Studio E

Dimensions: 54 x 42 x 26.5

Decor: "Blue color scheme taken from an old Chinese vase"
Studio E

I have seen only one photograph apart from the one above taken of studio E during its days as a radio studio. It is part of the collection of a former radio performer who now lives on the West Coast. I copied the photo on videotape---unfortunately, on tape to which I do not presently have access.

The photograph, taken around 1933, shows Madame Ernestine Schumann-Heink performing with an orchestra under the direction of Charles Previn. Madame Schumann-Heink is remembered for a number of reasons: the longevity of her career; the fact that two of her sons fought on different sides during World I; and the fact that, in magazine advertisements, she endorsed Luck Strike cigarettes.

But her most legendary attribute was her girth (she was, in fact, roughly the size of Joe Camel). The following story is told of her in this regard: on one occasion, she appeared as a vocal soloist with the Detroit Symphony Orchestra, then under the direction of Osip Gabrilovitch. Following her performance, and during her attempted exit from the stage, she became ensnared between the violas and 'celli. Hopelessly so. Seeing the predicament, Gabrilovitch whispered from the podium, "Sideways, Madame, Sideways." Schumann-Heink replied, ad alta voce, "Masetro, I have no sideways!".

The process of studio E's conversion into a television studio began in late 1951. An NBC press release of October 3rd, 1951 heralded the transformation:


Reaffirming its belief in the midwest as a continuing source of television entertainment, NBC this week announced that it intends spending upwards of a half-million dollars building a new TV studio in connection with its headquarters in Chicago's Merchandise Mart. According to Harry Kopf, NBC vice-president and general manager of its Chicago operations, work will be started almost at once and the new studio is expected to be in service for programs by the start of the new year.

The new studio will be installed in the area now occupied by the company's radio studio E. For all except the supporting walls, the project involves a complete reconstruction of the old studio, and even the walls will be in conformity with the latest TV studio design when the work is completed. The TV studio that will result will incorporate all of the latest developments in engineering techniques and lighting, according to Mr. Kopf. The Rotolector system of switching and dimming will be employed in the lighting scheme. Kopf pointed out that the chief advantage of this system is that any desired lighting arrangements can be pre-set for operation from the main light control board.

The control room will also be designed to take advantage of late developments in production techniques. In all, three camera chains can be accomodated in the studio plan, indicating that the studio will be capable of handlinga variety of assignments ranging from simple to complex programs. Provision is to be made for dressing rooms in corridor space.

According to Kopf, one of the chief features of the new studio will be the convenience of its lighting arrangements. A light gallery will be established to run around the walls, enabling lighting technicians to place illumination at any lateral point desired. An overhead gridsystem will make it possible to install lighting and scenic battens at any other overhead point in the studio.

Reconditioning of the studio walls for the special requirements of television, and installation of power conduits will be the initial step. In all, the plan calls for 126 individual lighting circuits.

"Because of the number of TV shows we are now producing or have in prospect, we have been practically bursting at the seams for lack of studio space," Kopf stated. "The new studio will help to take some of the pressure off current production problems and, at the same time, give us a chance to expand in the future," he declared.

The timing of studio E's conversion was curious. Not long before, NBC had canceled production of the "Garroway at Large" show, Chicago's premier network television offering. Not long after, it would scale back "Kukla, Fran and Ollie" from a daily half-hour to a daily fifteen minutes. Chicago's days as a network television production center were numbered.

In the short term, the conversion of studio E was an excercize in the development of excess capacity. But in the long term, it turned out to have been a wise decision. For beginning in the late 1950's, NBC in Chicago began to divert the energies it had once applied to entertainment programming to the production of local news broadcasts. Studio E became the locus of these broadcasts which greatly increased in number and duration. It was as a news studio that studio E achieved its highest and best use.

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