Quizbowl by Radio

Anything that's on topic but doesn't fit elsewhere, including related events that might be of interest to quizbowl players.
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Mike Bentley
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Quizbowl by Radio

Post by Mike Bentley »

In this age of Discord tournaments, I had no idea that the radio form of College Bowl was conducted with two teams playing remotely in radio studios. Mike Cheyne pointed me to some recordings from the 1950s that I hadn't heard before. They're fascinating. Well worth a listen:

https://otrrlibrary.org/OTRRLib/Library ... iz%20Bowl/
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Re: Quizbowl by Radio

Post by vinteuil »

As far as I can tell, the first use of a buzzer in a quiz contest was on the radio show Information Please in 1943, when guests Boris Karloff and Jan Struther were across the country and thus unable to raise their hands to answer. You can hear them fumble their way to this solution here: https://open.spotify.com/track/5G2OoWGt ... oaEYcp1ieA (If that wasn't the first use, clearly nobody involved was aware of anything like it.)

In other words, the use of buzzers themselves might be traceable to remote competition.
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Re: Quizbowl by Radio

Post by Stained Diviner »

Radio Quiz Bowl is still a thing. I am pretty sure that there are other shows, but this is the first one I found. This one is not remote, and if listening to bad quizbowl makes you violent then you should not listen.
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Re: Quizbowl by Radio

Post by Atlashill »

Well, this might be as good a time as any to open up about my efforts to combine two of my lifelong passions.

Several of you already know that I work in radio. I've been at a group of stations in Northeast Missouri since June 2013, first as the overnight programmer, then farm director and briefly their news director. (As a result of extenuating circumstances, I've had the rather fortunate ability to work from home for a year now in the periphery of their coverage area.) Our stations have long pride themselves on providing community coverage of various high schools and town festivals, usually emphasized with a large slew of football, basketball, softball and baseball games throughout their respective seasons. This also extended to FFA, as evident by my running around the Hearnes Center during state convention recording dozens of interviews. So naturally, I suggested we try something involving quiz bowl.

The past six seasons, I've hosted a 12-week program called Scholars Weekly, highlighting area teams and their successes at various tournaments. The program ran about 15 minutes and included a longform interview with a team that had recently won their conference title or did remarkably well at an event. On occasion I'd have a notable name in the quiz bowl community (previous interviewees have included Eric Huff, Fred Morlan, and Jacob O'Rourke.) The program has been well received, and something that I think has lend itself well to highlighting the activity. The first two seasons I also conducted a "Scholars Cup" challenge, grading match results from tournaments and duals; unfortunately, as I had relocated to a different part of the state, added programming duties in a neighboring market, and found myself organizing more tournaments, I was unable to keep this going.

As for on-air competitions, we've attempted this twice. In February 2016, I organized a quad with four area schools using an HSAPQ set that was cleared for broadcast. This was 20/20, but we ended up with just two-part bonus rather than three. After two warm-up rounds, we brought the four schools into the main room so we could record two games. They were broadcast during Easter Weekend. More recently (and currently), with the season ending prematurely, I ended up cobbling together a solo, over-the-phone contest for nine graduating seniors that we're airing this month to complete the current season of Scholars Weekly. To emphasize social distancing and also minimize the chance of drawing the ire of a certain activities association, this contest did not utilize buzzers, but instead an isolation booth setup where players were asked the same questions but on separate phone calls. Our two remaining matches run April 22nd and 29th.

I'm mulling a tournament next season that will feature on-air games, but several factors will have to come into play. (Firstly, of course, is that we need to have an actual season!) As I'd like to highlight good quizbowl practices, another key factor will be finding a question set that has run its course and whose difficulty won't overwhelm players and audiences, though the goal is for the latter to be thoroughly impressed by the former.
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Mike Bentley
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Re: Quizbowl by Radio

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vinteuil wrote: Sun Apr 19, 2020 4:23 pm As far as I can tell, the first use of a buzzer in a quiz contest was on the radio show Information Please in 1943, when guests Boris Karloff and Jan Struther were across the country and thus unable to raise their hands to answer. You can hear them fumble their way to this solution here: https://open.spotify.com/track/5G2OoWGt ... oaEYcp1ieA (If that wasn't the first use, clearly nobody involved was aware of anything like it.)

