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  Information Please, Volume 1 - 10 hours [Download] #RA606



 
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Information Please
Volume 1


"Wake Up, America! It's Time to Stump the Experts!"

Oscar Levant, John Kieran, Clifton Fadiman, and Franklin P. AdamsDan Golenpaul was a man with a mission. Having spent most of the 1930s trying to talk radio network executives into raising the level of broadcast entertainment above the mentality of the average twelve-year-old child, Golenpaul had lately set his sites on a venerable radio feature: the quiz show.

Quiz shows had been around since the early 1930s, when the "man-on-the-street" program "Vox Pop" had started asking passersby a few simple questions, then rewarding them with token prizes donated by sponsors. By 1936, CBS introduced the first authentic audience participation program (network lingo for game shows), "Professor Quiz" with Dr. Craig Earl. The program, featuring the jolly, rotund, and highly intelligent star, became quickly popular and spawned a series of similar shows, cast largely from members of their studio audiences. The dreams contestants had of winning prizes and cash soon paled, however, when genial hosts spent the majority of their time having fun with the presumed ignorance of the average man -- an ignorance that made for great superiority and glee on the part of listeners, but not much enjoyment for the hapless contestant.

After spending a few evenings listening to these programs, Dan Golenpaul was appalled -- but also inspired. What if, he thought, the tables were turned? What if it was the contestants asking the questions, rather than the hosts? Who would feel foolish then? From this simple notion came a brainstorm that would soon lead to the creation of "Information Please," one of the most popular, award-winning, and consistently entertaining programs in radio history.

Much of Golenpaul's professional background had contributed to the creation of the program. He had been toiling in radio since the early 1930s, with rather limited success. He created radio's first magazine program in 1934, a high-end variety program titled "The Magazine of the Air," and also created a juvenile write-in and discussion show titled "Raising Your Parents" which, after his departure, would later evolve into the better-remembered "Coast to Coast on a Bus," hosted by Milton Cross. His two years as Special Events Coordinator at New York-based WHN had led to the creation of "The Forum of the Air," a discussion program that brought him in contact with many of the top political, literary, and intellectual figures of the time. But, by 1938, his fortunes had dwindled and his many attempts to raise the consciousness of network radio had fallen on deaf ears.

A break came in early 1938, when Bill Karlin, the head of programming for NBC's Blue Network flagship station WJZ, expressed interest in the concept. Golenpaul set off to make an audition recording, recruiting The New Yorker's book editor Clifton Fadiman, columnist Franklin P. Adams, newspaperman and columnist Marcus Duffield, and Louis M. Hacker of Columbia University as his experts. The first questions were written by Golenpaul, his wife Ann, and a few close friends who agreed to help out. When the record was played back at WJZ, Karlin liked what he heard and agreed to schedule "Information Please" as a network-sustained summer replacement series to debut in May. The budget Golenpaul was offered was paltry by any standards: $400.00 a week, which would need to cover the complete cost of the program, since no sponsor was immediately stepping forward to foot the bills.

His many years as a struggling producer had made Golenpaul resourceful. Sticking to his frugal budget - and contributing a few dollars out of his own pocket, when necessary - he set off to recruit his permanent "Brain Trust" - the group of experts whom he knew would either make or break the program. His main fear from the start was that he would end up hiring people who, though undeniably intelligent and well-read, would come across as stiff and mechanical on the air. Fortunately, however, his audition recording had already yielded two men whom, along with others, would soon make the show a long-running, entertaining, and popular success.

Clifton Fadiman had begun his literary career working for the publishing firm of Simon and Schuster, where he gradually rose to the position of Editor in Chief, then later moving to Harold Ross' New Yorker magazine. His tart New England accent combined with a wide knowledge of many subjects and a quick and biting wit, had already earned him a reputation as a welcome guest on many discussion programs. Franklin P. Adams, known primarily as "F.P.A.," the byline he used as the author of "The Conning Tower," his popular column in the New York Post, was well known as a member of the Algonquin Round Table, a group of literary and theatrical wits that regularly gathered for lunch in New York's fashionable Algonquin Hotel. Possessing an expert knowledge of Shakespeare and popular songs, as well as friendly contacts with many of the witty people who would serve on the panel of "Information Please" in the years to come, Adams was and remained an advantageous choice. (It also helped that, in the spring of 1938, Adams was "between jobs" and in need of ready cash.)

