Radio City Music Hall

1260 Avenue of the Americas,
New York, NY 10020

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Radio City Music Hall

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One of the greatest Art Deco style structures ever built, Radio City Music Hall is one of the most well known landmarks of New York City. Opened on December 27, 1932, with a variety show, it screened its first film Barbara Stanwyck in “The Bitter Tea of General Yen” on January 11, 1933. The proscenium is 100 feet wide, the stage 66 feet deep. It was equipped with a Wurlitzer organ, which has twin 4 manual consoles and 58 ranks. The organ was opened by organists Dick Leibert and Dr. C.A.J. Parmentier.

Showing a mixture of movies and stage shows in the program for 45 years, the format was ended on April 25, 1979 with Kathleen Quinlan in “The Promise”. Thereafter the programming changed to concerts, stage shows and special events.

Reborn after a $70 million renovation in 1999, Radio City has been restored to all of its original opulence.

Recent comments (view all 3,107 comments)

markp
markp on November 18, 2016 at 7:19 pm

rcdt55b, Thank you for the good wishes, and I agree, film will never totally disappear.

vindanpar
vindanpar on November 20, 2016 at 7:37 pm

The Music Hall had a tremendous stereo sound system until the terrible loud digital glare disaster of Dolby.

I’ll never forget how exciting both Scrooge and SOM were just from the sound. Gorgeous multi-track analogue stereo.

Remember nothing was visible or at least I didn’t see anything. There were no stereo boxes either on the choral stairs or hanging from the arches. I mean such idiocy(like the fake arch) in those days was unthinkable.

The final converging choral groups in Scrooge as they came together on screen aurally came together from different parts of the Music Hall auditorium. It was tremendously exciting.

And then the quiet moment of Finney talking to the door knocker.

You can’t imagine how magnificent it was.

rcdt55b
rcdt55b on November 21, 2016 at 9:26 am

I’m not exactly sure what you’re trying to say but surround speakers were not installed until around 1994 for Lion King. You would not have heard any sound from the sides before then. You had 5 channels behind the screen for optical and mag tracks. As far as Dolby Digital is concerned, it was a huge improvement in film sound for countless reasons. The “loud digital glare” was only because film makers demanded it to be played too loud. I do agree that the fake arch really sucks though. It takes a lot of room from the stage as well as the silver screen.

RobertEndres
RobertEndres on November 21, 2016 at 11:54 am

Actually there were surround speakers going back to at least the installation of 70mm and quite possibly to the four track 35mm mag days. They’re possibly still there. They’re in the ceiling and just outside of the proscenium. There were two sets of two speaker groups one on the left and one the right side of the house. The “rays”, the slits extending from the proscenium like the rays of the sun are backed with plaster bubbles so that the four color light strips can reflect off the surface and backlight the rays. The sound crew mounted one set of “surround” speakers just off the proscenium about where the P.A. speakers were stage left and right. The other set were mounted on the back of one of the “bubbles” out around E cove. The sound crew snuck up into the ceiling under cover of darkness and cut a hole or holes in the plaster of the bubble and mounted a couple of 12 or 15" speakers directly to the bubble. While the effect was pretty much lost under the mezzanines, the main part of the orchestra and the 3rd Mezz. did get some coverage. In the case of “The Slipper and the Rose” which is the story of Cinderella, the clock tolling at Midnight sounded pretty good coming from overhead. If they weren’t removed during the renovation in 1999 you can still see them if you go out on the catwalk to D cove.

vindanpar
vindanpar on November 23, 2016 at 4:32 am

There was definitely sound coming from the back rear of the orchestra for Scrooge. The sound of the choruses came from all around. Due to the darkness maybe there were boxes there that weren’t too noticeable. Also the spectral clanging of the chains of Marley’s ghost caused a child nearby to cry and people laughed. Not out of malice but because it was so effective.

Also the organ during the SOM wedding was rich and thundering. I could have sworn the Music Hall organ was being played.

The first time I saw large black boxes on the choral stairs was during The Black Cauldron.(I think that was the name of the movie.)Was that ever a big intense loud noisy ordeal. Purely headache inducing. An usher told me it was frightening the children. And far worse than any other Disney cartoon which sequences served a purpose and had some sort of catharsis.

And no Dolby was not an improvement over the gorgeous warm 6 track analogue I heard not only at the Music Hall but also at the Warner and the Rivoli. It did not shout at you but was warm rich and transparent.

You’ve got to remember people’s ears have been severely diminished in their capacity to hear nuance due to decades of damaging loud music in bars, discos, clubs and rock concerts. I understand MP3s are no help though I’ve never heard one.

I’m sure those old 6 track soundtracks simply through age have been lost forever. The most recent restoration of the My Fair Lady soundtrack was worse than the first one in the 90s despite their boasting of going back to the masters. But I concede that also could have been the fault of the multiplex where I saw it.

I only wish there was a theater left in the east that could do justice to these films in terms even of screen size. If I were a billionaire I’d buy the Bellevue which still stands as a multiplex in Montclair and restore it to its Todd AO glory. What a great theater that was.

RobertEndres
RobertEndres on November 23, 2016 at 5:28 am

Re: “Scrooge” – if you heard sound from the back it was because the Hall had a really bad echo from the wall above the 3rd Mezzanine. You could hear it in the center of the Orchestra but not under any of the Mezzanines. There had been acoustic material to absorb the slap behind the walls, but with age it had crumbled and fallen out of place. We screened every print before we played an incoming attraction. Sitting in the center of the Orchestra at the producer’s table I could turn my head at right angles to the screen and have two soundtracks coming at me one from the front and one from the slap from the back wall. An acoustic engineer we hired to do an analysis said the sound from the wall above the 3rd Mezz (which was curved and focused it) was actually louder in the dialogue frequency range than that from the screen, and added, “Why haven’t you fixed that?” The answer was, we had no money to. Dolby processors have always included 3rd octave equalization and it did help flatten out the room response. The 1999 refurbishment may have helped more.

