Election 1944: FDR spoke to convention from ‘Shangri-La’ (7-24-44)

The Pittsburgh Press (July 24, 1944)


FDR spoke to convention from ‘Shangri-La’

President gave location cue
By Si Steinhauser

“Shangri-La” was the cue word – suggested by the President – to the West Coast where President Roosevelt waited in his private railroad car to make his acceptance speech to the Democratic National Convention. It was also the codeword used in all conversations between radio technicians and executives in setting up the lines used and the auxiliary emergency lines which weren’t used – but were there – set up in case of failure of the President’s private radio lines.

The President spoke through field equipment lettered appropriately enough for the man in the White House, WTOP (W for Washington and TOP for the remainder of the call letters for a capital station). This equipment goes whenever the President goes within the continental United States, in case he decides to make a broadcast.

Before he left, Washington and the Nazis had him in Cherbourg – where he wasn’t – the President talked with Clyde Hunt, chief engineer for CBS Network, and Carlton Smith, Washington executive for NBC, and disclosed his plans. They in turn had confidential chats with their chiefs in New York, Paul White for CBS, and Bill Brooks for NBC. Leonard Reinsch, radio director for the Democratic National Committee, was the only other person in on the “Shangri-La” broadcast.

Wires were set up at WBBM in Chicago and in a master control booth in the Chicago Stadium. The talk came first to that booth and from there was distributed to all networks and the stadium public address system.

Engineers waited for the cue words “Shangri-La,” threw switches and the President was on the air. No one in Chicago – among radio people – actually knew where the President was. They knew he was on the Pacific Coast but only Pacific Coast telephone-radio engineers who set up the lines to his train – under Navy Guard – knew whose train they were “wiring for radio.” Of course, the Secret Service, military attachés and others of the President’s confidential staff knew. So far as radio is concerned, he still spoke from Shangri-La, from where he said Gen. Jimmy Doolittle took off to bomb Tokyo.

You can start a lot of endless arguments about that “no person to person” communication by radio with reference to the President’s talk by radio.

He addressed his remarks directly to the chairman and the delegates and said “you” four times in his first two paragraphs. Which, say Republicans, was person-to-person communication.

Of course, if you tried that, the station permitting you to do so could lose its license.

Convention broadcasts and political speeches always bored us, but sitting in on the announcement of a state poll and hearing a Wallace faithful add “until hell freezes over” to “One for Wallace” will not be forgotten.