The NBC Chimes Museum
A Celebration Of Old–Time Radio’s Most Famous Signature
“this is the national broadcasting company.”
These words were immediately followed by three notes—at various times struck by hand, played on a mechanized electronic music box, or generated through a vacuum tube apparatus—for several decades. The most famous sound on radio is today an abandoned trademark, but in its prime it stood for some of the very best in radio programming and entertainment. This website attempts to trace the evolution of the NBC Chimes from a simple switching cue to cultural icon, and to tell the story of other radio broadcasters who identified themselves with Deagan dinner chimes before the National Broadcasting Company even existed.
Today the idea of using dinner chimes seems a quaint curiosity, but it fits perfectly with the more formal social environment of the 1920s. Dinner chimes were a soft–toned melodic way for families to be called to meals, or even for household staff to be summoned. Railroads and cruise ships used dinner chimes to call their passengers to the dining car when meals were served, and theaters and concert halls used dinner chimes to signal the start and stop of intermissions.
For an era when radio programs were delivered by talent wearing evening dress, the idea of using dinner chimes as a station identification or a network switching cue that was pleasing to the ear of the listener does not seem far–fetched, especially given the theater/concert hall connection. In those days, radio attempted to literally bring the theater and the concert hall into the home of the listener; the use of dinner chimes would augment the aural illusion perfectly.
Click the links in the navigation bar to learn more about the J. C. Deagan dinner chimes, about radio stations that used Deagan dinner chimes for their on–air identification signals in the 1920s and 1930s, and about how the Deagan dinner chimes were adopted and used by the National Broadcasting Company for several years before being supplanted by machine–generated chime tones.