Added to these two inspired choices were such knowledgeable and genial persons as science writer and teacher Bernard Jaffe, Paul de Kruif, the author of the best-selling book "Microbe Hunters," playwright Marc Connelly, lyricist and MGM studio publicist Howard Dietz, and many others -- all of whom shared three common traits: general and/or specific knowledge on a wide range of subjects, a ready wit, and a willingness to appear on the program for the starvation wages which Golenpaul could provide.

Armed with Fadiman, a team of experts, $100.00 in prize money, and NBC staff announcer Milton Cross, "Information Please" hit the airwaves at 8:30 PM on Tuesday, May 17, 1938 over NBC's Blue Network. From the beginning, "Information Please" showed signs of being an innovative program. Since the show was largely spontaneous - only the introductions, the closing, and the questions were written in advance - NBC agreed to record the program for rebroadcast to the west coast time zones. (This explains why, unlike so many network programs of the time, a great number of "Information Please" broadcasts still exist today.) Likewise, listeners used to the typical personality-based musical and comedy shows of the late 1930s were surprised to hear authentic wit over the airwaves - surprised and pleased, since, though the questions were usually difficult, the experts were both amazing and charming when they answered a question and, more importantly, authentically human and funny when they couldn't. It was said, in fact, that "Information Please" was really at its best and most entertaining when the brains of the "brain trust" failed them; Fadiman never hesitated to gently chide them when they missed an answer. During the contemplation following a question, he was frequently heard to say to the listeners "I can see their brains spinning away, folks" and "Come, come, gentlemen - everyone knows that" was a common response to a muffed question. (Fadiman and many of the panelists shared a love of puns - the older and more groan-inspiring, the better - and many a broadcast features low-end wordplay that would put any baggy pants comedian to shame.)

Big money and prizes were never much of a consideration on "Information Please" - not surprising, considering the meager budget with which the program debuted. A person sending in a question that was actually used on the air would earn $2.00; if the experts failed to answer that question correctly, the person who had submitted it would earn an additional $5.00, the award heralded by the ring of a cash register. In later years, the prize money would increase a bit and even include sets of the Encyclopedia Britannica and, during World War II, War Bonds. But the promise of a cash prize seldom inspired listeners to send in questions; the greatest thrill, after all, was the possibility of stumping the experts.

The twenty programs in this collection come from the first few months of "Information Please's" twelve-year run and demonstrate that, with only a few minor changes in format, the program from the start displayed all of the elements that would eventually lead to its long-running success. An early attempt to literally have the audience quiz the experts by having those who submitted the questions actually ask them, live and on the air, is soon dropped in favor of the more erudite (and comprehensible) Fadiman relating the questions. We also have the chance to hear the debuts of two other experts who would soon become series regulars: New York Times sportswriter and columnist John Kieran and piano virtuoso and composer Oscar Levant. Kieran, with a soft Bronx accent that belied a broad knowledge of sports history, nature, and ornithology, and Levant, with his musical background, caustic wit, and knowledge of movies and entertainment, would add their own personal touches to "Information Please" in the years to come - years which would eventually find the series rated among the top ten programs on radio, with a regular listening audience of over nine million people.

So, as Milton Cross would say, wake up, America! It's time to stump the experts!


First Show of the Series
Clifton Fadiman moderates panelists Bernard Jaffe, Marcus Duffield, Harry Overstreet, and Franklin P. Adams; Howard Claney is the announcer.
Tuesday, May 17, 1938 - 30:00 - Blue Network, sustaining

What Was Everybody Doing in the Song "Everybody's Doing It?"
John Erskine moderates panelists Franklin P. Adams, Marcus Duffield, John Kieran, and Bernard Jaffe; Milton Cross is the announcer.
Tuesday, June 7, 1938 - 30:00 - Blue Network, sustaining

Name the Performer Who Made the Song Popular
Clifton Fadiman moderates panelists Franklin P. Adams, John Kieran, Marcus Duffield, and Marc Connelly; Milton Cross is the announcer.
Tuesday, June 14, 1938 - 30:00 - Blue Network, sustaining

Recite or Sing Well-Known Nursery Rhymes
Clifton Fadiman moderates panelists Franklin P. Adams, John Kieran, Marcus Duffield, and Carmel Snow; Milton Cross is the announcer.
Tuesday, June 28, 1938 - 30:00 - Blue Network, sustaining

What Performer Made 'I Don't Care' Famous?
Clifton Fadiman moderates panelists Franklin P. Adams, John Kieran, Mark Duffield, and Oscar Levant; Milton Cross is the announcer.
Tuesday, July 5, 1938 - 30:00 - Blue Network, sustaining

