasters and technicians to the International Amphitheater in Chicago, which was selected as the convention site because it was the only hall in town big enough for the television equipment and cables. Newsweek magazine dubbed it the “television convention.” Television’s performance in the 1956 conventions was equally impressive. More than 100 million people saw some part of the conventions, prompting broadcasters to claim that the public had now become accustomed to a new kind of pictorial journalism.

Television’s growing importance to public affairs was beyond doubt, and broadcasting’s rising influence seemed to come at the expense of the print medium. President Dwight D. Eisenhower noted in 1955 that television was becoming more important than newspapers in fostering understanding of public issues. Broadcasting, Eisenhower said, could engage and involve viewers to a degree that cold print never could. “In many ways therefore the effect of your industry in swaying public opinion, and I think, particularly about burning questions of the moment, may be even greater than the press, although I am sure my friends here of the press will have plenty to criticize in that statement,” he said.