Obama's Convention Speech Won't Be First Inside Football Stadium

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One week from tonight, Barack Obama will accept the Democratic Party's nomination for President. He'll do it not inside a cramped convention hall, but in front of 76,000 people at Invesco Field, home of the NFL's Denver Broncos. It won't be the first time the Democrats' nominee has finished the convention with a speech in a football stadium. KPCC's Special Correspondent Kitty Felde turns back the clock nearly a half-century when another young, dynamic Democratic candidate addressed a crowd in the L.A. Coliseum.

Newsreel: Climactic moments of the Democratic convention. In Los Angeles, months of politicking reach the moment of decision as candidates are placed in nomination before a Democratic National Convention that reflects a party tradition of hard infighting, despite a steamroller drive by Senator John F. Kennedy.

Roz Wyman: 1960, I was in charge of arrangements for the convention.

Kitty Felde: Roz Wyman was a veteran Los Angeles city councilwoman by the time the Democrats decided to hold their national convention in L.A. She jumped right in, staging fundraisers for the Massachusetts senator that featured entertainment by Frank Sinatra. Wyman was L.A.'s representative on the planning committee for the convention. The venue was the brand new 16,000 seat Los Angeles Sports Arena.

Wyman: The Sports Arena was very small, but the Coliseum held a hundred thousand people.

Felde: Wyman had an idea for the last night of the Democratic convention. That would be the night John Fitzgerald Kennedy would accept the nomination as the Democratic Party's candidate for president.

Wyman saw the excitement the dynamic young candidate could generate, and she felt confident his star power could pack them into the Coliseum. She made her pitch to JFK's campaign manager and brother, Bobby Kennedy.

Wyman: I kept saying, "If we take it outside, Bobby, more people can come." A convention is this dele– you know, you have to have your credentials, and it's so small. And I said, "We open it up to the public." And I said, "He's an exciting candidate, and you know it would be so great." And Bobby kept saying, "That place holds a hundred thousand people." And he said, "Where are we going to get a hundred thousand people?"

Felde: Wyman countered quickly: why not block off half the seats? Bobby Kennedy still worried about whether they could find 50,000 people to listen to a political speech in a giant football stadium. But eventually, Roz Wyman wore him down.

Wyman: And at one point when we finally decided that this would happen, Bobby turned to me and he said, "Wyman, you're young, and you might have a career, a long career in politics, but if this is wrong, this is the end of your career." (laughs) Bobby's great words to me!

Felde: This debate didn't happen months before. It happened in the middle of the Democratic convention! Wyman and local party activists had two days to find 50,000 people and get them into the Coliseum for John Kennedy's acceptance speech.

Wyman: I remember getting on the phone with every labor union I ever knew in the state of California, every Democratic Women's club, and using the old thing, "You get 10, and you get 10." The old... what did we used to call that? A pyramid type of thing.

Felde: Democrats drove to L.A. by the busload. When Kennedy took the stage, an impressive crowd of 50,000-plus sat in the Coliseum to listen. That night, Kennedy told that giant audience about what he called "the new frontier."

John F. Kennedy: But the new frontier of which I speak is not a set of promises, it is a set of challenges. It sums up not what I intend to offer the American people, but what I intend to ask of them. But I believe that the times require imagination, and courage, and perseverance.

I'm asking each of you to be pioneers towards that new frontier. My call is to the young in heart, regardless of age. To the stout in spirit, regardless of party. To all who respond to the scriptural call: be strong and of good courage. Be not afraid.

Felde: Roz Wyman didn't suffer the wrath of Bobby Kennedy. She didn't have to get out of politics. She'd filled the Coliseum with the biggest crowd ever seen at a political convention. Roz Wyman will be at another convention next week when she travels to Denver as one of the Democratic party's "superdelegates." She'll cast her vote, and then settle in at Denver's Invesco Field to hear her party's presidential nominee deliver an acceptance speech in a football stadium, once again.