|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
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
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.
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.