Copyright 1999, John F. Schneider


The sound of the NBC chimes is the sound of radio history itself. Probably no single sound better recalls the golden age of radio. The NBC chimes – the musical notes G-E-C – were played at the end of every NBC radio program beginning shortly after the network’s inception, and continued in daily use on NBC radio and television until 1971.

Chimes Machine Schematic Shortly after the formation of the National Broadcasting Company in 1926, network executives became aware of confusion among the affiliate stations as to the exact when a program ended, and when it was safe to cut away for local announcements. The problem was assigned to a committee of three: Oscar Hanson, a former AT&T engineer; Earnest la Prada, an NBC orchestra leader; and Philip Carlin, an NBC announcer. They decided that a musical signal of some kind would be an appropriate way to indicate the ending of all programs. At that time, it was common for radio stations to use the sounds of chimes, gongs, sirens and other mechanical devices as a signature sound for their station, so the choice of a chime by NBC was not unusual or particularly innovative. There is in fact some evidence that the chimes may have been inspired by a similar chime sequence used at that time by NBC affiliate WSB in Atlanta.

During 1927 and 1928, the committee experimented with several combinations of notes. A seven-note sequence which was first used, G-C-F-E-G-C-E, was determined to be too complicated for the announcers to play correctly on a consistent basis. It was first simplified to G-C-F-E, and finally to just G-E-C. This familia