In regard to “The Black Cauldron” – yes the sound was bad for a couple of reasons. Walter Murch, one of Hollywood’s classic sound men, directed “Return to Oz” which preceded “Cauldron”. He mixed it in the 70mm Dolby format which he had used for “Apocolypse Now” with three stage channels and left and right surround channels. “Cauldron” was mixed for five channels behind the screen and a mono surround channel. To get more bass response, Murch personally raised the low frequency EQ to maximum level since we didn’t have sub-woofers at the time. When we got to “Cauldron” the orchestra members were complaining about the bass level while waiting to come up on the pit elevator before the stage show. It was then that we discovered what Murch had done. In addition, the sound was designed to pan across five channels behind the screen and there were only three so the sound dipped as it went across.

We did upgrade the stage channels on the left and right of center, and the black boxes you saw on the Choral Stairs were the speakers we had removed from behind the screen, placed on the stairs to fulfill Murch and Disney’s requirements to play the picture.

If you liked the “SOM” sound, remember it was processed through Dolby processers and that Dolby noise reduction extended the frequency range and signal to noise levels of soundtracks beyond what they were capable of previously. It’s also possible (I don’t remember) that since the “SOM” print was a Bob Harris restoration the tracks could well have been Dolby A encoded to extend the range and signal to noise ratio. Also remember a lot depends on the acoustics of the theatre you’re listening in, and the film mix itself. Radio City was designed to be a vaudeville house and was never intended to be a movie theatre (the New Roxy/Center Theatre down the street a block was to fill that role.) As such, being such a large house it had acoustical problems that weren’t unique to the Hall. Modern technology has helped overcome those problems.

vindanpar
vindanpar on November 23, 2016 at 11:41 am

If you remember the final production number of Scrooge there are various groups that converge and I remember distinctly that it was surround sound. It was simply unexpected and thrilling. It was not slap which is a very different thing. I remember being gobsmacked. Like when I saw MFL at the Warner Cinerama and there were carriage wheels and horses hoofs sounds at the back of the theater.

We forget how sophisticated and detailed film theatrical presentations once were. Like when the lights were dimming for Airport at the Hall and flight announcements were being made(shades of the police calls of Mad World.)

And that SOM presentation at the Music Hall was one of the best film presentations I’ve seen. If that was you R Endres that was astonishing. Gorgeous perfect 70mm print and great sound. If that was Dolby processed sound giving a greater dynamic range to the original tracks looks like I might have to rethink my feelings about Dolby. Singing In the Rain also had spectacular sound(and Technicolor to burn the eyes). Those Salinger arrangements have never sounded so good. Maybe that was handled the same way?

vindanpar
vindanpar on November 23, 2016 at 11:49 am

And The Sting was another great presentation!

That Joplin music never sounded so good.

If I had a hat I’d eat it.

RobertEndres
RobertEndres on November 23, 2016 at 1:12 pm

“Scrooge” was a 70mm print and did indeed have full stereophonic sound. The surround channel was limited since the only speakers were along side the proscenium and in the two sets of grills in the ceiling that I mentioned above. The first run of “Sound of Music” was also 70mm without Dolby noise reduction, but with Dolby equalization to somewhat compensate for the acoustic properties of the Hall. 70mm magnetic tracks were wider than those for 35mm CinemaScope and the film moves faster through the projector by about 20' more per minute, thus they represented the highest quality possible in their day far better than 35mm optical tracks. Ray Dolby sought to bring that quality to 35mm optical tracks giving them wider, quieter frequency range. What you heard at the Hall really was good for its time even though financial constraints along with some other problems kept the Hall from having the best sound. I hope you got a chance to hear the “Lion King” during its premiere run at the Hall. With Disney’s help the Hall finally had the motion-picture sound system it needed. The 70mm print carried Dolby SR encoded analogue tracks while the main sound came from a 35mm digital print interlocked to the 70mm projector. The Dolby tech configured the system so that if the 35mm digital tracks being played should fail the system would automatically revert to the 70mm SR mag tracks. We switched back and forth between the two several times during the tech rehearsals with Disney’s tech people in the house and no one was able to hear the difference. (Had it been a picture with loud explosions and crashing effects the digital track would have had a little more dynamic headroom.)

“Singing in the Rain” was a standard 35mm mono optical print, but the Center channel speakers were classic RCA speakers that flew with the picture sheet and really were good for their day. Any surround effect you heard was from the house acoustics which did create an echo which could be troubling depending on where you were seated, but I’m glad it worked for you. It was also one of the first pictures we ran with xenon lamps replacing the carbon arc lamps that had been in use since ‘40’s. Thus the Technicolor really did pop on the relatively small 1.37:1 aspect ratio picture.

vindanpar
vindanpar on November 29, 2016 at 2:11 pm

No SITR was not surround but it had a clarity that was remarkable. Watch the scene when Kelly brings Reynolds into the empty studio. As he turns on each effect there is an instrumental cue. This came through beautifully at the Hall. Have never heard that again. Every time I’ve heard it since the sound is flat mono. Sad because those arrangers were brilliant and those charts(I think that’s what musicians call them) are now I believe buried under some highway in CA.

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