Early Sound Effects at the NBC Merchandise Mart Studios
note: Sound effects were very often (but not always) a key element
in the production of radio drama. The NBC sound effects men who worked in the
Merchandise Mart were masters of their craft which involved both mechanical ingenuity
and brute force. Here you see them at work in studio
D and on the roof of the Merchandise Mart.
The curator has adapted the photos and text below (as well as the headline above)
from a one-page article that appeared in the March, 1931 issue of Popular Science
Monthly. (Visit the "Empire Builders"
page for more on early sound effects.) And click
here to hear these sound effects as they were actually broadcast early in
A howling wind or the rush of a great gale goes out from the studio at the manipulation
of this wheel, which is operated by motor. Changing the speed at which it rotates
will change the sound of the wind.
piece of apparatus may not look much like an airplane but when it is heard over
the radio it sounds exactly like one. Two pieces of cord are attached to the disk
and as it revolves they hit the drumhead, giving an effective imitation of a plane.
Producing sound illusions for the radio is an art itself and elaborate study is
necessary to get the desired effects. Here a toy locomotive is being used in a
special sound chamber and the noise it makes will go out over the air as the rumble
and roar of a big engine tearing along over a well ballasted track.
wild crashing together of two cars is vividly produced for the air by means of
a piece of stovepipe with which the glass in the old car is smashed. Thus is obtained
the sound of rasping metal and the realistic crash of flying glass.
The apparatus used in the reproduction of a steam locomotive's whistle and bell.
To the radio listener the sound is exactly what he would expect to hear if a real
locomotive were making the noise outside his window. It has been found that the
real thing is not so real over the air as an imitation, and as a result the Chicago
experts of the National Broadcasting Company have perfected the devices shown
on this page to give with absolute accuracy the desired illusion to the audience
listening in by radio.