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10 Secrets You Didn’t Know About Radio City Music Hall

By Noah SilversteinMay 16 2023
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In an era of arena tours, Manhattan’s Radio City Music Hall has endured as one of few historic live music venues that artists of every strata of music and entertainment — from Lady Gaga and Tony Bennett to Sebastian Maniscalco, Aretha Franklin, Harry Styles, Mariah Carey, and Olivia Rodrigo — have aspired to perform in (and sell out).

That it’s a regular bucket list addition is hardly surprising, given most people’s affinity for the 90-year-old landmark begins during childhood after seeing the Christmas Spectacular and flourishes in early adulthood after attending their first major concert in the massive Art Deco theater. It’s as much a home to the Rockettes as rock ‘n’ roll royalty (including the Grateful Dead). In the past, it hosted the annual Tony Awards as well as a long list of award shows, including the Grammys and MTV VMAs.

All of this is what we’ve come to know and love about the iconic Radio City Music Hall — but like any historic jewel of this magnitude, it has its secrets. Here, we’re breaking down the 10 most surprising details and facts you never knew about the legendary venue, located at Rockefeller Center.

Photo courtesy of Radio City Music Hall

1. Every seat at Radio City is a great seat; there are no obstructed views of the stage.

An architectural outlier for its time, Radio City’s three mezzanine levels were designed and constructed without the need for columns and support beams commonly seen in other early 20th-century theaters. These levels are supported by the theater’s back wall, creating a more intimate feeling in the otherwise cavernous space.

2. The stage’s proscenium arches create the illusion of a sunset.

Upon entering Radio City’s auditorium, it’s easy to be swept up by the grandeur of the arches that ensconce the stage. It’s said the inspiration behind the semicircular design was to create the illusion of a sun setting over the ocean viewed from an ocean liner. The design is not only aesthetically pleasing, but functional as well; the overhead coves seamlessly conceal over 5,000 house lights.

3. The stage is made up of four elevators.

The structure of the stage, known as the Great Stage, is actually comprised of four elevators —  three of which can rise 13 feet in the air or lower 27 feet below the stage — and a central turntable. Together, all four elevators weigh 380,000 pounds.

4. 36 Rockettes can fit across the stage.

With a width of 144 feet (or about half the size of a football field), the Great Stage is so large that if you were to walk from one end to the other, you would have walked an entire New York City block.

5. There is a secret apartment inside Radio City.

Dubbed the “Roxy Suite,” it was built for theatrical impresario Samuel “Roxy” Rothafel, who organized the opening of Radio City. It was never actually used as an apartment but, rather, as a private entertaining space. The dome-shaped ceiling of the dining area enables the acoustics to be such that guests around the table can hear each other with remarkable clarity, even at a whisper.

Many Hollywood stars have sat around that table, including Judy Garland, Walt Disney, and Alfred Hitchcock. Today, it’s still used as an exclusive location for events and receptions. The Christmas Spectacular even offers a ticket package where you can get a look at the Roxy Suite yourself.

6. The original name of Radio City was the International Music Hall.

The term “Radio City” came from Rockefeller Center’s other tenant, the Radio Corporation of America.

7. The auditorium is 10 stories tall.

Though it’s obscured by the curvature of the ceiling, the highest point of the Radio City auditorium measures 121 feet.

8. Radio City’s two Mighty Wurlitzer Organs were built in North Tonawanda, New York.

There are two consoles, each weighing 5,000 pounds, and over 4,000 pipes, all housed in different rooms inside Radio City. The organs are original to the venue.

9. The Grand Foyer’s mural was so large, it needed to be painted on a tennis court.

The 60 feet by 40 feet “Fountain of Youth” piece by Ezra Winter is so big, the canvas was painted on a tennis court near Winter’s studio before being transported to and installed at Radio City.

10. Radio City’s very first performer? The vast contour curtain.

The theater’s benefactor, “Roxy” Rothafel, was so proud of the Music Hall’s curtain, he devised the opening act, entitled “Symphony of the Curtains,” to show off its technical capabilities.

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