Now, over the past few days, the president and Governor Romney have been preparing for that debate set to take place on Wednesday. It's a well-worn tradition now, but it wasn't always that way.


UNIDENTIFIED MAN: According to rules set by the candidates themselves, each man shall make an opening statement of approximately eight minutes duration and a closing statement of approximately three minutes duration.

RAZ: The 1960 Kennedy-Nixon faceoff wasn't just the first televised presidential debate. It was the first Presidential debate in over a century. But four years earlier, in 1956, a young German émigré named Fred Kahn who was studying at the University of Maryland wanted to see whether the nominees that year - Dwight Eisenhower and Adlai Stevenson - might want to engage with students.

FRED KAHN: And so I got this idea.

RAZ: He wanted the nominees to answer questions from a panel of students at the university. He enlisted the help of the school's international club, and he started writing letters to everyone he could think of.

KAHN: To both Eisenhower and Stevenson, to the chair of the Democratic National Committee, to the Republican national chair, to Governor McKeldon of Maryland, who was a Republican.

RAZ: Eleanor Roosevelt even wrote him back.

KAHN: And she said she was going to forward two letters I had sent to the campaign manager of Stevenson.

RAZ: But just when it seemed like everyone was interested, the plan fell through.

KAHN: The board of regents passed a law banning political speeches on campus because of the fact the president of the university used the campus for political launching pad.

RAZ: The club had to rescind its invitations. But even though his efforts failed, Kahn had changed the conversation.

KAHN: I went to the Associated Press and the UPI, who circulated it nationwide so that I was interviewed and made the newspapers. And the idea of debate, which was then considered an anachronism, became a subject of conversation, so that in 1960 they were offered three times on television.


RAZ: Fred Kahn is the man who may have inspired the modern presidential debates.


PRESIDENT RICHARD NIXON: Thank you, Mr. Smith. Senator Kennedy. First of all, I think it is well to out in perspective where we really do stand with regard to the Soviet Union and this whole matter of growth.


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