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Oscars on the Air

attendees in 1939

In homage to the upcoming Academy Awards, we look back to earlier Academy Awards ceremonies. Here we highlight the historic role of radio in one of Hollywood’s most anticipated events of the year.

When the first Academy Awards were handed out in May 1929 at the Hollywood Roosevelt Hotel, the winners had already been announced three months earlier. The following year, due to increased public interest, the ceremony was partially covered in a live radio broadcast.

In anticipation of the highly celebrated event for the 5th Academy Awards, radio station KECA presented a half-hour program called “Hollywood on the Air,” broadcast from Radio Pictures Studio in Hollywood on November 17, 1932, the night before the ceremony. The program featured then Academy President Conrad Nagel, talking about the organization’s humble beginnings.

at the 1931/32 (5th) Academy Awards banquet

The Margaret Herrick Library’s Special Collections contains the audio archives of the Academy Awards, beginning with the radio broadcast from 1938, the 11th Academy Awards ceremony. The banquet was held on February 23, 1939 at the Biltmore Hotel in Los Angeles, with Academy President Frank Capra as the evening’s host. Commentator George Fisher from radio station KHJ narrated an unauthorized live broadcast of the ceremony that within twelve minutes of commencing was shut down by Biltmore Hotel personnel.

Broadcasters George Fisher and Don Kurlen continue to list the parade of celebrities in attendance, and make this comment on seeing Spencer Tracy at a banquet table.

at the 1938 (11th) Academy Awards banquet

Radio allowed listeners to be invited into the inner circle of the renowned show. For the first time for the 1944 (17th) annual Academy Awards, the ceremony was broadcast nationally by the ABC network.


On March 13, 1947, the Academy moved its show into the Shrine Civic Auditorium from Grauman’s Chinese Theatre in Hollywood. To fill the approximately 6,700 seats, the Academy sold tickets to the general public for the first time, while ABC broadcast the ceremonies to more than 40 million radio listeners, according to the Los Angeles Times.

in 1947

A new era had begun when on March 19, 1953, NBC televised the Oscars for the first time, appropriately on the 25th anniversary of the Awards. Even after the advent of television, the Academy Awards show was simultaneously broadcast on radio as late as 1968.

On Oscar’s 70th anniversary and at the request of the Board of Governors, Academy Award-winning composer Jerry Goldsmith wrote "Fanfare for Oscar," an official opening theme for the annual Academy Awards presentations. Goldsmith, a classically trained composer known for his lush orchestral themes, was an Academy Award winner for The Omen (1976) and an 18-time Oscar nominee. On March 23, 1998, “Fanfare for Oscar” was performed by an orchestra in front of a live audience. At the time, Goldsmith said of the score, “The end result of the 45-second composition is a melding of the Hollywood of the past, the Hollywood of the present, and the Hollywood of the future.”