Like so many things in life that are familiar to us all, the NBC Chimes are known by every fan of old time radio shows, but surrounded by myth and legend, some of it true, some of it with no basis in fact.
G-E-C. Three simple notes. When we here them we all know that they mean NBC. Their origin is in the Station
Break. According to FCC Regulations, at the top of each hour a licensed broadcaster must identify itself by call sign and the name of the Community where its broadcast license has been issued, i.e.: “This is WEAF, New York.” When stations combine to play network programming, this becomes complicated. The simplest solution is for the network announcer to read the call signs of the individual stations, but this becomes cumbersome if there are more than four or five stations in the network. It is much more efficient to announce “We pause now for ten seconds station identification, this is the NBC Network.” But what happens if the local operator is asleep at the switch, or his clock isn’t synchronized with the network? The familiar three tones are an elegant solution.
There is some controversy over the origin of the G-E-C sequence. One story is that three NBC employees, Oscar Hanson, NBC Engineer, Ernest La Prada, NBC Orchestra leader, and Phillips Carlin, NBC Announcer, were given the task of finding a solution and audio cue to the station break problem. They worked with a set of hand-dinner chimes purchased in Manhattan for $48.50, and during the years of 1927-1928 tried several sequences of notes (as many as seven) before settling on the G-E-C sequence. There is also a claim the WSB, Atlanta, had been using the three notes on their own, using a small hand xylophone, through the late 20’s. After joining the NBC Network, WSB was broadcasting a Georgia Tech football game when the notes were heard in New York. Someone at the network liked them and the notes were adopted. WGY, Schenectady, and KFI, Los Angeles, which both went on the air in 1922, each claim to have originated the G-E-C tones.
There is no evidence that “G-E-C” were chosen to commemorate the General Electric Company, which was a major stockholder in the original National Broadcasting Company. This is an Urban Myth.