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Oscars—On The Radio

By Leonard Maltin | Leonard Maltin February 27, 2012 at 8:18AM

By now you might think that every aspect of the Academy Awards has been explored, examined, and dissected—but you’d be wrong. A radio veteran named Jim Hilliker has done an impressive job of research into Oscar’s history in that often-overlooked medium, and provides links to both excerpts and complete broadcasts from the 1930s and 40s. (Did you realize that there was still a separate play-by-play radio broadcast as late as 1968? Neither did I.) As an old-time radio buff I learned a lot from this essay, and while I had heard a few 1940s shows, I never realized that the Academy has posted audio highlights from several years’ programs on its website.
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Celebrated stage actress Lynn Fontanne presents the Best Supporting Actress award to Jane Darwell for 'The Grapes of Wrath', as Academy president Walter Wanger looks on, in 1941. The microphone sleeve, which is hard to read, says BILTMORE, so it was primarily used to amplify sound within the hotel ballroom.
Celebrated stage actress Lynn Fontanne presents the Best Supporting Actress award to Jane Darwell for 'The Grapes of Wrath', as Academy president Walter Wanger looks on, in 1941. The microphone sleeve, which is hard to read, says BILTMORE, so it was primarily used to amplify sound within the hotel ballroom.

By now you might think that every aspect of the Academy Awards has been explored, examined, and dissected—but you’d be wrong. A radio veteran named Jim Hilliker has done an impressive job of research into Oscar’s history in that often-overlooked medium, and provides links to both excerpts and complete broadcasts from the 1930s and 40s. (Did you realize that there was still a separate play-by-play radio broadcast as late as 1968? Neither did I.) As an old-time radio buff I learned a lot from this essay, and while I had heard a few 1940s shows, I never realized that the Academy has posted audio highlights from several years’ programs on its website.

Mervyn LeRoy presents Victor Fleming with his Best Director Oscar for 1939. Note the trio of microphones in front of the podium. One was for the motion picture record of the event, and one was for the assembled guests; it’s anyone’s guess why there was a third, as this ceremony was not officially broadcast to the public.
Mervyn LeRoy presents Victor Fleming with his Best Director Oscar for 1939. Note the trio of microphones in front of the podium. One was for the motion picture record of the event, and one was for the assembled guests; it’s anyone’s guess why there was a third, as this ceremony was not officially broadcast to the public.

Fellow broadcasting buff David Schwartz put me in touch with Hilliker, who explains, “This is really a hobby and labor of love for me, so I’m an amateur historian, self-taught, but have been interested in early L.A. radio history since KFI’s 50th anniversary celebration in 1972, my sophomore year in high school. Most of my essays and articles in the past 10 years on L.A. radio history have been on LARADIO.com, and now I mostly fool around with it and share them with my friends. Jeff Miller, who has a site on American Radio History, asked if he could put the [new] article on his site. He recently put my long, scholarly essay about the Aimee Semple McPherson-Herbert Hoover ‘minions of Satan’ telegram on his site, too. In that essay, I state my case to try and debunk the story, as I think it never happened in the 1920s, as Hoover had claimed.” To read that piece, click HERE.

My favorite Oscar-related radio broadcast is a half-hour pre-show that aired on Warner Bros.’ Los Angeles station KFWB in 1943. It is hosted by the incomparable George Jessel, who has a devil of a time getting any celebrities to come over to his microphone. For some reason (possibly empathy, from having worked in similar situations) I find his desperate attempts to be hilarious. Even in defeat, Jessel is eloquent and a master of self-deprecating ad libs. You’ll find a link to the show in Jim Hilliker’s chronological history, which appears through courtesy of the author, HERE.

This article is related to: Journal, The Oscars, Radio