An Unofficial History of the
Academy Awards on Radio

Copyright 2012


This essay is in part about Academy Award/movie history. Because of my intense interest in early radio history, I thought it would be fun to trace the earliest years that this ceremony or any part of the Oscar ceremony was ever presented on the radio, especially in the Los Angeles area. Then, my idea grew to try and include the entire history of the Academy Awards on the radio. We know that the first year the Oscars were seen on television was in 1953, and the first year it was broadcast in color on TV was in 1966. But, before television, the movie industry publicized their annual awards through the newspapers and gradually by using radio broadcasts too.

Did you know that the last time the Academy Awards produced a broadcast for only radio was in 1968? It was heard over ABC radio’s Entertainment Network, separate from the ABC television broadcast. And, the very first time the Academy Awards show was broadcast from beginning to end for a network “coast-to-coast” radio audience (and on Armed Forces Radio for the U.S. troops overseas) was in 1945 on more than 250 stations affiliated with the Blue Network of the American Broadcasting Company, and locally on KECA-790 in Los Angeles (now KABC). That network is known today as simply ABC.

Here is what I’ve discovered so far about the years that any part or all of the Academy Awards ceremonies were heard on the radio, first in Los Angeles and later across the nation.

1930 to 1932

April 3, 1930—It was only the second year of the Academy Awards and KNX in Hollywood was the first radio station to carry part of the awards, during a 1-hour broadcast. (KNX had used their station slogan “The Voice of Hollywood” since 1924) The radio log page for the Los Angeles Times on this date does not list this broadcast, but the Academy says it took place, so it most likely did air on KNX that evening.

November 5, 1930—Again, KNX at 1050 on the radio dial was on the scene of the Academy’s banquet, as the station aired part of the 3rd annual awards at 10 pm. The listing in the radio page of the newspaper reads: “KNX-Will Hays Banquet.” Mr. Hays was one of the speakers at the Motion Picture Academy banquet. There was also a program from 8 to 9 pm on KHJ-900 that night on the CBS west coast network listed as George Olsen and Hollywood celebrities. It’s possible that this program may have had something to do with the movie awards being given out that evening, but I’m not certain.

November 10, 1931—The headline in John S. Daggett’s Los Angeles Times radio column reads, “Film Academy On Air Tonight.” From the Biltmore Hotel, KHJ-900 on your dial, and the Don Lee CBS/Columbia Broadcasting System West Coast network was there to bring listeners the 4th Academy Awards presentation at 10:15 pm. It is described as “the largest social event of the screen year.” With the hook-up to the Don Lee-CBS West Coast network, that meant that besides being heard in the Los Angeles area over KHJ, the film awards would also be heard over KFRC in San Francisco and Don Lee stations in San Diego, Santa Barbara, Bakersfield, Fresno, Sacramento, Stockton, Portland, Oregon, plus Seattle, Tacoma and Spokane in the state of Washington. The newspaper radio column about the broadcast that evening is here.

November 18, 1932—The radio log for the Los Angeles Times shows that KFI owner Earle C. Anthony’s other Los Angeles station, KECA-1430, at 9:30 pm would carry “The Motion Picture Academy of Arts,” as it was listed in the paper.

Also, on the night before the 5th edition of the Oscars took place, radio station KECA presented a half-hour program called “Hollywood On the Air.” Its purpose was to have various actors, directors, and others talk about the Academy Awards and the purpose of the Academy. The official Oscar website has some short audio clips taken from that KECA broadcast of November 17, 1932, which was broadcast from Radio Pictures Studio in Hollywood (later known as RKO Studio). Those heard on the broadcast include Conrad Nagel, screen writer Howard J. Green, director Frank Capra and Mary Pickford, along with Clyde Lewis and his orchestra and KECA announcer John Trottell.

Click here and scroll down to hear the four clips from that program. It’s interesting to hear director Frank Capra talk about how the public had likely already made up their minds as to their favorite picture, actor and actress of the previous year. He also asked the listening public to write in to the Academy to let them know why their opinions differ from the Academy, after the awards are announced. The full 30-minute recording of this program, recorded by the Electro-Vox Recording Studio on Melrose Ave., is available for listener use at the Margaret Herrick Library in Beverly Hills. I was disappointed to learn that they did not make a recording of the Academy Awards ceremony the next night on KECA.

