What if, he thought, the contestants ask the questions, rather than the hosts? From this simple notion came a brainstorm: Information Please one of the most popular, award-winning, and consistently entertaining programs in radio history.
A break came in early 1938, when Bill Karlin, the head of programming for NBC's Blue Network flagship station WJZ, expressed interest in quiz show 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 nothing if not 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 dull on the air. Fortunately, his audition recording had already yielded two men whom, along with others, would soon make the show a 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, and later moved 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 a radio discussion program. 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 wasn't too long before listeners enjoyed the debut of 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.
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. 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 as well 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. 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 fourteen programs in this third Radio Archives collection date from July of 1939 to May 1941.
Why Does Water Roll Off a Duck's Back?
with guest panelists William Beebe and Clarence Budington Kelland
Tuesday, July 18, 1939 – 30:00 - Blue Network, sponsored by Canada Dry
What Is the Occupation of the Man Who Goes Out to 'Shoot Polaris'
with guest panelist Maurie Maverick
Tuesday, July 25, 1939 – 30:00 - Blue Network, sponsored by Canada Dry
Give Four Slang Expressions that Contain Articles Found in a Hardware Store
with guest panelists Russell Crouse and James Kieran, brother of series regular John Kieran
Tuesday, August 1, 1939 – 30:00 - Blue Network, sponsored by Canada Dry
Mention a Popular Song or Classical Composition That Refers to Seconds, Minutes, Hours, Eternity
with guest panelist H. Napier Moore
Tuesday, August 22, 1939 – 30:00 - Blue Network, sponsored by Canada Dry
Name the Last Three Presidents Who Had Moustaches When in Office
with guest panelists Rex Stout and Wilfred Funk
Tuesday, August 29, 1939 – 30:00 - Blue Network, sponsored by Canada Dry
Can You Identify the Following 'Give Me's' of Song or Poetry?
with guest panelists John Gunther and Lyman Bryson
Friday, April 4, 1941 – 30:00 - Blue Network, sponsored by Lucky Strike
I'll Name One of a Pair of Rivals, You Name the Other One
with guest panelist Philip Merivale
Friday, April 11, 1941 – 30:00 - Blue Network, sponsored by Canada Dry
In What Game Would You Call Out the Following Phrases...”
with guest panelists Rex Stout and Henry Curran
Friday, April 18, 1941 – 30:00 - Blue Network, sponsored by Lucky Strike
Which Of These Cities is Not in the Western Hemisphere?
with guest panelist Paul Lukas
Friday, April 25, 1941 – 30:00 - Blue Network, sponsored by Lucky Strike
What Have These Numbers in Common: 60, 24, 7, 12?
with guest panelists Deems Taylor and Donald Ogden Stewart
Friday, May 2, 1941 – 30:00 - Blue Network, sponsored by Lucky Strike
How Are These Feminine Names Associated With Sports?
with guest panelist Gene Tunney
Friday, May 9, 1941 – 30:00 - Blue Network, sponsored by Lucky Strike
Who Is or Was the Oil Man Who Backed a Baseball League?
with guest panelists Frank Sullivan and Richard Manney
Friday, May 16, 1941 – 30:00 - Blue Network, sponsored by Lucky Strike
Third Anniversary Program
with host Deems Taylor and guest panelist Clifton Fadiman
Friday, May 23, 1941 – 30:00 - Blue Network, sponsored by Lucky Strike
Answer Each Question from Famous Poems by Quoting the Answers That Are Given in the Following Lines?
with guest panelists Jan Struther and Cornelia Otis Skinner
Friday, May 30, 1941 – 30:00 - Blue Network, sponsored by Lucky Strike