The NBC Chimes Museum A Celebration Of Old-Time Radio's Most Famous Signature
The NBC Chimes Are Mechanized
NBC Engineers Oscar B. Hanson and Robert Morris paid a visit to Captain Richard Ranger of North Newark, New Jersey, to inspect Ranger's pioneering work in the field of electronic organs. At dinner later that evening, Hanson and Morris outlined a proposal to Captain Ranger to build an electronic version of the NBC chimes, explaining that a steady, reliable, consistant signal would be an improvement over the present arrangment of striking the chime tones by hand.
Captain Ranger returned some six weeks later with a rack-mounted device containing three rotating wheels with studs attached, which plucked three sets of eight tuned metal reeds each. A large-scale electronic music box, this machine met with instantaneous approval. Its tonal quality, apparently, left something to be desired, so Musical Director Ernest LaPrade worked with NBC engineer Roland Lynn to modify the output slightly. Once this was done and the results approved, the Rangertone chimes went into service in New York, and orders were placed to install them in the other NBC program origin points of Chicago, Cleveland, Washington, and San Francisco. (NBC had small studios in Hollywood starting in
The date given by Robert Morris in his own account is "sometime during the latter part of
NBC ELECTRIC CHIMES GIVEN AUDIENCE TRIAL
The National Broadcasting Company chimes, which for years have kept the networks in synchronous step, have changed their tone.
An automatic electrical device, sending out a modulated, even tone at a constant level, replaced the familiar hand-struck chimes on all programs emanating from the NBC New York studios.
Purpose of Chimes
The contrivance, invented by Captain Richard H. Ranger, designer of the pipeless organ and the bell-less carillon, has been installed in the main control room of the NBC Building in New York. If the trial period proves its operation practical and its precise notes pleasing to the public, it will be adopted as permanent equipment at the New York Studios and also installed in the main control rooms of NBC Studios in all other cities.
The purpose of the chimes, which previously have been rung by the announcer striking one of the small hand sets with which each studio is equipped, is to synchronize local station identification announcements, and to serve as a cue to engineers at relay points all over the country to switch various branches of the networks on or off as the programs change each fifteen minutes.
For some time technicians have been seeking some automatic instrument which would insure a more constant level than could be obtained when different announcers were required to produce the three notes on different instruments.
The device itself is based on the old-fashioned music box. Actually, there are no chimes, only electrically created tones. A revolving drum with properly spaced pins, striking against a series of metal reeds, tuned to the chime pitch, produces electric vibrations which are picked up and amplified.
An even earlier news story about the NBC chimes machine was syndicated by the Associated Press on July
Radio Device Will Put End to 'Sour' Note
Chimes Hereafter to Be Operated by Electricity, NBC Announces
The day of the announcer-operated chimes is over at the NBC studios. Hereafter an electrical device will do the job.
At the same time there will be eliminated the "sour" notes that often materialized when the announcer failed to hit the three-note xylophone used to produce the chimes in the proper sequence or with the right force.
The new device is a development of Captain R. H. Ranger, radio engineer, noted for his work on the electric organ and in facsimile radio transmission.
All the announcer need do is press a small button. That not only "rings" the chimes but cuts them into the proper network.
That the idea of mechanizing the chimes so soon after their reduction to only three notes may be indicated by another Associated Press release from January
Internal Discussions About The Chimes Machine
In an internal memo dated December
An Engineering memo sent from George McElrath on September
What Did The Chimes Machine Look Like?
Thanks to the generosity of two historians and collectors with ties to NBC Radio and Television, The NBC Chimes Museum can now offer an intimate look at one of the Rangertone NBC Chimes Machines, including technical drawings from the
Brian Wickham provided scans of engineering drawings of the Chimes Machine; the upper is a drawing of the entire machine, and it references detail drawings that most likely were lost over time. One interesting specification is found in the upper right, which prescribes the sequence of action (contact, note sounding, and note damping) relative to the precise number of turns of the motor shaft. The specifications for the motor are also given, right down to the manufacturer.
The lower image is a detail of the metal tines (or "reeds", as they were called by NBC engineers) that actually gave off the chime sounds. This detail, number
Click on either image to see a full-resolution version. The detail of the tines is
What you see here are details of a Rangertone Chimes Machine, circa
You can see several views of the front of the machine, minus the cover, including a display plaque.
The chime reeds themselves seem to be behind the drum, and thus for the most part obscured from view.
There are also closeups of the rotating drum from several angles, as well as the controller, motor, and wiring blocks.
The motor, while it does its job well, it not the original but rather a replacement that seems to have been installed many years, even decades ago.
Click on any image to see a highly-detailed enlarged version. The detail that went into building these things is amazing.