The NBC Symphony Orchestra was established as a commercial venture in 1937 by General David Sarnoff of NBC in order to coax the recently retired conductor Arturo Toscanini to come to America. General Sarnoff spared no expense in recruiting and training the orchestra. Artur Rodzinski, a noted disciplinarian and task master in his own right, was hired to mould and train the new orchestra. The French conductor Pierre Monteux was hired, as well, to help in the effort. The orchestra, which gave its first broadcast concert from NBC Studio 8-H on Christmas Day, 1937, under Toscanini’s direction, made weekly broadcasts for the NBC Red and Blue networks, recordings of symphonic, choral and operatic music, and even several televised concerts beginning in 1948. Toscanini led the NBC Symphony for 17 years. The orchestra toured South America with Toscanini in 1939 and the USA in 1950. It also performed with a veritable who’s who of the top conductors of the day, including Fritz Reiner, George Szell, Bruno Walter, Leopold Stokowski, a very young Loren Maazel and the promising young Italian conductor, Guido Cantelli. Upon Toscanini’s retirement in 1954, NBC decided to disband the orchestra, much to Toscanini’s profound distress.
Some members of the orchestra went on to play with other symphony orchestras, notibly Frank Miller (first chair cello) and Leonard Sharrow (first chair bassoon) with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, but many members formed the conductor-less Symphony of the Air, which existed for a few more years until it disbanded.