The National Broadcasting Company or NBC is an American television broadcasting company based in New York City's Rockefeller Center. It is now part of the media conglomerate NBC Universal, and supplies programming to more than 200 affiliated U.S. stations. NBC Universal is a unit of General Electric.
The last U.S. network holding company to legally abandon the name behind its acronym, in 2003 the corporate name was shrunk from "National Broadcasting Company, Inc.", as it had been from 1926, to NBC Universal, Inc. following a merger with Vivendi Universal's Entertainment division in 2004. (ABC still occasionally uses American Broadcasting Company or Companies for some copyrights and on-air branding.)
The National Broadcasting Company (NBC) radio network went on the air with twenty-four affiliated stations on November 15, 1926. It was owned by Radio Corporation of America (RCA), itself set up in 1919 to control Guglielmo Marconi's American patents; RCA in turn was owned by General Electric Company (GE), the Westinghouse Electric Corporation, the United Fruit Company and American Telephone & Telegraph (AT&T).
In a time of consolidation in the radio business, RCA had bought New York station WEAF from AT&T. RCA shareholder Westinghouse had a competing facility in Newark, pioneer station WJZ, which also served as originating station for a loosely-structured network. As NBC took over responsibility for these stations, WEAF and its affiliates became the NBC Red network; the WJZ group was dubbed the NBC Blue network.
WEAF had been a laboratory for AT&T's Western Electric, which manufactured transmitters and antennas. AT&T's long-distance and local Bell operating divisions were developing technologies for transmitting voice- and music-grade audio over short and long distances, via both wireless and wired methods. So AT&T's creation of station WEAF in 1922 offered a research-and-development center for these activities. WEAF put together a regular schedule of programs of all types, and created some of the first broadcasts to incorporate commercial endorsements or sponsorships. An immediate success, and created links with other stations to offer coverage of sports or political events. WEAF's first efforts in what would become known first as "chain broadcasting" and later as "networking" tied together Outlet Company's WJAR in Providence, Rhode Island with AT&T's WCAP in Washington, D.C. (named for the Chesapeake and Potomac Telephone Company division of AT&T).
RCA also saw an advantage in sharing programming, and after getting a license for station WRC in Washington, D.C. in 1923, attempted to transmit audio between cities via low-quality telegraph lines (since AT&T refused outside companies access to their high-quality phone lines.) The effort was poor at best, with the uninsulated telegraph lines incapable of good audio transmission quality and very susceptible to both atmospheric and man-made electrical interference.
In 1925 the management of AT&T decided that WEAF and its network was not compatible with AT&T's goal of providing phone service, and offered to sell the station to RCA, whose business was set manufacturing. When RCA bought WEAF, it gained rights to rent AT&T's phone lines for network transmission. For $1 million, RCA got WEAF and a Washington sister-station, WCAP. It closed WCAP, and created a wholly-owned division called the National Broadcasting Company (it was actually owned 50% by RCA, 30% by General Electric, and 20% by Westinghouse). WEAF and Westinghouse's WJZ and the two networks were operated side-by-side for about a year, but in 1927 NBC formally split the two networks: the NBC Red Network offered entertainment and music programming; the NBC Blue Network carried many of the "sustaining" or non-sponsored programs, especially news and cultural in nature. Legend has it that the color designations originated from the color of the push-pins early engineers used to designate affiliates of WEAF (red pins) and WJZ (blue pins). At various times in the 1930s there were other color designations, with the NBC White, Gold, and Orange networks operating in various configurations in the South, the Midwest and on the West Coast.
The famous three-note NBC chimes came about after several years of trying different musical note combinations. The three note combination (G-E-C; not related at all to RCA's original stockholder General Electric-and as such NBC was basically controlled by GE, since GE held a 30% share combined with RCA's 50%) came from WSB in Atlanta which used it for its own purposes until one day someone at NBC in New York heard the WSB version of the notes during a networked broadcast of a Georgia Tech football game and asked permission to use it on the national network. NBC started to use the three notes in 1931, and it was the first ever audio trademark to be accepted by the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office. An alternate jingle was also used that went E-G-C-C, known as "the fourth chime" and used during wartime (especially in the wake of the Pearl Harbor bombing) and other disasters. The NBC chimes were mechanized in 1932 by Richard H. Ranger of the Rangertone company; their purpose was to send a low level signal of constant amplitude that would be heard by the various switching stations manned by NBC and AT&T engineers, and thus used as a system cue for switching different stations between the Red and Blue network feeds. Because of fears of offending commercial sponsors by cutting their programs off in mid-sentence, the mechanized chimes were always rung by an announcer pushing a button; they were never set to an automatic timer, although heavy discussions on the subject were held between the Engineering and Programming departments throughout the 1930s and 1940s.
From its creation in 1934, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) had studied the monopolistic effects of network broadcasting on the industry, and found that NBC's two networks and their owned-and-operated stations dominated audiences, affiliates and advertising dollars in American radio. In 1939 the FCC ordered RCA to divest itself of one of the two networks; RCA fought the divestiture order, but divided NBC into two companies in 1940 in case an appeal was lost. The Blue network became the "NBC Blue Network, Inc." and the NBC Red became "NBC Red Network, Inc."