No Oscars On Radio From 1934 to 1938

While the radio coverage of the Academy Awards was short and to the point during those early years, for some unknown reason, a radio broadcast of the Oscar ceremony in Hollywood did not take place from 1934 through 1938, and there was no ceremony in 1933. One possibility is that newspaper publishers may have put pressure on the Academy to not allow radio coverage, so that the papers could have the story first. But more research will need to be done to find out if that was the case.

Unauthorized Broadcast Attempted in 1939

There was supposed to be a short radio broadcast of the winners in 1939, after the Academy Awards banquet had ended that night. However, the Academy says that instead, a short unauthorized broadcast of the Academy Awards was heard briefly on KHJ radio at 900 on the dial. I would like to thank reference librarian Libby Wertin at the Margaret Herrick Library of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences for her research into this broadcast. She has told me that it was radio station KHJ and announcer George Fisher who took part in the unauthorized broadcast of the Academy Awards from the Biltmore Hotel on February 23, 1939.

KHJ had planned and was authorized to announce only the names of the winners after 11 p.m. from the Biltmore in a news-type broadcast. So, they had their equipment set up to go on the air. But KHJ was not authorized to broadcast the entire ceremony itself from beginning to end.

A recording of the unauthorized KHJ broadcast does exist at the Academy’s library. Preservation and listening copies have been made of the recording, and are available for use in the library. The broadcast lasted only about 12 minutes. It ended when Biltmore management shut down the broadcast. (Source: Music and Recorded Sound Collection, Margaret Herrick Library, Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences.)

Because the written transcript of the 1939 KHJ Oscar broadcast is a bit long, I will summarize a few of the highlights. The air check was recorded by the Electro-Vox Recording Studio at 5546 Melrose Avenue. The recording begins with the “Star Spangled Banner,” as most of the early Academy Awards banquets did in those days. The first eight minutes of the recording are related to the Awards Show. KHJ announcer George Fisher was said to be upstairs from where the banquet was taking place. After some applause, Fisher announces that the awards presentation has begun. He tells the listeners, “Now I’m going to pause for just a moment to continue my reading of the awards, as we will not be able to pick up the announcements from below, because of the fact that they take so long in-between announcements.” He continues reading some of the Academy Award winners as Academy President Frank Capra was introduced by Basil Rathbone. At one point during his short broadcast, Fisher tells the radio listeners, “I must speak quietly for fear that my voice may be heard downstairs.” I will personally comment that my guess is that remark shows that Fisher knew he was not supposed to be conducting this broadcast of the awards show, and he was afraid he would be discovered by Academy and/or hotel officials.

Next, KHJ announcer Don Kurlen makes a comment on seeing Spencer Tracy at a banquet table. A third person present, KHJ engineer Hudson Lyons, is referred to by Fisher. Fisher then continues talking and the Best Song award winner is announced as “Thanks For the Memory.” Fisher pauses to listen to the song as it can be heard over the air playing in the background. For the next 4 minutes, Fisher’s voice is no longer heard. On the recording, applause is heard and the nominees for another award are announced. Then, there are muffled voices heard saying, “If you don’t go, I’ll carry you out if you don’t go.” There are shuffling sounds, some music and then silence, as the broadcast was closed down by Biltmore management.

Music is next heard on the recording, with radio programming now apparently continuing from the studio. At the end of the song, an announcement is heard: “This is the Mutual-Don Lee Broadcasting System.” Then, there’s a pause of about 12 seconds, followed by a station identification announcement, and apparently the beginning of a commercial: “KHJ, Los Angeles. Never before such style, never before such luxury, never before such value…” Music plays for about 7 seconds and then the air check ends at around 12 minutes. (Source: Music and Recorded Sound Collection, Margaret Herrick Library, Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences.)

I asked Libby Wertin if this was a piece of unknown radio and Oscar history, because I had never read or heard anything about this unauthorized 1939 KHJ broadcast. She said, “I do not think there is anything especially secret about this broadcast; there doesn’t seem to have been much notice taken of it at the time (at least I find no mention of it in a quick search of the LA Times). I presume the memory of it just got buried over the years.”

