The NBC Chimes Museum A Celebration Of Old–Time Radio’s Most Famous Signature

the j. c. deagan dinner chimes

The largest manufacturer of dinner chimes in the United States was the J. C. Deagan Company of Chicago. John Calhoun Deagan patented the dinner chime in the early years of the 20th century, and Deagan was the preëminent name in the field. A 1979 Antique Wireless Association magazine article on the development of the NBC Chimes written by retired NBC engineer Robert Morris (who assisted in the development of the Rangertone chimes) specifically mentions four–tone Deagan chimes throughout his article.

Deagan made a number of different models in several different keys, with slightly differing chime plates and resonators, and in three, four, and five tone versions. By sifting through surviving recordings of hand–struck NBC chimes, I believe I have narrowed down the exact models of Deagan chimes that were used as network identifiers.

In researching the Deagan Dinner Chimes used on the air by NBC, I made several interesting discoveries. Despite the fact that J. C. Deagan himself spearheaded the campaign to make A=440Hz the official concert pitch, all vintage Deagan Dinner Chimes that I have encountered are pitched in the old “International Pitch” once favored by the American Federation of Musicians, in which A=435Hz.

The chimes themselves, as will be detailed with each model, came in several different “keys”; however, the relationships between the individual notes were always the same. They were based on the lip partials of brass instruments, and Deagan published small songbooks filled with military bugle calls that could be played on any Deagan chime, no matter which chime or in which key it played. In fact, Deagan literature and music books always referred to the chime plates as being G, C, E, and G no matter what the actual notes really were.

Deagan chimes are always structured as follows:

  • The first chime plate, the lowest tone, is the fundamental note.
  • The second chime plate is always exactly five semitones higher than the first.
  • The third chime plate is four semitones higher than the second, but is 20% flat in relation to the other chime plates.
  • On four– and five–plate chimes, the fourth chime plate is three semitones higher than the third, and one octave higher than the first.
  • On five–plate chimes, the fifth plate is—repeating the cycle—five semitones higher than the fourth, and one octave higher than the second.