Microphone Malfunctions and Campaigns

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Rep. Joseph Martin, Jr. of MA and Herbert Hoover address the Republican Convention, June 25, 1940.

In the wake of the recent Presidential debate, Republican candidate Donald Trump pointed to a malfunctioning microphone and spotty sound system as one of the reasons his voice was not heard.  This Hoover archivist was reminded of a previous episode of microphone malfeasance and its impact on a Presidential hopeful.

The year was 1940.  World War II had broken out in Europe, and America was just beginning to recover from the Great Depression.  Incumbent Democrat Franklin Roosevelt was lining up for an unprecedented campaign for a third term as President.  The Republican Party had no shortage of candidates eager to run against Roosevelt: Landon, Dewey, Taft, and Willkie.  Former President Herbert Hoover harbored hopes that the GOP might draft him for a run if the convention could not reach consensus.  Hoover was counting on his speech to the RNC to rally support to his candidacy.

Late in the evening of June 25, 1940, Herbert Hoover approached the stage at the RNC in Philadelphia.  He was greeted by a rousing ovation. These were his people, and they anticipated a fiery attack on Roosevelt, internationalism, and the New Deal from Hoover.  For his part, Hoover hoped to ride the wave of acclaim from this speech to the Republican nomination.  But the stampede to draft Hoover did not occur.

Many in the hall had difficulty hearing Hoover, shouting ‘Louder! We can’t hear you!’ Some blamed it on Hoover being too attentive to television cameras and microphones [this was the first political convention to be televised].  Others blamed it on Hoover standing too far from the microphones.  Still others hinted that malign forces had tampered with the sound system.   One Hoover backer swore the microphone ‘had been deliberately rigged and the loud speaker cut off.’  In any event, the damage was done.  Hoover did not emerge as a dark horse; Willkie led the Republican ticket to defeat in November 1940.

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