Studio A

Dimensions: 72 x 47 x 26.5

Decor: "A combination of classical and modern...with a green color scheme"
Original studio A

Studio A was the largest of the six original NBC studios in the Merchandise Mart. In fact, at the time the Mart facilities opened, it was billed as the 'world's largest'.

This honor was short lived. With the opening of NBC's Radio City facility on November 11th, 1933, Chicago's studio A was immediately dwarfed by New York's studio 8H (132 x 78 x 30) and somewhat edged out by Radio City's studio 8G (89 x 50 x 19), studio 3A (80 x 50 x 18) and studio 3B (the twin of 3A in terms of dimensions). But studio A's additional height gave it a total volume greater than that of 8G, 3A and 3B. This assured studio A an acoustical advantage for some musical broadcasts. (That Radio City's studio 8H was an acoustical disaster is generally acknowledged---and well documented by the NBC Symhony recordings made within its confines.)

Studio A was the home of the most elaborate productions, including "Fibber McGee and Molly", "The First Nighter" and the "Carnation Contented Hour". It could, of course, accomodate a large studio audience.

Studio A was remodeled following World War II to improve the acoustics (a new mixer was also installed in the control room). Curved flutings were added to the walls to eliminate the parallel surfaces and the acoustical "flutter" associated with such a configuration. Much of the original decorative detail was lost in the transformation. But the room looked "ultra-modern" nevertheless, albeit in a rather stark way compared to its previous grandeur. Click here to see the new studio A.

Studio A was converted to a television studio in 1949. This process included stripping the walls bare and slathering them with asbestos held in place by chicken wire, a construction detail that, of course, had consequences many years later.

Studio A's conversion to television also included the demolition of the "Green Room" (designated "G" on the floor plan), and its replacement with a large door to facilitate the movement of scenery into the studio and the wheeling of cameras from studio A to studio B (which, during the television age, shared a control room with studio A). A sink was placed in this passageway. More than one NBC stagehand has told me that Dave Garroway was wont to defecate in this sink.

Curator's note: Dave Garroway ranked among the most creative of the many creative artists who worked at NBC in Chicago. As others have previously reported, Dave was a walking pharmacy. Most of the substances he carried on his person (and insisted upon sharing with others) were available only with a doctor's prescription. Some were available only on the street. A former NBC staff musician (as straight and clean as they come) told me this story several years ago: "One day I came to work with an absolutely horrible cold. I was scheduled to do a mid-morning 15-minute network broadcast with Dave that Armour sponsored. During rehersal I told Dave I could hardly breathe. 'Here,' he said, taking a small medicine bottle out of his pocket, 'take a swig of this.' I felt so bad that I followed his advice. Almost immediately, it seemed as though studio G was spinning in circles. The next thing I knew, the production man threw us the signal indicating that we were on the air. I don't remember anything after that. But the following day my drummer told me I'd never played better."

In network television's early days, when shows were of necessity broadcast live, studio A was the home of "Garroway at Large", the "Wayne King Show", "Mr. Wizard", "Stud's Place", "Ding Dong School" and television's first soap, "Hawkins Falls". It's amazing how many actors, singers, dancers, musicians, technicians and stagehands could be crammed into this space, originally designed for another medium. It's equally amazing how effective scenic design could make the facility appear much larger than it actually was.

You can learn more about studio A in the age of video by visiting the area of this site that deals with the Chicago School of Televison.

The completion of NBC's Burbank studios and the development of videotape eliminated Chicago as a network production center. From the mid-1950's onward, studio A was used primarily for the local productions of WNBQ (later WMAQ-TV).

Studio A's last moments of network glory came in November, 1963, the day President John F. Kennedy was assassinated. Joseph Gallichio and the 38 members of the NBC-Chicago orchestra happened to be in studio A rehearsing for an imminent taping the "Artists' Showcase" program when word reached Chicago that the President had been shot. The musicians remained in place. Thereafter, whenever Chet and David ran out of things to say in New York, the network switched to Chicago---where Gallichio and the orchestra played somber selections.

Studio A was in a state of advanced decay by the late 1970's. The wiring and switches in its lighting board had all but disintegrated and were beyond economical repair. The four asbestos-covered walls had become a major concern. Local production, with a few and sporadic exceptions, had dwindled to news broadcasts and public affairs programs which could easily be handled by studio E and studio D. For a time, WFMT, Chicago's fine arts FM radio station, considered renting studio A for use as a music performance studio. But no deal was made. Studio A, in its last days, generally remained dark and unused.

Curator's note: Chicago's largest (and newest) television studio is WTTW's studio D. If you're considering a major video or film production you can rent it. Check out the WTTW website. Similarly, if you're interested in audio production, WFMT's studio 1 has Chicago's best sound. Go to the WFMT website for further information. I report the above with bias, of course---I work with these folks.

Return to the 1930 Studio Tour Guide

Introduction and main index to this site
WMAQ radio history | "Amos 'n' Andy" | "Fibber McGee and Mollie" | "The Breakfast Club"
Dick Kay | Television at the Merchandise Mart | 1970 television facilities tour | Channel 5 turns 20
The "Chicago School" of television | "Kukla, Fran and Ollie" | Dave Garroway | Mary Hartline
"Lights Out" | Sound effects | 1930 studio tour | WLS | "Empire Builders" | Barry Bernson
Floyd Kalber | The Queen of Love and Beauty | "Today's Children" | Staff announcers | Carol Marin
Ron Magers | Studs Terkel l "Chicago Tonight" | Channel 5 News scrapbooks |Roger Miller recalls
Zoo Parade | Clifton and Frayne Utley | Val Press | Len O'Connor | Johnny Erp | Bill Ray | Daddy-O
Experimental Television: 1930-1933 | Bob Deservi | Kermit Slobb | Ding Dong School | Quiz Kids
Bob Lemon | The Korshak Chronicles | KYW: The Chicago Years | WENR | O.B. Hanson | Renzo
Jack Eigen | Ed Grennan | The World's Best Cup of Coffee | Glenn Webster | Mr. Piano | Hawkins Falls
Chicago Television for Kids |
Radio Hall of Fame |The NBC News Night Report: 23 February, 1967
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