Let’s start with a fun fact. The next time you look at the NBC logo, look a bit closer. If you see just a splash of six colors, look again. You might see a beak sort of thing on the purple splash. That’s because the NBC logo is actually a peacock. However, NBC’s logo wasn’t anything close to a peacock when the broadcaster introduced its first logo. The NBC logo evolution spanned over almost 100 years and has taken the shape as we know it today.
NBC logo evolution: a timeline
National Broadcasting Company, or NBC, was founded on November 15, 1926, and it is one of the oldest major television networks in the United States. It was created by the Radio Corporation of America (RCA) and was the first network to broadcast regular television programming. NBC has aired a wide variety of programs, with some of the most popular shows being “Saturday Night Live,” “The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon,” “The Voice,” “Law & Order,” and many more. The broadcasters are divided into many divisions, including Bravo, CNBC, E!, MSNBC, NBC, NBC News, Oxygen, SYFY, Telemundo, Universal Kids, Universo, USA Network, NBC Sports, and NBC Local Stations. The company also owns Peacock, its streaming service.
Not only this, but NBC also produces and distributes films and programs through Universal Filmed Entertainment Group and Universal Studio Group. While the portfolio is nothing short of fascinating, NBC also has a glorious history of evolving from a radio network to a giant media and entertainment company. Nothing symbolizes this evolution better than the network’s logo.
The first logo: The lightning bolt era
The first NBC and the original NBC logo is often referred to as the “NBC Radio City Microphone” logo. The iconic logo was in use during the early days of NBC, when it primarily focused on radio broadcasting. The logo, introduced in 1926, was created to symbolize the network’s commitment to quality and innovation in broadcasting. The logo was typically rendered in black and white, as color television was not yet widespread during its early years.
It featured a stylized microphone, representing the network’s association with radio broadcasting. “NBC” was written in capital letters with a map of the USA in the background.
The simplified version
The logo which then followed, was a much-simplified version of the first logo. It was a simple square with NBC written diagonally inside it. Like the previous logo, it was also black and white, and the design had lightning bolts around the letter ‘B’.
The colored logo
In 1943, NBC introduced its third logo. Unlike the previous two, this one had a splash of color – red lightning bolts. The design was subtle as it had a microphone in the center with NBC written on it, while the lightning bolts were placed on the left side of the microphone. On the right side, there was a different wave pattern for the television network. The meaning of the NBC logo was to indicate the company’s transition from a radio broadcaster to a TV and radio broadcaster.
The following two logos were devoid of any graphics or colors. They were simple typography with NBC written in the uppercase inscription. In 1946, the company’s simple yet elegant logo featured a traditional italicized serif typeface with NBC written in black over a white background.
It was followed by the same color tones but with a different typeface. To give the logo a more modern look, the simple serif font was replaced with bold and strict sans-serif in 1952. The letters were wider with a black outline and a thick black shadow.
Only within a year, the simple typography logo was shelved for a more colorful design in 1953. The broadcaster introduced xylophone NBC as its logo was created. The visual emblem featured a xylophone and a black mallet. The instrument was stylized with three colors – red, green, and blue. The logo symbolized NBC’s recognizable chimes played as a seven-tone sequence first played in 1927 and became instantly recognizable with the broadcaster.
Here’s what Justin Peters, the executive creative director of Carbone Smolan Agency, says about the chimes:
The peacock appears
In 1956, the iconic peacock made its first appearance. The bands of colors were used to signify the channel’s color broadcasting capabilities. It was created by NBC logo designer John Graham. The logo has 11 colored segments topped with red, blue, yellow, orange, and green appearing twice, while purple appears once. Each segment was topped with a drop of a contrasting color. The iconic peacock body stood in the center with a partial profile, with a head plume in white color. The appearance and centrality of the bird were reduced in the late iteration of the logo.
As a symbol, the peacock became associated with NBC. In the coming years, it was used as a logo for the broadcaster’s other subsidiaries as well. The brand and the logo became so interchangeable that the company named its streaming service Peacock. While in future redesigns, the peacock was shelved as a logo for a few years, but it never retired.
Back to typography
In 1959, the company surprisingly shunned colors and went back to typography only. NBC was written in the appearance of a snake. The resemblance was so conspicuous it was named “NBC Snake”. It was a combination of wordmark and mid-century corporate branding. NB was nested above C in a thin black font on a white background. The logo was also designed by John Graham.
According to Steve Heller, the broadcaster changed the logo as it was apparently having an identity crisis while competing with its rivals like CBS and ABC.
The big N
The NBC Snake persisted till 1975, after which the logo underwent another redesign. This time, NBC chose a big N as its logo. It was designed by Lippincott & Margulies and Dolphin Productions (TV) and showcased red, white, and blue for the color scheme.
The design featured two trapezoids placed side by side. The color schemes featured a red trapezoid, while the blue one was placed inverted to the red trapezoid over a white background. This logo served as NBC’s face for only a short while due to legal challenges. In 1976, Nebraska ETV filed a trademark infringement case against NBC. The broadcaster settled the matter out of court and gave new equipment worth $800,000 to Nebraska ETV, along with a payment of $55,000 to cover the cost of a new logo. After the settlement, NBC was allowed to keep trapezoids as its logo, but the company decided to move on and bring the peacock back.
In 1979, the NBC logo evolution continued, and it saw some more changes. The broadcaster kept some elements of the trapezoid logo and fashioned it with the peacock logo NBC used in the past. The outline of both trapezoids denoting “N” was kept in the background in blue color. It was overlayed with the peacock in the foreground. This iteration of the peacock was different than the one used as a logo from 1956 – 1975.
While in the previous logo, the peacock was a more distinct imagery in contrast to the color palettes, this time, the bird’s body was amalgamated with the bands of colors. The color combinations were also altered. In the previous logo, purple appeared only once. This time blue was featured only one time in the center, and all other colors had two palettes – used as feathers – placed opposite each other. This looked as if the feathers mirrored each other. The color of the bird’s outline matched with the outline of N in the background. The head plume was also made more imposing. The logo got the nickname “Proud N” because the peacock was holding its head high in the logo.
The peacock is still the broadcaster’s logo, but it has seen at least three redesigns since 1979. The previous logo stayed for around 7 years when, in 1986, the company felt the need for a redesign. The logo was simplified, and the number of feathers was reduced from 11 to only six. Each color appeared just once. The N outline was removed from the background and the peacock. The peacock was now looking towards the right as compared to the left side in the previous logo. The head plume was removed, and the body was made slimmer. The bird was perched over the “NBC” logotype.
This logo lasted for the longest time without any redesign before it was simplified in 2010. The design upgrade gave a modern look to the logo and gave it a three-dimensional effect. The visual appeal was made more metallic with a sharper color and grey fill between the feathers and the logo’s outline. The logotype was completely removed, and the bird became the standalone logo.
In another iteration in 2013, the logo was given a glossier look, and the NBC logotype was placed at the bottom of the peacock once again. In the most recent modification, the logo was made two-dimensional with a minimalistic look, similar to that in 1986. The logotype was thicker in a modern geometric sans-serif font.
For some, the NBC logo evolution and the constant changes were due to the broadcaster’s quest for its distinct identity. But, for others, it was the channel’s struggle to change with time and appear on par with its competitors. However, the current NBC logo is the perfect example of how logo designs could be used to convey messages – like the company’s business model, motto, ideology, or identity. The six-colored feather in the NBC peacock logo depicts the company’s different sections: yellow is for the news section, orange for sports, red for entertainment, purple for the radio, blue for the network, and green for production.