National Broadcasting Company Summary

  • Last updated on November 10, 2022

The founding of NBC established the structure within which U.S. radio, and later television, stations would operate: a system of local independent affiliates to a nationwide network.

When the Radio Corporation of America (RCA) acquired several radio stations from American Telephone and Telegraph (AT&T) in 1926, broadcasting was still in its infancy. AT&T had just pioneered commercial advertising on the air. The company referred to such advertising as “toll radio,” after toll calls, but it actually employed a model more akin to newspaper advertising. It used its long-distance telephone lines to relay programming to the more distant stations, so all stations on its network could carry the same programs.National Broadcasting Company

RCA decided to expand this system and create a nationwide network under the name of the National Broadcasting Company (NBC). To signal local affiliates to broadcast their station identification calls, NBC developed the distinctive three-note NBC chimes, a sequence of the musical notes G-E-C. NBC quickly split into two networks, NBC Red and NBC Blue, according to the colors of the grease pencils used to lay out the systems on a map. Each of the two networks developed its own personality: The Red Network concentrated on programming that already had a guaranteed listener base to ensure sponsorship, while the Blue Network aired less-tested programs that sought to cultivate both a listener base and sponsors.

The two distinctive styles of operation were not enough to satisfy the Federal Trade Commission’s concerns about monopolistic practices, and in 1943, RCA spun off the Blue Network to avoid an antitrust suit. It was later bought by an outside concern and renamed the American Broadcasting CompanyAmerican Broadcasting Company, or ABC.

Because RCA was one of the primary developers of American television technology, NBC expanded into commercial television as soon as broadcast licenses became available. Although early NBC logos were based on the RCA logos of the time, after RCA’s compatible color system was approved by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), NBC began to use a multicolored peacock logo to designate its color broadcasts. A more stylized version of the peacock subsequently became NBC’s general corporate logo.

After the retirement of NBC founder David Sarnoff from RCA in 1970, the company went into decline. It was ultimately sold to General Electric (GE), and NBC become part of the NBC Universal media branch of GE. After the success of the Cable News Network (CNN), NBC developed two cable news channels, the business-oriented CNBC and the general-interest MSNBC (the latter being a joint venture with Microsoft). Both cable channels and the regular network remained branded with the NBC peacock logo.

Further Reading
  • Edgerton, Gary R. The Columbia History of American Television. New York: Columbia University Press, 2007.
  • Lewis, Tom. Empire of the Air: The Men Who Made Radio. New York: Edward Burlingame, 1991.
  • Sobel, Robert. RCA. New York: Stein and Day, 1986.
  • Tinker, Grant, and Bud Rukeyser. Tinker in Television: From General Sarnoff to General Electric. New York: Simon & Schuster, 1994.


Federal Communications Commission

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General Electric

Radio broadcasting industry

Television broadcasting industry

Categories: History