Academy Awards Heard on Radio Again During the 1940s

The following year, at least part of Academy Awards was heard again on Southern California radio. The listing in the Los Angeles Times radio page for Thursday February 29, 1940 from 11:00 to 11:15 pm shows that station KNX-1050 was scheduled to air the “Film Academy Awards.” This may have been for the same type of broadcast KHJ was given permission for in 1939, with only an announcement of the winners in the various categories after the banquet was over that evening, since it is on for such a short time period. This was for the 12th annual Academy Awards, which were held at the Cocoanut Grove of the Ambassador Hotel.

One year later, the Academy Awards were heard on the air the night of Thursday February 27, 1941. This time, it seems that this was a broadcast of the entire Oscar ceremony. The radio listings in the Los Angeles Times at 9:30 pm show the readers were able to tune into KECA-780 to hear the “Film Academy Awards” from the Biltmore Hotel. (It is possible that part of the west coast NBC Blue Network stations were also linked by KECA to receive this broadcast, but I have not had time to check to see if that took place) The paper also lists President Franklin D. Roosevelt as one of the speakers. According to the official Oscar website of the AMPAS, on this night at the 13th annual Academy Awards, President Roosevelt gave a 6-minute direct-line radio address from the white House. He paid tribute to the work that was done by Hollywood’s citizenry. It was the first time that an American president had participated in an Academy Awards evening.

In 1942, KNX-1050 was there to broadcast the Academy Awards at 10:30 pm on Thursday night February 26th from the Biltmore Hotel. Some short clips of the broadcast survive. The website in their Legacy section has set aside a few audio clips from that night of the awards for Best Director, Best Documentary, Supporting Actor, Best Actor and Actress, and Best Picture. Go here and scroll down to hear the individual clips from the 14th annual Academy Awards.

In 1943, the 15th annual Academy Awards took place on Thursday March 4 at the Ambassador Hotel. It was the final time that the Oscar ceremony took place at a banquet. While the newspaper radio log does not show any listing for the Oscars that night, Academy photos show that CBS microphones were on the stage, so it was likely KNX was putting on the radio broadcast.

On March 2, 1944, the 16th annual Academy Awards was presented at Grauman’s Chinese Theater in Hollywood. This was the first time the awards were presented from a theater. A pre-show was broadcast by KFWB-980, with announcer Neil Reagan (older brother of Ronald Reagan). The program itself was hosted by George Jessel, who gives a history of the Academy and what its purpose is. He also does some humorous ad-libs, announces the nominations for the evening and tries to get the various film celebrities to say hello to the radio audience before they enter the theater. The KFWB orchestra also plays a medley of the Oscar winners for Best Song from the past three years.

Following the pre-show over KFWB (which was owned by Warner Brothers Studio at the time), the Academy Awards show was broadcast over KNX and the CBS West Coast feed, with announcer Ken Carpenter and host Jack Benny. Again, this was fairly late in the evening, at 10:15 pm, according to the newspaper listings for the “Academy Film Awards.” Also, during the pre-show broadcast, George Jessel said that KFWB would be back on the air to announcer the Oscar winners at 10:15 too, but there is no newspaper listing of that in the same radio log for that evening.

To hear the two programs from the 1944 awards over KFWB and KNX, click here. The total length is about 55 minutes, much shorter than the 3-plus hours length of today’s Oscar programs. The KNX-CBS audio recording of the awards with Ken Carpenter and Jack Benny of the 16th Academy Awards (for movies released during 1943), is the earliest full audio recording of the Academy Awards that the Academy library has in its collection.

On March 15, 1945, KECA-790 in Los Angeles and the Blue Network of the American Broadcasting Company (formerly the Blue Network and the NBC Blue Network, would soon be known simply as ABC) presented the 17th annual Academy Awards at 9:30 pm. This was the first time the Academy Awards was heard from beginning to end on a nationwide coast-to-coast network hook-up. This was also the first time that film clips were used for nominated categories at the Oscars.

The ABC radio announcer was George Fisher. He was the KHJ announcer in 1939 who was on the air with the unauthorized broadcast of the Academy Awards. (Fisher was a longtime radio broadcaster and newspaper columnist, usually working as an entertainment reporter. He worked at half-a dozen Southern California stations including KHJ, KNX, KFI and KFWB. He has a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame for radio)

Bob Hope was the host for the evening. The recording is just over one hour in length, though it sounds as if the end of the program may have been cut off, as it ends suddenly after a closing comment from Bob Hope. To hear the entire 1945 broadcast, click here.