Complete These Three Limericks
Clifton Fadiman moderates panelists John Kieran, Marcus Duffield, Thomas Craven, and Ben Hecht; Milton Cross is the announcer.
Tuesday, July 19, 1938 - 30:00 - Blue Network, sustaining

Complete Two of the Following Three Limericks
Clifton Fadiman moderates panelists John Kieran, Oscar Levant, Bernard Jaffe, and John Gunther; Milton Cross is the announcer.
Tuesday, July 26, 1938 - 30:00 - Blue Network, sustaining

Answer the Following Questions Based on Famous Ballads
George S. Kaufman moderates panelists Franklin P. Adams, John Kieran, Quincy Howe, and Moss Hart; Milton Cross is the announcer.
Tuesday, August 2, 1938 - 30:00 - Blue Network, sustaining

Complete the Following Famous "Little Willie" Jingles
Clifton Fadiman moderates panelists Franklin P. Adams, John Kieran, Oscar Levant, Alden Cook, and Alice Duer Miller; Milton Cross is the announcer.
Tuesday, August 9, 1938 - 30:00 - Blue Network, sustaining

I'm Going to Give You the First Line of a Long Nursery Rhyme...
Clifton Fadiman moderates panelists Franklin P. Adams, John Kieran, Marcus Duffield, and Percy Waxman; Nelson Case is the announcer.
Tuesday, August 23, 1938 - 30:00 - Blue Network, sustaining

Name a Novel or Play that Deals With...
Clifton Fadiman moderates panelists Franklin P. Adams, John Kieran, Bernard Jaffe, and Ben Bernie; Nelson Case is the announcer.
Tuesday, September 6, 1938 - 30:00 - Blue Network, sustaining

Recite the First Line of the Appropriate Nursery Rhyme
Clifton Fadiman moderates panelists Franklin P. Adams, Mark Duffield, Percy Waxman, and Oscar Levant; Milton Cross is the announcer.
Tuesday, September 13, 1938 - 30:00 - Blue Network, sustaining

What is the Usual Cliché Said During a Long Spell of Hot Weather?
Clifton Fadiman moderates panelists John Kieran, Franklin P. Adams, Sigmund Spaeth, and Basil Rathbone; Milton Cross is the announcer -- and sings a few arias as well!
Tuesday, September 27, 1938 - 30:00 - Blue Network, sustaining

Finish Four of the Five Following "Joe Miller" Gags
Clifton Fadiman moderates panelists Franklin P. Adams, John Kieran, William Boehnel, and Dorothy Thompson; Milton Cross is the announcer.
Tuesday, October 4, 1938 - 30:00 - Blue Network, sustaining

Name Five Typical Clichés Used in the Home
Clifton Fadiman moderates panelists Franklin P. Adams, John Kieran, Oscar Levant, and Lillian Gish; Milton Cross is the announcer.
Tuesday, October 11, 1938 - 30:00 - Blue Network, sustaining

Give Five Common Expressions Which Use the Names of Nations or Peoples
Clifton Fadiman moderates panelists Franklin P. Adams, John Kieran, Marcus Duffield, and Gene Tunney; Milton Cross is the announcer.
Tuesday, October 18, 1938 - 30:00 - Blue Network, sustaining

Give the Present-Day Slang that Parallels These Expressions of the Past
Clifton Fadiman moderates panelists Franklin P. Adams, John Kieran, Marcus Duffield, and Oswald Jacoby; Milton Cross is the announcer.
Tuesday, November 1, 1938 - 30:00 - Blue Network, sustaining

G
ive Five Typical Remarks Made by Guests or Hosts
Clifton Fadiman moderates panelists Franklin P. Adams, John Kieran, Oscar Levant, and John Gunther; Milton Cross is the announcer.
Tuesday, November 15, 1938 - 30:00 - Blue Network, sponsored by Canada Dry

Give Four Common Expressions Involving a Great Feat of Strength
Clifton Fadiman moderates panelists Franklin P. Adams, John Kieran, Oscar Levant, and Kathleen Norris; Milton Cross is the announcer.
Tuesday, November 29, 1938 - 30:00 - Blue Network, sponsored by Canada Dry

Five Songs Referring to a Beverage
Clifton Fadiman moderates panelists Franklin P. Adams, John Kieran, Oscar Levant, and Wiliiam Lyon Phelps; Milton Cross is the announcer.
Tuesday, December 27, 1938 - 30:00 - Blue Network, sponsored by Canada Dry


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