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A Real Companion and Friend:
The diary of William Lyon Mackenzie King

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Behind the Diary

Politics, Themes, and Events from King's Life

Mackenzie King on the Air Waves and the Silver Screen

Audio and Video

Mackenzie King and Louis St. Laurent broadcasting a message to Canadians from San Francisco, on VE Day, 1945


Mackenzie King and Louis St. Laurent broadcasting a message to Canadians from San Francisco, on VE Day, 1945

King and St. Laurent were attending the United Nations conference in San Francisco when the war in Europe ended.

When William Lyon Mackenzie King took office as Prime Minister in 1921, he wrote in his diary that he intended "to keep the press at arm's length." He felt that the previous government's relationship with the print media was too cosy. He did not yet have to worry about the motion picture newsreels and radio. Newsreels, barely 10 years old, provided little more than photo opportunities and radio broadcasting, only a year old, was not yet a news medium. Throughout his time as Prime Minister, Mackenzie King grappled with these new media, working diligently to control his image and message. This control was easier in an era of bulky equipment and media etiquette that curbed the ambush tactics of the scrum and the danger of the impromptu recorded sound bite. Mackenzie King understood the great potential of radio to reach mass audiences, expressing amazement in his diary in 1924 that listeners as far away as British Columbia could hear his speech on the radio. When radio began, newspapers tried to block it from becoming a rival news source, but by the 1935 federal election, politicians recognized radio's power to influence public opinion and regularly scheduled radio newscasts followed by the end of the 1930s. Radio proved itself an indispensable means of mass communication, able to reach the public faster than could the newsreels. Most of Mackenzie King's radio speeches were live, rather than recorded for later transmission. That gave him no chance to correct mistakes. He rehearsed his speeches carefully, to control the process as much as possible. In 1927, when silent films became talkies with the invention of a practical system of synchronized sound, the communicative power of the newsreels expanded and politicians took note. The earliest talking newsreel of Mackenzie King known to exist dates from 1930, when a convoy of trucks carrying heavy recording equipment travelled to his summer retreat to record comments he had carefully scripted. He recognized the importance of newsreels as communications tools, but he fussed over how he looked in addition to how he sounded. Even so, there were pivotal moments, such as the 1939 visit by the King and Queen, the start of the Second World War and election campaigns, when Mackenzie King, always competitive albeit never a great communicator, made use of radio and newsreel.

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