With the loss of the final appeal before the United States Supreme Court, RCA sold the NBC Blue Network, Inc. for $8 million to Lifesavers magnate Edward J. Noble in 1943. For his money Noble got the network name, leases on land-lines and the New York studios, two-and-a half stations (WJZ in Newark/New York, KGO in San Francisco, and WENR in Chicago which shared a frequency with "Prairie Farmer" station WLS), and about 60 affiliates. Noble renamed the company "The Blue Network, Inc." but wanted something more memorable. In 1944 he acquired rights to the name "American Broadcasting Company" from George Storer and the Blue Network became ABC. "NBC Red" reverted to being simply "NBC" when Blue was sold.
In the golden days of network broadcasting, 1930 to 1950, NBC was the pinnacle of American radio. Home to many of the most popular stars and programs, NBC stations were often the most powerful, or occupied clear-channel frequencies so that they were heard nation-wide. Such well-known stars as Bob Hope, Jack Benny, Edgar Bergen and Fred Allen called NBC home, as did Arturo Toscanini's NBC Symphony. As television became more popular in the 1950s, many NBC radio stars gravitated there, and by 1960 the radio network's schedule was much reduced. By the late 1960s, there was little more to NBC Radio than news bulletins and news-related features.
Since the 1986 acquisition of RCA, NBC has been GE's most consistently profitable division. In compliance with FCC rules, NBC Radio was sold following the sale to GE, to Westwood One. While the chimes and an hourly newscast still appear on radio at certain times on weekdays, the NBC Radio Network as a programming service ceased to exist in 1989, and became a brand-name on material produced by Westwood One.
For many years NBC was closely identified with David Sarnoff, who used it as a vehicle to sell consumer electronics. It was Sarnoff who ruthlessly stole innovative ideas from competitors, using RCA's muscle to prevail in the courts. RCA and Sarnoff had dictated the broadcasting standards put in place by the FCC in 1938, and stole the spotlight by introducing television to the public at the 1939-40 New York World's Fair. While rivals CBS and DuMont also offered color broadcasting plans, RCA convinced a waffling FCC that its color system should prevail, and in 1953 the FCC agreed; the NBC network was to begin offering color programming within days of the FCC's decision. The first NBC show to air all episodes in color, Bonanza, began in the fall of 1959. By 1963, most of NBC's schedule was in color; without television sets to sell, rival networks followed more slowly, CBS in 1965 and ABC in 1966.
In 1983, NBC began its new fall season with nine new series. All nine of them were eventually cancelled before completing a year. This is the only time that a network's entire line of new series has failed to be renewed.
It was estimated in 2003 that NBC is viewable by 97.17% of all households, reaching 103,624,370 houses in the United States. NBC has 207 VHF and UHF affiliated stations in the U.S. and U.S. possessions. It is also seen throughout Latin America and the Caribbean via cable and satellite using the WNBC feed.
Evolution of the NBC logo
- Main article: National Broadcasting Company logos
While CBS has received more attention from historians discussing broadcast journalism history, NBC's news operation was equal to it. From 1956 through 1970, the television broadcast team of Chet Huntley and David Brinkley consistently exceeded the viewership levels attained by CBS News and its main anchor Walter Cronkite. The pair, together with fellow correspondent Frank McGee, distinguished itself in the coverage of American manned space missions in the Project Mercury, Project Gemini and Project Apollo programs, during an era when space missions rated continuous coverage. (An entire studio, Studio 8H, was configured for this coverage, complete with models and mockups of rockets and spacecraft, maps of the earth and moon to show orbital trackage, and stages on which animated figures created by puppeteer Bil Baird were used to depict movements of astronauts before on-board spacecraft television cameras were feasible. Studio 8H is now the home of the NBC entertainment program Saturday Night Live.) The dominance ended when Huntley retired, to only die from cancer in 1974. The loss of Huntley, along with a reluctance of RCA to fund NBC News at the level CBS was funding CBS News, left NBC News in the doldrums. NBC News did not recover viewership levels until after GE acquired RCA.
In the second Iraq war, NBC News and main anchor Tom Brokaw covered the war like no other television company, in part owing to the willingness of GE to fund it. NBC News correspondent David Bloom pushed through the GE and U.S. Department of Defense bureaucracies permission to construct a mobile news vehicle that could transmit live video broadcasts from the battlefield. The "Bloommobile" brought satellite images and videos (clear, detailed) into homes of America and Europe, live and one-on-one. Bloom did not live to accept the accolades after the armed conflict; he died of natural causes unrelated to combat during the final phase of the fighting.
NBC News also benefits from the GE corporate structure by having the ability to take reports from its cable counterpart MSNBC.
- NBC News
- NBC Sports
- List of programs broadcast by NBC
- List of United States television networks
- List of NBC affiliates
- List of NBC slogans
- Lists of corporate assets
- NBC chimes
- NBC Television official site
- Museum of Broadcast Communications - NBC History
- Screen captures of NBC logos past and present, as well as footage of vintage promos
- NBC press releases and photos on NBC Universal Media Village
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