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America's Town Meeting of the Air

America’s Town Meeting of the Air was a public affairs discussion broadcast on radio from May 30, 1935, to July 1, 1956 on the NBC Blue Network and its successor, ABC Radio. One of radio's first talk shows, it began as a six-week experiment, NBC itself didn't expect much from it. Broadcast live from New York City's Town Hall, America's Town Meeting of the Air debuted on Thursday May 30, 1935, only 18 of NBC's affiliates carried it; the topic for that first show was "Which Way America: Fascism, Socialism or Democracy?” The moderator was George V. Denny, Jr. executive director of the League for Political Education, which produced the program. Denny had a major role in choosing weekly topics. Denny and the League wanted to create a program that would replicate the Town Meetings that were held in the early days of the United States; the show's introduction tried to evoke the old town meetings, as the voice of the mythical town crier announced, “Town meeting tonight! Come to the old Town Hall and talk it over!”

Denny and the League believed that a radio town meeting could enhance the public's interest in current events. Denny worried, his goal was to create a new kind of educational program, one that would be entertaining as well as mentally challenging, while exposing listeners to various perspectives on the issues of the day. Explaining the rationale behind a radio town meeting, Denny wrote that it was "... a device, designed to attract attention and stimulate his interest in the complex economic and political problems which he must have a hand in solving." On paper, America's Town Meeting looked like a typical panel discussion, with high-profile celebrity guests, who were experts on a particular current issue. For example, on a December 19, 1935, show about Social Security, one of the panelists was U. S. Secretary of Labor Frances Perkins, who explained and defended the new government program, but while many shows had well-known experts, few had the kind of audience participation that this one did.

They cheered or applauded when they liked what a speaker said, they hissed or booed when they felt the speaker was wrong. They heckled: part of the format of the show was to allow members of the audience to ask questions, while the rule was the question had to be brief—about 25-30 words maximum, with no insults or name-calling, that didn't stop people from using sarcasm, or disagreeing with what a guest had said; the listeners at home could take part: while at first there was no easy way to get callers on the air, by 1936, NBC engineers had designed a method for letting listeners call in from remote locations where they had gathered to listen to the show. The show succeeded beyond NBC's expectations, the six-week trial became permanent; as Denny had hoped, listeners not only enjoyed hearing famous newsmakers engaging in discussion but they enjoyed hearing members of the audience challenging these newsmakers. It wasn't long before Denny was receiving fan mail: His first broadcast received about 3,000 letters, much to his surprise.

By the 1937-8 season, mail averaged between 2,000 and 4,000 letters a week, an amazing number for an educational program. It inspired listeners to form "listener clubs," where members would listen as a group and discuss the topic themselves. America's Town Meeting became so popular in the public discourse that during the late 1930s and into the early 40s, Denny wrote a monthly column for Current History magazine, in which he gave summaries of the major points made by some of his Town Meeting guests, gave readers news quizzes, and educators found it so useful that Denny and NBC put program listings and what the speakers had said into booklet form, disseminated to public school civics teachers. Over the years, America's Town Meeting became known for its interesting guests, many of whom were important newsmakers. Denny did not shy away from controversy: his panelists included Socialist presidential candidate Norman Thomas, American Communist Party leader Earl Browder, civil libertarian Morris Ernst.

But there were guests from the world of literature and a number of famous scientists, politicians and public intellectuals. The topics were meant to inspire discussion, Denny tried to select subjects that would get people talking long after the show was over. Among them were discussions about whether America had freedom of the press, but during World War II, Denny encountered what he had most sought to avoid: angry audience members who didn't want to listen to other viewpoints and who wanted to criticize, rather than debate. Worse still, some audience members expressed anti-Semitic views. Denny struggled to maintain the show's openness and objectivity, but it became difficult to do so; the 1930s were the heyday of America's Town Meeting, although it remained on the air throughout the 1940s and sometimes still inspired the kinds of passionate discussions Denny had hoped for. But Town Meeting underwent a number of time changes during the 1940s; some were the result of changes at NBC — the network, called the NBC Blue Network was sold in 1943, it first became known as the "Blue Network," and was re-named the American Broadcasting Company in late

Zacarías González Velázquez

Zacarías González Velázquez was a Spanish painter. Velázquez was born in Madrid to a family of artists, his father was the painter Antonio González Velázquez. His grandfather Pablo and his uncles Luis and Alejandro were all painters, his brothers, Isidro and Cástor became painters. He began his training in 1777 at the Real Academia de Bellas Artes de San Fernando, where his father was the Director, a position he would hold himself. While there, he studied with Mariano Salvador Maella. After his second year, he won first prize in the Second Class Paintings category, he graduated in 1782 and began to acquire commissions immediately. He decorated several rooms in the Royal Palace of El Pardo with mythological scenes, he worked as a designer at the Royal Tapestry Factory and painted decorations at the Jaén Cathedral, Toledo Cathedral and the Oratory of the Caballero de Gracia in Madrid. He received another degree at the Academy in 1790 and, three years was appointed an assistant professor there. At that time, he was promoted to Deputy Director of Painting.

This came at a difficult time, as the country was embroiled in the Napoleonic Wars and cultural life came to a virtual standstill. Things improved with the accession of Ferdinand VII to the throne, he rose to the position of Director of the Academy in 1828. He died in Madrid, aged 69. ArtNet: More works by González Velázquez