RKO Radio Pictures

From the Audiovisual Identity Database, the motion graphics museum


RKO Radio Pictures was originally founded by RCA to promote their RCA Photophone sound system. The initials in the company name stand for "Radio Keith Orpheum", reflecting the joint venture of RCA, the Keith Orpheum theater circuit, and the Film Booking Offices of America of Joseph P. Kennedy, the father of the 35th U.S. President, John F. Kennedy. It was one of the Big Five studios of Hollywood's Golden Age (the other were MGM, Paramount Pictures, Warner Bros. Pictures and 20th Century Fox). Howard Hughes would purchase the studio in 1948 and sell off the studio to the General Tire and Rubber Company in 1955. In 1981, RKO would reenter film production through a new subsidiary, RKO Pictures. The rights to the majority of the in-house RKO Radio Pictures films are owned by the current RKO Pictures with distribution rights owned and/or licensed to Warner Bros. Pictures via Turner Entertainment Co., while Walt Disney Pictures owns the rights to their own productions and films produced by Selznick International Pictures (the latter via ABC Motion Pictures, except Gone with the Wind), the Samuel Goldwyn, Jr. family trust owns the rights to Samuel Goldwyn Productions films, Paramount Pictures owns It's a Wonderful Life via Republic Pictures, and Universal Studios owns films produced by Hughes.

1st Logo (Closing Logo) (March 24, 1929-December 21, 1956)

Visuals: At the end titles of a film is an equilateral triangle pointing down with a "Thunderbolt" drawn 3/4 through it. Above the logo is the text "Radio Pictures" (1929 to 1936) or "R K O Radio" with a line drawn over the triangle edge with the text "PICTURES" (1936 to 1956). The text "REG. US. PAT. OFF." is seen below.


  • Internationally, "FILMS" replaces "PICTURES".
  • The "Radio Pictures" variant had "THE END" displayed, which was wiped away to allow the Radio Pictures logo to be wiped in, which had a much scragglier thunderbolt design and a different font compared to the "R K O Radio" variant that followed.
  • On films produced by Walt Disney Productions that RKO distributed, a color version of the logo would appear at the beginning of the film, on a title card in the style of the opening credits. Starting with Song of the South in 1946, the phrase "Distributed by RKO Radio Pictures, Inc." appears below the logo. This variant also appeared on the 1948 film Joan of Arc.
  • Like the above-mentioned Walt Disney Productions films, films produced by Samuel Goldwyn Productions had this logo at the beginning of a film in the style of the opening credits.
  • On Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, the logo appears at the end of the film and is put on a jewel background, with the words "A WALT DISNEY FEATURE Production" overlapping it, and "IN TECHNICOLOR" below it.
  • On Fantasia, the logo is put on the title screen of the film, and is silver.
  • On a few Disney films, such as The Reluctant Dragon, Peter Pan, and Adventures in Music: Melody, the thunderbolt is mirrored horizontally.

Technique: A painting filmed by a cameraman.

Audio: The closing theme of the film. On Disney films (except Fantasia and Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, which in this case uses the closing theme as the logo as seen at the end), the opening theme of the film plays.

Availability: It's still saved on films produced by the company.

  • Most Walt Disney Productions films had this logo plastered by the Buena Vista Pictures Distribution or the 1985 Walt Disney Pictures logo until the late 1990s (although some prints have the WDP logo playing before the RKO logo, examples being Peter Pan and Fun and Fancy Free), when it began to be restored (although some films, such as Bambi, usually have the logo removed as evidenced on the 2005 and 2011 Disney DVD releases of Bambi where it had a short version of the Walt Disney Pictures logo at the time plastered over with the fanfare playing underneath; however, it appears on a Laserdisc release according to YouTube user LogoLibraryInc, it is also seen on the 2017 Walt Disney Signature Collection DVD and Blu-ray).
  • The variant seen on Samuel Goldwyn Productions films is often removed, although it may have been on 1980s and 1990s home media releases by Samuel Goldwyn Home Entertainment that were distributed by various companies.
  • This logo also originally appeared on Song of the South, but the UK VHS release contains the Buena Vista logo (with the opening theme playing over), and the Japanese Laserdisc has no logo.
  • It may have appeared on the original releases of Saludos Amigos and So Dear To My Heart.
  • The Fantasia variant is intact on the 2010 DVD release, but is not present on the 1990 VHS release.

