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August 14, 1956 – Democratic National Convention – Day One – Gordon Skene Sound Collection –
August 14, 1956 – The opening day of the 1956 Democratic Convention in Chicago. The Democrats held their convention before that year’s Republican National Convention. This was unusual, as since 1864, in every election but 1888, Democrats had held their convention second. It has become an informal tradition that the party holding the White House (which, accordingly, in 1956 had been the Republican Party) hosts their convention second, but it is unclear when this tradition began (Democrats had held the White House and held their conventions second between 1936 and 1952, but it is unclear whether they scheduled their conventions second in these years because of their White House incumbency, or whether they scheduled them second because it was traditional that Democratic National Conventions had been held after the Republican National Convention).
This was only the second convention to be televised live coast-to-coast. Television had, by 1956, become the dominant medium of popular news coverage. To adjust to the medium of television, it was condensed in length compared to previous years, with daytime sessions being largely eliminated and the amount of welcoming speeches and parliamentary organization speeches being decreased (such as seconding speeches for vice-presidential candidates, which were eliminated). Sessions were also scheduled in order to maximize exposure to prime-time audience. However, Radio still held a very big portion of the audience just by the sheer fact that the convention itself was covered gavel-to-gavel for several hours and listening on the radio was just easier.
With regard to the growing Civil Rights Movement, the platform called for voting rights, equal employment opportunities, and the desegregation of public schools. Relative to the Republicans, the Democrats favored greater reliance on the United Nations, multilateral disarmament, more spending for programs relating to social welfare and agriculture, “a full and integrated program of development, protection, management and conservation of natural resources,” and the use of peaceful atomic energy.
This is a 90 minute snippet from that first day to give you some idea of how conventions used to sound before they were geared to prime-time and drastically cut down in media coverage. This coverage is via NBC Radio with Pauline Frederick at the helm, one of the first women to anchor a convention for radio.