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

custom deagan three–note nbc chime

The earliest treatment of the physical hand–struck NBC chimes that I’ve ever been able to find is an article written by Rod Phillips, published in the December, 1976 edition of The Indiana Historical Radio Society Bulletin. In this article, Phillips mentions that NBC had several sets of these chimes, custom made for them by the Deagan company. In his description, Phillips asserts:

The NBC Studio Chimes had only three note–bars mounted in striking order on a wood resonator–chambered box, padded on the corners with leather bumpers. The authentic NBC Chime set had a cast aluminum handle attached to it to enable the announcer to hold the chimes close to the microphone while striking them.

The chime plates are mounted in G–E–C striking order on the chimes you see pictured here. When I acquired these, I noted that they seemed to fit the description of handheld NBC network chimes very closely, but there was no identification label anywhere to be found. When these chimes were rebuilt by Gilberto Serna, he commented that they were custom made and very nice, but he had never seen anything like them before.

Since this website went live in 2005, radio historian Bill Harris has acquired a set of these chimes, and his had what mine are missing: an NBC Engineering Department property tag! With his very kind permission, I have posted a picture of it here, so it can be plainly seen that, as heavy and cumbersome as they are, NBC did order special custom–made chimes for use on the air. Since they are known to have been used by NBC after the installation of the Rangertone chimes machines, I can only presume that they were kept on hand for sounding the chimes from remote locations such as theaters or concert halls, or for sounding the chimes with the last note doubled—an emergency signal known as the fourth chime.

NBC did issue at least one picture of an announcer holding these chimes before a microphone. In the late 1930s, RCA published a promotional magazine called Listen, which appeared monthly within the pages of the popular magazine Life. In issue number 22, the issue for May, 1939, NBC took listeners on a photographic tour of the process of creating and broadcasting radio programs. While the caption noted that the chimes were usually sounded by an electromechanical device, NBC chose to illustrate the NBC chimes by showing an announcer striking a set of the hand–held chimes. Note that the announcer is not holding the chimes by its handle but is rather holding the box itself. This actually provides much better balance; the chimes box is quite unwieldy when held by its handle.