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MMD > Archives > February 1996 > 1996.02.20 > 09Prev  Next

Re: NBC 4TH Chime (and More)
By Matthew Caulfield

George Bogatko asked what the fourth note in the NBC chime was, so I went and retrieved the article I had mentioned, from The Reproducer; quarterly journal of the vintage Radio and Phonograph Society, Inc., summer 1995 (v. 22, no. 3).

The following excerpts from that article may be of interest. I will send the full article to anyone who wants it.

The National Broadcasting Company was formed on September 9, 1926, owned jointly by GE, RCA, and Westinghouse. As the number of affiliate stations grew, a signal was needed to indicate the end of network programming and the point to insert local station breaks on the hour and half-hour. The chimes used for this purpose actually were the creation of radio station WSB, Atlanta, and were the first three notes of the WWI song "Over There," E-G-C. When WSB joined NBC it gave the network permission to use the tones, which NBC re-arranged to G-E-C. WSB had employed a miniature xylophone to hit the notes, but NBC hired the J.C. Deagan Company of Chicago (a familiar name to some of us on the list) to make a fancier three-note set of bars mounted on a wooden resonating box, with a handle on the side so that it could be held up to the microphone while being struck. Starting in 1932 the chimes were electronically generated from metal reeds plucked by fingers on a revolving drum, like a music box. This device was invented by Captain Richard H. Ranger, inventor of the electronic organ. The reeds were part of a capacitor-oscillator circuit, which amplified the tones and sent them over the air. A picture of Ranger and the automatic chime is shown in the article.

The fourth chime was originally contrived as a confidential alert to NBC news staff and engineers. It was first heard on the air in 1937 to signal the transmission of news of the Hindenburg dirigible crash in Lakehurst, N.J. It was repeated for the Munich crisis, the bombing of Pearl Harbor, and was used repeatedly during WWII.

The writer of the article, Bill Harris, reports his surprise in hearing the fourth chime in a documentary tape of D-Day, 1944, and hearing that the fourth chime there was not a second strike of C as reported by Rod Phillips in his "The Chimes You Hear from Coast to Coast: a History of the NBC Chimes." Harris assumed that the sequence would be G-E-C-C, but on the tape was B-D-G-G in the key of G. If you transpose to the key of C, it would become E-G-C-C, recalling the original three notes from "Over There" used by WSB, Atlanta.

In 1950 NBC filed with the Patent Office to make the chimes a registered service mark. Patent Office serial number 72-349396 registers it thus: the mark comprises a sequence of chime-like musical notes whuich are in the key of C and sounded the notes G, E, C, the G being the one just below middle C, the E the one just above middle C, and the C being middle C, thereby to identify applicant's broadcast service.

In recent years NBC discovered a set of its early manual chimes and reproduced them for sale as an advertising novelty. I saw one of them in LC's Recorded Sound Reference Center this morning when I went back to copy the article from which the information above comes.

(Message sent Tue 20 Feb 1996, 18:59:13 GMT, from time zone GMT-0500.)

Key Words in Subject:  4TH, Chime, More, NBC

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