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

 

about this site

The purpose of the nbc chimes museum is to chronicle the evolution of the NBC Chimes on radio from the 1920s through the 1940s, when the NBC Red and Blue Networks were separated, and to illustrate their usage with audio clips and images. Special emphasis is placed upon the hand–struck Deagan chimes and the variations in the sequence of notes that were employed from the late 1920s until the inauguration of the NBC Chimes Machine, when the speed, level, and pitch of the Chimes were standardized.

The NBC Chimes Museum started in November, 2005, as a single page that may be viewed here, in all its outdated glory. It was designed for smaller, lower resolution monitors which were all most of us had at the time.

I gave the site a major design overhaul in 2010, dividing it up into sections, adding a navigation bar and sub–bar and much new material, and concentrating on attractive typography—which I am always tweaking slightly now and again. It now fits in very well with the age of wide screen digital monitors, but in some cases it renders abominably on mobile devices.

typography

The basic text font of this site, including headers and small caps, is the venerable yet versatile plantin roman, once the reigning monarch of British book typesetting. The flourishy ampersand (&), however, is borrowed from kings caslon roman. plantin headline condensed is used for both the blockquotes and the navigation bars.

The name of the site at the top of the page is done in itc garamond handtooled, with the art deco influenced phenix american immediately below it.

In the section dealing with inter–office correspondence, the font used is p22 typewriter, which was pretty much the only such font that I could adapt to presenting an accurate digital reconstruction of the format of the original paper documents. All fonts are used under license from fonts.com.

As previously mentioned, sections start out in small caps, in which the headers also appear; old–style numerals abound, as do ff/fi/fl/ffi/ffl ligatures. This is due to my old and strong affection for the typography found in books, which led to my attempts to duplicate this appearance in html and css.

There are issues with the typewriter font and its scaling on some mobile devices, and there are display issues on some browsers and devices with the other elements. As time goes on and OpenType standards are fully supported, I hope that these issues will mitigate.

A note on the colors: The RED and BLUE used on this site are not the precise shades of red and blue used by the NBC radio networks. I'm not even certain that the precise shades could be determined, as they were never used visually as a trademark identity, but rather aurally. With that in mind, I've done what seems to me to be the practical thing: I used the HTML code found on the official Pantone® website for PMS 186 and PMS 294. Those, according to Tribune Content Agency designer Matt Maldre, are (or were under Tribune ownership) the official red and blue colors of the 2016 World Champion Chicago Cubs.

acknowledgements

The author of this webpage would like to express heartfelt thanks to those whose contributions made this site possible:

(Listed alphabetically by surname)
  • mark aceto, owner of a Rangertone NBC Chimes Machine, for providing me with images and a direct line–output recording especially for this site.
  • mr. marcus bartlett and his daughter mrs. ann cannon, who responded warmly to my questions about the WSB chimes, and who forwarded much valuable historical material to me. (Mr. Bartlett passed away on February 19, 2009, at the age of 98.)
  • dr. michael biel and ms. elizabeth mcleod, who opened their vaults and provided the historic audio clips of NBC Chimes present on the Media Files page. Both Dr. Biel and Ms. McLeod have spent years researching the NBC Chimes, and it is due to their efforts that we have even the barest outline of the progress of the various chimes sequences.
  • tom brown, founder of RadioArchives.com, for his general encouragement.
  • tracy carman of The Media Preservation Foundation for providing audio of NBC’s Fourth Chime from the WTIC Transcription Archive, and for his permission to use the audio on this site.
  • alec cumming for his assistance and encouragement.
  • diana doyle of the Nathan Hale High School Library, Tulsa OK, who provided pictures of the KVOO chimes on display there.
  • heather grandt, who took the pictures of the various sets of Deagan chimes in my collection.
  • bill harris, whose webpage was one of the first serious efforts on the web to catalog the development and evolution of the NBC Chimes, and who granted permission to use a picture of an NBC Chimes set in his collection.
  • mike kavanagh, founder of the WSB History webpage, who provided historic information on the use of chimes on WSB, and who put me in contact with people who were there when chimes rang out on WSB. (Mr. Kavanagh passed away suddenly on December 6, 2008, at the age of 57.)
  • dr. alexander magoun, executive director of The David Sarnoff Library, who has provided encouragement and information concerning RCA and NBC.
  • fred nutter of WCSH–TV, Portland Maine, who gave me information about the WCSH chimes.
  • fred prohl of The Indiana Historical Radio Society, who sent me a copy of Rod Phillips’ original 1976 history of The NBC Chimes as published in that organization’s Bulletin.
  • gilberto serna of Century Mallet Instrument Service, whose historic Deagan catalogs yielded contemporary models and prices, and whose devotion to excellence has given my vintage chimes a new lease on life. (Note: Gilberto is now retired, but Century Mallet is in the trained and capable hands of andres bautista.)
  • dave weiner for providing the film clip of NBC network announcer Kelvin Keech striking the NBC Deagan Chimes.
  • brian wickham, who supplied me with background information on the Rangertone Chimes Machine whose restoration he oversaw, and who provided me with engineering drawings and a recording of the NBC Chimes Machine.

links and further resources

  • The ancestor of all sites related to the history of the NBC Chimes is “Three Famous Notes of Broadcasting History—The NBC Chimes” on Bill Harris’ Radio Remembered.
  • The earliest version of Bill’s site, including a newspaper article that started his research, can be found at The National Radio Club.
  • A page on the NBC Chimes Machine with schematic from John Schneider
  • NBC’s West Coast Operations In San Francisco where the main switching center was located until 1942. Also from John Schneider.
  • Also on John Schneider’s site, Fred Krock talks about NBC San Francisco and describes the chimes machines installed there.
  • Brian Wickham gives an auxiliary account of the NBC Chimes Machine that was found and restored.
  • Dr. Rich Samuels has a splendid look back at NBC’s Golden Age in his Broadcasting In Chicago 1921–1989 website.
  • The Georgia Radio Hall of Fame has an excellent history of WSB Atlanta including the WSB Chimes, a project conceived and begun by the late Mike Kavanagh.
  • Arthur Harrison designed and built an NBC Chimes generator. The circuit and description can be seen, and an mp3 heard, at his Theremin Page.
  • American Radio History has an extensive collection of radio publications from the 1920s to the present day. It was from their online library that I was able to find the issues of Broadcasting that filled in small details concerning the Fourth Chime, chimes as special emergency signals on other radio stations, and the auxiliary telegraphic switching cue system NBC used in conjunction with the Chimes.
  • Don M. Yowp’s Tralfaz Blog has quite an interesting collection of press clippings from the 1930s, with information tidbits about the NBC Chimes.
  • Thomas Tryniski’s Old Fulton New York Post Cards has an impressive collection of nearly twenty million scanned historic newspaper pages, mostly from upstate New York cities such as Schenectady, Utica, and Rome, but also from Brooklyn and Queens. I guarantee you will find a treasure trove of early radio history on this site. This is the source for the newspaper quotes that pinpoint the beginning of the NBC Chimes.

legal disclaimer

This website is a hobby/history/research/resource site only, and is neither affiliated with nor authorized by Comcast/NBC Universal, which owns the trademark for the NBC Chimes on television, or by Westwood One, which owns the rights to the NBC name on radio. No association with any of these broadcasting organizations or the NBC Chimes themselves is expressed or implied.