The next year, the 18th annual Academy Awards were presented on March 7, 1946. The network radio broadcast was again carried in Los Angeles over KECA and across the nation on the ABC network, starting at 9:30 pm Pacific time. Bob Hope and James Stewart were the co-hosts. The official website has some interesting audio clips from that night for Best Cinematography presented by D.W. Griffith; Best Writing presented by Bette Davis and Best Actress to Joan Crawford, presented by Charles Boyer and accepted by her director Michael Curtiz. Click here and scroll to the bottom to play the audio clips.

The 19th annual Academy Awards took place on Thursday night March 13, 1947. The host was Jack Benny. The Los Angeles Times radio log page indicates that KFWB-980 carried a pre-Oscar show starting at 8:15 pm. KECA and the ABC radio network began their broadcast of the Academy Awards at 8:45 that evening. It is likely that the presentation of the Oscars was getting longer than in past years, because the 10 pm listing for KECA shows that the Academy Awards broadcast was continuing into the next hour. The official Oscar website also states that this was the first time the general public was allowed to buy tickets to attend the Academy Awards.

The following year, the 20th annual Academy Awards took place on Saturday March 20, 1948. The broadcast again was heard in Los Angeles on KECA-790 and nationally on the ABC network beginning at 8:30 pm from the Shrine Civic Auditorium. To hear some audio clips of that night’s winners, click here and scroll to the bottom of the page.

The 21st annual Academy Awards were presented on March 24, 1949. The broadcast was heard over KECA in Los Angeles and across the nation on the ABC network, starting at 8 p.m. Pacific Time from the Academy Award Theater. Audio clips from two of the winners that night can be heard here.

The 22nd Academy Awards took place at the Pantages Theater on March 23, 1950. Paul Douglas was the master of ceremonies. The radio broadcast was heard across the nation on the ABC radio network and in Los Angeles on KECA. The announcer for the radio program was Ken Carpenter, and he was assisted with commentary from Eve Arden and Ronald Reagan. To hear the full broadcast of the 22nd Academy Awards, click here (Same link for the broadcast of the 1945 Oscars). The program is split into 4 parts and lasts about 1 hour and 45 minutes. At the end of the program, it is interesting to hear Eve Arden say she wished she could’ve talked more about the gowns the women were wearing. Television would soon let the movie fans see the Oscar nominees and the winners on this glamorous night, and the focus on what the women wear at the Academy Awards has increased tremendously since the 1950s.

The 23rd Academy Awards show took place on March 29, 1951 with Fred Astaire as host. The program was carried in Southern California again on KECA-790 and nationwide over the ABC network. The Los Angeles broadcast started at 9:15 pm and was scheduled to run for 90 minutes. The announcers/commentators for ABC were Ken Carpenter and John Lund.

The 24th Academy Awards program was on March 20, 1952. The broadcast from The Pantages Theater began at 9 p.m. on KECA-790 in Los Angeles and throughout the USA on the ABC network, with Paul Douglas the main announcer and commentator. Danny Kaye was the master of ceremonies. To see and hear some of the winners that night, click here.

Oscar Enters the Television Age

In 1953, the 25th Academy Awards show was seen on television for the first time on NBC-TV, from the Pantages Theater in Hollywood and the NBC International Theater in New York City, on March 19th. Bob Hope was the emcee in Hollywood and Conrad Nagel in New York. The radio broadcast over NBC radio was carried in Los Angeles by KFI-640 at 7:30 pm. Paul Douglas was the special radio commentator for this broadcast.

The Academy’s Oscar Legacy section on their website has a couple of video clips of two winners from that night here. The one that I like the most from this 25th anniversary of the Oscars shows one of the Academy founders, movie pioneer Mary Pickford presenting legendary pioneer director Cecil B. DeMille the award for Best Picture for The Greatest Show On Earth.

The 26th Academy Awards were held on March 25, 1954. The hosts were Donald O’Connor in Hollywood and Fredric March in New York. The broadcast was seen and heard on NBC-TV and radio. In Los Angeles, KFI carried the radio portion at 7:30 pm. Richard Carlson was the main commentator during the radio broadcast.

