1260 Avenue of the Americas (6th Ave)
New York, NY 10020
Hours: Music times vary
Subway: F,M to 50th St Rockefeller Center
Written by: Emily Niewendorp
Radio City Music Hall is best known today for its live music and arts events, award shows and the ever-popular Christmas Spectacular.
The stage is the largest in the world; one hundred forty feet long, the length of a city block. The auditorium layout was influenced by Samuel Lionel “Roxy” Rothafel, who opened the venue and is credited for discovering the Rockettes. Roxy strove to recreate in Radio City’s stage design the image of a sunrise—which he had witnessed at sea—via an enormous, golden stage curtain and ceiling lights which mimic a shimmering sunrise. The ceiling is a huge megaphone, which results in amazing acoustics. On the third mezzanine, speaking voices can be heard without amplification. Choral staircases with curtain entrances through the walls allow performers to reach closer to the audience. On each side of the stage, two alcoves house Mighty Wurlitzer organs. Four thousand organ pipes are hidden behind the house walls, with the wind to power the organs generated by sixty fans in the basement.
Radio City operated as a famous movie theater from its opening on December 27, 1932 until the late ’70s. During this time, the venue also hosted live shows, famously including the dancing Rockettes, which drew more than three million visitors. Scheduled for demolition in 1978 because of film distribution changes, Radio City was saved by a public outcry and the Landmark Preservation Commission which recognized it as a city landmark.
An eight-month, seven million dollar restoration took place in 1989. The carpets and wall coverings were refreshed to their original lustrous condition, the seats were replaced in the original 1932 style (minus armrest ashtrays) and the technology was updated. One aspect of Radio City Music Hall that did not need upgrading is the stage’s hydraulic system, which lifts and lowers the stage’s movable parts, sometimes up to 40 feet. The original hydraulics system, invented by Peter Clark, has lived under the stage since 1932. This design was a U.S. Navy secret for many years. In fact, during its installation, a guard was on duty at all times protecting the secret.
As a live music venue, Radio City Music Hall has presented stellar entertainers over the years, including Frank Sinatra, Ella Fitzgerald, John Denver, Ray Charles, Bette Midler, Liza Minnelli, Sting and many more.