Legacy: The Thunderbolt would later be incorporated into the early logos of the revived RKO Pictures. This logo is also considered a favorite by many older Disney fans given its usage at the beginning of the earliest Disney feature-length films.

2nd Logo (Opening Logo) (July 30, 1929-March 13, 1959)

Visuals: On a cloudy background is a radio tower situated on top of a rotating Earth globe. The radio tower is sending out signals illustrated by lightning bolts and sound waves coming from its transmitter. The text "A Radio Picture" (1929 to 1937) or "An RKO Radio Picture" (1932 to 1959) writes itself on the logo in a "thunderbolt" font.


  • The transmitter in the logo was inspired by a two-hundred-foot tower built in Colorado for a giant electrical amplifier, or Tesla coil, created by inventor Nikola Tesla.
  • The Morse code heard on the Radio Pictures logo used from 1929 to 1937, transmitted this message: VVV A RADIO PICTURE VVVVV. On the RKO Radio Pictures logo, used from 1932 until mid-1940s (when the Morse code was dropped out) the message was: VVVV AN RKO PICTURE VVVVV.
  • This logo was featured as a stage backdrop during a scene from The Rocky Horror Picture Show.


  • On early color films and colorized films the logo was tinted blue.
    • Colorized versions of films distributed by Turner Entertainment have the logo in a lighter shade of blue and the words are in orange.
  • A true color version of the logo was introduced around 1944.
  • Radio Pictures films from 1929 to 1932 had the globe less detailed and no clouds in front of the globe. Additionally, the tower is slightly different.
  • On some movies, made between 1933-1935, the logo of the National Recovery Administration appeared on a cloudy background, fading into the logo. This variation most notably appeared on Son of Kong.
  • When the studio produced CinemaScope and Superscope films, their logo was cropped to fit the screen, making it widescreen and reanimated the lightning bolts to be more realistic.
  • Susan Slept Here has the logo tinted in blue, and the letters in pink.
  • On Yellow Canary, the movie’s copyright info and the MPAA seal are superimposed at the bottom of the logo.
  • On at least one print of Badman's Country, the logo is haphazardly shortened by cutting out a substantial portion of the animation, meaning that all of the words "RKO Radio" and the letter P in "Picture" simply appear all at the same time rather than animating in properly.
  • A shortened version has been found.

Technique: Live-action for the rotating Earth globe, and cel animation for the lightning bolts and the sound waves.

Audio: A series of "Morse code" beeps. In some cases, the Morse code is replaced by the movie's opening music (from mid-1940s, the morse code was completely replaced and dropped out), and in other cases, the Morse code and the movie's opening music play together.

Audio Variants:

  • Some 1930 movies had the Morse Code at a very high pitch.
  • On the 2016 Lobster Films' restoration of Deluge, the Morse code is low-pitched and its message is: A LOBSTER PICTURE.
  • On At Sword's Point, it's silent.
  • The 1932 version of the logo uses a slightly low-pitched and slowed down Morse code. The RKO Radio Pictures version uses a sped-up Morse Code.
  • Some movies made between 1942 and 1944 had an arrangement of the beginning of Beethoven's Symphony No. 9 (along with Morse Code beeps made of string instruments). Verboten! (the last RKO Radio picture, released on March 13, 1959) uses another arrangement of the same music.
  • The "V"s in the Morse Code can vary by film.

Availability: It's still seen on many films.

  • This logo was often not shown at all on a few films, such as Fort Apache, It's a Wonderful Life, and films produced by Walt Disney Productions (which usually used the "Thunderbolt" logo or no logo at all).
  • The Radio Pictures logo is used on King Kong, Top Hat, the Legend Films colorized version of She and other films from the studio until 1936.
  • The shortened version has been found on a promo on the VHS of King Kong.
  • The Radio Pictures logo made a surprise reappearance on colorized prints of Mighty Joe Young, released in 1949, and The Big Sky, released in 1952, as well as some original prints of The Bells of St. Mary's, released in 1945.
  • The last film with this logo was Samuel Fuller's Verboten!, released on March 13, 1959.
  • Oddly enough, Flying Leathernecks, a 1951 three-strip Technicolor picture, used the black and white logo despite being made several years after the full-color version of the logo debuted.

Legacy: A well-known logo during the golden age of Hollywood.

External links

RKO Radio Pictures
Warner Bros. Pictures
RKO General Productions
Cookies help us deliver our services. By using our services, you agree to our use of cookies.