Information, Please!
June 11, 2013 6:36 PM   Subscribe

Can you identify a composition, given only a single clarinet cadenza? Can you recite a poem, given only the last words from a single stanza? Can you play on the piano extempore the most popular song from a Gershwin show, given only a snippet of a few seconds from a little-known piece in the production? And can you believe this was once one of the most popular radio shows in America? The radio quiz show from a wrier age, Information, Please, features an urbane, erudite host (Clifton Fadiman, the editor of the New Yorker's book review section), whip-smart panelists (like Franklin P. Adams, of "Baseball's Sad Lexicon" fame), and ridiculously interesting guests (Dorothy Parker, Leonard Bernstein, S. J. Perelman...!). Several years' worth are available here, for your listening pleasure. (Start with Page 2 -- the quality of the broadcasts on Page 1 is quite low.)
posted by ariel_caliban (15 comments total) 66 users marked this as a favorite
Oh my God hello listening material for the rest of forever.

Now if someone would only put up all of My Word I'd be set.
posted by WidgetAlley at 7:13 PM on June 11, 2013 [6 favorites]

I've been looking for My Word (and My Music, with similarly esoteric dives into every conceivable corner of the English Music Hall traditions) for years. BBC, I would gladly pay you for these recordings! What must I do? /sobs, pounds the floor
posted by ariel_caliban at 7:22 PM on June 11, 2013 [1 favorite]

You can identify a piece of music by a single note, a millisecond, even..
posted by ReeMonster at 7:50 PM on June 11, 2013

Yes! Required listening for anyone who thinks the form was invented by QI or Wait Wait Don't Tell Me, or who thinks "old time radio" was all The Shadow and Amos & Andy.

Of course certain specific parts of the format have been amputated and cheapened (I'm looking at you, "Name That Tune"...)
posted by oneswellfoop at 8:07 PM on June 11, 2013

This is amazing! But if all the episodes are sponsored by lucky cigarettes it is going to be hard times for my continued resolve to not spend my evening smoking and drinking like it's 1941.
posted by velebita at 8:43 PM on June 11, 2013 [3 favorites]

posted by Quinbus Flestrin at 9:00 PM on June 11, 2013 [1 favorite]

If it's 1941, isn't your evening of smoking and drinking going to be cut short by rations and air raid sirens?
posted by anotherpanacea at 10:09 PM on June 11, 2013

Fantastic! How is it possible I've never heard of this? Clearly, this is what the Internet's for.

For those craving more dated trivia in a similar style, head for your favorite used book vendor and grab a copy of the 1927 book "Ask Me Another: the question book" by Spafford & Esty, as well as the second volume (or the omnibus edition that combines both) and "Ask Me Again: the third question book," by Leonard. They offer hundreds of hours of anachronistic, geeky fun.
posted by eotvos at 12:36 AM on June 12, 2013

Am I missing something, or are the shows with Dorothy Parker, Leonard Bernstein and S. J. Perelman not included in the episodes on

I found Henry Beedle Hough, who is equally interesting to me, but it would be nice to find those folks as well.
posted by alms at 6:40 AM on June 12, 2013

Update: even without Parker, Bernstein, and Perelman the list of special guests is still stunning. Among them are:
  • Fred Allen
  • Boris Karloff
  • Elsa Lanchester
  • Alfred Hitchcock
  • Stephen Vincent Benet
  • Groucho Marx
  • Basil Rathbone
  • Lillian Gish
  • John Carradine
  • Henry Cabot Lodge
  • Orson Welles
  • Carl Sandburg
  • Will Rogers
  • Ethel Barrymore
  • Clair Booth Luce
  • James W Fulbright
  • Red Barber
posted by alms at 6:55 AM on June 12, 2013 [1 favorite]

My Word/My Music seem to be like the only thing in the universe that is really totally completely un-findable via torrent and that is seriously one of the great tragedies of my life.

(Probably because British grandmas who taped the radio programs on their cassette players don't spend a lot of time on The Pirate Bay.)
posted by WidgetAlley at 7:25 AM on June 12, 2013 [1 favorite]

Thanks for writing out the guest list, alms! I've gone all the way through page 2, and their guest metadata seems to be correct on that page -- but I've just started page 3 and have already noticed a couple slipups, so I'm still hopeful that Dorothy Parker will be hidden somewhere unlisted.

As far as the stuff I've heard so far: Fred Allen is brilliant, Stephen Vincent Benet has a bizarrely high voice (IIRC), and Groucho Marx comes off a bit slow, strangely (they keep the format a bit too polite and fast-moving for his sort of wildness, it seems -- by the time he's formulated a witticism, they're already trying to move into the next question). Another interesting cultural difference is that there's really none of the celebrity-fawning so typical when "guest stars" appear on shows these days. The special guest simply answers the questions like anybody else -- a big deal isn't made of their presence, their latest works aren't spoken of, and there's very little preening and making much of oneself. Perhaps there are a few special questions aimed at their particular area of interest, but sometimes the guests hang back shyly from even answering those.

My favorite part is when one of the regular panelists manages to drag up the correct answer after being led by the nose to it by Fadiman, who will then give him an "attaboy!" that manages to be both mocking and gently sweet at the same time.
posted by ariel_caliban at 9:37 AM on June 12, 2013

I sent the links to my dad, who worked in the industry and is old enough to have enjoyed the original broadcasts. His response:
I knew nothing about Oscar Levant beyond recognizing the name, but now I'm excited about getting to know him.
posted by alms at 12:17 PM on June 12, 2013 [1 favorite]

Oscar Levant is a character. My impression so far is that he's a barely controlled street-tough wise-acre with breathtaking natural musical ability. He stands out on a show full of restrained professorial types and continually steers the conversation towards some edge, as the host keeps pulling him back. Wikipedia says his TV show was cancelled because he wouldn't stop making lewd remarks -- born too early, alas!
posted by ariel_caliban at 3:19 PM on June 12, 2013

The other thing I love about this show is the prizes that they give people who send in questions.
  1. If you use a question that you submit, they send you $5.
  2. If the question stumps the panel, they send you $10 plus a complete set of the current edition of the Encyclopedia Brittanica.
FTW!?! That's a pretty good kicker on top of the ten bucks.
posted by alms at 7:08 PM on June 12, 2013 [1 favorite]

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