In other words, the use of buzzers themselves might be traceable to remote competition.
I tried doing some Google Book searches recently for "quiz bowl" and buzzers and the like before 1960. Didn't find too much there. A snippet claiming to be from 1935 mentioned a remote buzzing system for quiz bowl which looked very intriguing until I found that it also mentioned the "internet" something notably not around in the 1930s. I did come across this photo of what a radio competition looked like from a 1955 issue of Life: https://books.google.com/books?id=s1YEA ... 22&f=false

As I've mentioned elsewhere, I'd love to see some aspiring history student look into the rise of quiz culture in the early-mid 20th century. I'm sure there's much more to dig up than what's publicly available on Google.
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Re: Quizbowl by Radio

Post by Conquistador »

Mike Bentley wrote: Mon Apr 20, 2020 2:36 pm I'm sure there's much more to dig up than what's publicly available on Google.
On that note, I would encourage people who are interested in this topic to look and see whether there are any relevant materials in their university's archives/special collections department. I was able to find a few things in Chicago, though unfortunately none in Berkeley so far (although I haven't looked very hard). Overall, the documents weren't extremely exciting, though it's worth noting that future Attorney General Edward Levi believed that "it is a great mistake to participate in the College Bowl." It looks like some administrators were concerned that a poor performance on the show would damage recruiting.
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Re: Quizbowl by Radio

Post by Mike Bentley »

Conquistador wrote: Mon Apr 20, 2020 4:56 pm
Mike Bentley wrote: Mon Apr 20, 2020 2:36 pm I'm sure there's much more to dig up than what's publicly available on Google.
On that note, I would encourage people who are interested in this topic to look and see whether there are any relevant materials in their university's archives/special collections department. I was able to find a few things in Chicago, though unfortunately none in Berkeley so far (although I haven't looked very hard). Overall, the documents weren't extremely exciting, though it's worth noting that future Attorney General Edward Levi believed that "it is a great mistake to participate in the College Bowl." It looks like some administrators were concerned that a poor performance on the show would damage recruiting.
Yeah at the very least university newspapers and alumni newsletters are likely to have reported on competitions they took part in. I see several hits for Minnesota-related articles on Goolge Books that aren't available beyond snippet view. Presumably the university's library would have access to full copies of these articles.
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Re: Quizbowl by Radio

Post by Mike Bentley »

I got around to listening to about a dozen of these episodes over the weekend. A few observations:

As you'd expect, the distribution and sub-distributions are very different than today. For one, there's almost no science. Instead, there's a lot more poetry (in particular, completing lines of poetry that I'm guessing most top quizbowl teams would completely fail at these days) and general knowledge. The canon is extremely American and British, rarely venturing outside of North America or Europe. This leads to some questions like "Where is Timbuktu? Answer: Africa."

The majors of players on the program are quite different than today. Lots of people in fields like English, journalism and history. Much less people in hard sciences apart from pre-med. I imagine this is largely due to these majors just being more common at the time than today--journalism and government service were burgeoning fields in the 1950s in ways that they're not today, and companies were less interested in people learning specific skills at college than just having a graduate from a prestigious university.

One depressing statistic was that women seemed much more well represented on this 1950s radio competition than in contemporary quizbowl. Part of this was due to the show featuring numerous women's colleges, institutions that have largely declined in prominence or been merged into their male schools (e.g. Radcliffe College). But most of the co-ed schools had 1-2 women players, something that is less common for at least the top-tier college teams these days. I don't have any insight into how the rosters for teams were chosen. Given that Good Housekeeping was a sponsor for the show in its later seasons, I'd have to imagine that women made up a key part of the listening audience. If the producers had any impact on how teams were formed, I'm guessing they'd push/require teams to have women (or "girls" as they're invariably referred to on the show) to appeal to this audience. And it seems that most of the questions were written by a woman--perhaps that's why there are more questions on female characters from literature and the arts than I would have expected from a 1950s program (although of course these characters are almost always drawn from works created by men).

It probably had something to do with me listening to the games at 1.8 speed but the timing seemed much stricter than current quizbowl, especially on bonuses. Even the slightest of pauses was ruled incorrect. Although the host was a lot looser with exact answer lines, especially on bonuses where it seemed like the policy was so long as he heard at least one right answer out of many it would be accepted as correct.

I think Mike Cheyne mentioned on the Discord that some college presidents didn't want their college to appear on the show for fear of embarrassment. I noticed that a few episodes in they started to add a disclaimer saying that College Bowl only measures one aspect of a well-rounded education and that all American universities are great places to attend. I suspect this was a response to that type of grumbling.

It's always amusing in listening/watching old media like this to see current events creep in. The most interesting example of this was, following a bonus part that asked you to expand the acronym "RFE" to "Radio Free Europe" the host went on a 30 second spiel about how Radio Free Europe was doing great work countering "red" propaganda in Eastern Europe and had instructions on how to donate to support it.

And a few "wow they were alive then?" moments: A pop music question on Tony Bennett! An appearance as a referee for a game between Georgetown and Colgate by none other than Mac McGarry! (Six years before he'd start hosting It's Academic in the DC area for another 50 years.)
Mike Bentley
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Adviser, Quizbowl Team at University of Washington
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