Less Radio Listeners At Night, As More Homes Get Television

By 1955, 50% of American homes had at least one television set, a number that increased to 87% of U.S. homes with TV by 1960. As the audience at night was increasing for TV, the audience for radio listening during the evening hours was getting smaller. Each year, the Academy Awards became a huge television event. Still, the Academy continued to do a separate broadcast for radio for 13 more years, through 1968.

From 1955 to 1960, NBC radio’s presentation of the Academy Awards was heard over KFI-640 in Southern California. The station’s ‘clear channel’ 50,000 watt signal most likely also helped bring the Oscars to listeners without TV in many outlying areas of the west. The NBC radio commentators for the Oscar broadcasts were Richard Carlson in 1955; Jim Backus in 1956; Robert Wagner in 1957; Mel Ferrer in 1958; Paul Douglas and Jan Sterling in 1959; and Vincent Price in 1960.

The Final Radio Years of the Academy Awards

The ABC radio network carried the Academy Awards from 1960 through 1968. Richard Widmark was the guest radio commentator for the Oscars on ABC radio in 1961. I have not been able to check the Los Angeles Times radio log to see if the show was heard on a Los Angeles station that year. But radio logs for the Pasadena Star-News indicate the Academy Awards show was heard on KABC-790 in L.A. in 1962, 1963 and 1964.

The radio host in 1962 is unknown, but from 1963 through 1968, the radio hosts/commentators were Jack Linkletter (son of radio-TV personality Art Linkletter) and Oscar-winning costume designer Edith Head. So far, my research of the radio logs shows that the 1965, ’66, and ’67 Academy Awards show may not have been broadcast by any Los Angeles radio station. More research is needed before I can confirm whether or not any Southern California radio station carried the broadcast.

The 40th annual Academy Awards was held on April 10, 1968. The ABC radio network had just split into four separate radio networks. The March 15, 1968 issue of Broadcasting magazine ran a short piece promoting Eastman Kodak Company’s sponsorship of the Oscars on ABC radio and television. The item said the radio broadcast would be heard over the ABC Entertainment network. In Los Angeles, the ABC Entertainment affiliate was KFOX-FM at 100.3 on the FM dial. So, while I have no concrete proof that this was the case, it’s quite possible that the final network radio broadcast of the Academy Awards in the Los Angeles market occurred on an FM station. (Also, a post on the discussion board states that a man who received an air check from an ‘old time radio’ tape dealer, has a cassette tape of the final broadcast of Don McNeill’s Breakfast Club in 1968. The tape contains both ABC Entertainment Network ID’s and the local station ID as KFOX-FM. So, if the 1968 radio broadcast of the Oscars was heard in Los Angeles, it makes sense that it would have been on that radio station)

I would guess that by this time, the Academy knew that the handwriting was on the wall for ending the network radio broadcasts of the Academy Awards after nearly 23 consecutive years. With the big ratings the awards show received on TV at this time, it probably was more cost effective to drop the radio broadcast due to its much smaller listening audience. It was the end of an era, as the movie fans preferred to see their favorite actors and actresses win or lose the Oscar on TV, instead of listening to an announcer describing what the stars were wearing and what famous celebrities were inside the theater. But, before television came into most homes, the magic of radio helped bring the excitement Hollywood’s most famous and glamorous evening into the homes of movie lovers across the USA for several years.

These are my preliminary findings on the history of the Academy Awards on radio. I would like to sincerely thank Libby Wertin of the Margaret Herrick Library for assisting me with research for portions of this article. She provided details of the Academy’s recordings of the 1932 KECA 30-minute broadcast of “Hollywood On the Air”; the 1939 unauthorized broadcast of the awards on radio station KHJ; and a list of announcers and commentators for the network radio productions from 1944 to 1968.

I hope to have an updated revised edition of this article in the near future, should I find any new and significant information to add to the story. Meanwhile, if any readers have any comments, questions or corrections or more details to add, please feel free to send me an email:

February 23, 2012

Jim Hilliker
Monterey, CA

Jim Hilliker is a former radio broadcaster of 26 years. He has been researching and writing about early Los Angeles radio history since the 1980s.