NBC's logo is an abstraction of a peacock to indicate richness in color.
The National Broadcasting Company was created when RCA purchased radio stations WEAF New York, WCAP Washington, DC and the radio programming network from American Telephone and Telegraph (AT&T) in 1926 and merged those assets with its own WJZ New York, WRC Washington and radio programming network. The WEAF stations and network would become known as the NBC Red network, the WJZ stations and network would be dubbed the NBC Blue network (later to become ABC, the American Broadcasting Company).
The WEAF network was created by the American Telephone & Telegraph Company (AT&T) to serve as a research and development for technologies involved with transmitting audio over wire and radio. AT&T's Western Electric division manufactured radio transmitters and antennas and needed a real-world environment to test their design and ability to transmit audio. 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. These effort came together to create radio station WEAF in New York City.
With a radio station broadcasting to the public, programming was needed. WEAF put together a regular schedule of programs of all types, and created some of the first broadcasts to encorporate commercial endorsements or sponsorships by commercial entities. The station met with great success, and with the opening of radio stations across the United States many stations wished to share programming. WEAF's first efforts in what would become known first as "chain broadcasting" and later as "networking" tied together The Outlet Company's WJAR in Providence, Rhode Island with AT&T's WEAF and WCAP in Washington, DC (named for the Chesapeake and Potomac Telephone Company division of AT&T). With the success of this effort and the good audio quality of AT&T's phone line circuits, the WEAF network became a success.
At the same time, RCA was beginning to realize that sharing programming on stations in different cities also made sense. RCA licensed WRC in Washington, DC in 1923 and 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 succeptable to both atmospheric and man-made electrical interference.
In 1925 the management of AT&T decided that WEAF and its network were not compatible with AT&T's goal of providing phone service and began looking to sell the station and its network. AT&T found a ready buyer in RCA, whose primary business was radio broadcasting and manufacturing, the a deal was struck where RCA would buy WEAF and gain the rights to rent AT&T's phone lines to transmit radio programs between cities.
In 1926 RCA bought WEAF, closed WCAP, created the wholly-owned division called the National Broadcasting Company and operated the New York stations and the two network efforts side by side for about a year. In 1927 NBC formally created two radio networks, the NBC Red Network with WEAF as its originating station distributing mostly entertainment and music programming; and the NBC Blue Network with WJZ as its originating station and concentrating on news and cultural programming.
Legend has it that the color designations originated from the color of the push pins the engineers at AT&T used to designate the affiliates of WEAF (red push pins) and RCA's WJZ (blue push pins). At various times in the 1930s there were several other color designation, with the NBC White, Gold and Orange networks operating in various configuration of the west coast.
The famous 3-note chimes of NBC 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)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 and asked permission to use it on the national network. NBC started to use the 3 notes in 1933, and it was the first ever audio trademark to be accepted by the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office.
NBC became the primary tenant in the brand new Rockefeller Center project in 1936. It would serve to consolidate radio operations, some RCA corporate operations, and the home of the flagship theatres of RCA-owned RKO Radio Pictures in the Radio City Music Hall of the RKO Roxie theatre (since torn down).
From its creation in 1934, the Federal Communications Commission had been studying the monopolistic effects of chain broadcasting (what we now call "networking") on the radio industry, and found that the NBC Red and Blue networks and their owned-and-operated radio stations owned by NBC controlled the majority of radio audiences, radio affiliates and advertising dollars in the American radio industry. In 1939 the FCC ordered RCA to divest itself of one of the two NBC networks and accompanying owned-and-operated stations. RCA fought the divestiture order, but divided NBC into two companies in 1940 in case the appeals were lost. The NBC Blue network became the "NBC Blue Network, Inc." and the NBC Red Network becoming the "NBC Red Network, Inc."
With the loss of the final appeal before the United States Supreme Court, RCA sold the NBC Blue Network, Inc. to Lifesavers magnate Edward J. Noble in 1943. He renamed the company "The Blue Network, Inc." but quickly realized that the name was not appropriate for a major radio network. After acquiring the rights to the name "the American Broadcasting Company" from broadcaster George Storer in 1946, the Blue Network, Inc. become the American Broadcasting Company. The NBC Red Network was renamed the NBC Radio Network after the Blue network was sold.
Since GE's acquisition of RCA, NBC has been owned by General Electric. The NBC Radio Network was sold by General Electric in 1988 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 simply became a marketing brand name for programming produced by Westwood One.
For many years NBC was closely identified with founder David Sarnoff, who viewed it as a means for selling entertainment, and consumer electronics.
While CBS has received more attention from historians discussing broadcast journalism history, NBC's news operation was no slouch. 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 dominance ended when Huntley retired, to die a year later from cancer. 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.
NBC is based in New York's Rockefeller Center.