10 of the Oldest Game Shows in America

10 of the Oldest Game Shows in America

The history of game shows goes back a long way. Although television played a significant role in popularizing this genre, some of these shows predate the invention of television as a medium.

The root of game shows on broadcast media can be traced back to the 1920s. The first game show ever broadcasted was perhaps a radio show called the Brooklyn Eagle Quiz on Current Events debuted in 1923. The show was designed and conducted by a daily newspaper, The Brooklyn Daily Eagle.

Around the same time, Time magazine broadcasted current affairs quizzes on the radio to increase its readership. The show The Pop Question Game was aired for three years, from 1923 to 1926.

Information on these early radio game shows is limited. Therefore, in this list of 10 of the oldest game shows, we have only included the full-length shows broadcasted on recognized radio and television networks in the US.

This list is not exhaustive; other game shows might have aired around that time, but we couldn’t include them in this list due to a lack of available information.    

10. CBS Television Quiz

Original release: July 2, 1941 – January 7, 1943
Medium: Television
Presented by: Gil Fates and Frances Buss

photo source: Wikimedia Commons

CBS Television Quiz was the first television game show to be regularly broadcasted. The first episode aired on July 2, 1941, on the CBS television station in New York, WCBW Channel 2.

The show was created and developed by Joseph Gilbert Fates, popularly known as Gil Fates. He hosted the show along with Frances Buss, who was responsible for keeping the scores.

The show was conducted in an answer-and-question format. First, the host would provide a clue to the contestants. The contestants then had to come up with a question that matched the clue. 

In the beginning, the length of each episode was 60 minutes, but later it was gradually reduced to 50 minutes to accommodate other programs. The last episode of the show aired on January 7, 1943,

Did you know?

The day after the last episode of the CBS Television Quiz aired, WCBW temporarily shut down all its studio operations.

9. Truth or Consequences

Original release: March 23, 1940 – February 26, 1988
Medium: Radio and television
Presented by: Ralph Edwards, Jack Bailey, Bob Barker, Steve Dunne, Bob Hilton, and Larry Anderson

Truth or Consequencephoto source: Wikipedia

Truth or Consequences was a fun game show originally adopted by NBC radio (1940 – 1957), which later aired on television (1950 – 1988). The television show ran on different networks, including CBC, NBC, and syndication.

In the show, contestants were asked bizarre, unusual questions. They had two seconds to answer them. Usually, no one could come up with a correct answer. The host would say the question had many other parts if someone did.

Once the participant failed to answer correctly, they had to face the consequences, such as performing an embarrassing stunt.

Did you know?

Many episodes of the show included a segment of an emotional surprise for the contestants. Usually, in this segment, they would be reunited with a long-lost friend or the enlisted spouse or children returning from the war front.

8. Beat the Band

Original release: January 28, 1940 – September 6, 1944
Medium: Radio
Presented by: Fort Pearson, Marvin Miller, and Tom Shirley

Beat the Bandphoto source: Wikipedia

Beat the Band was a musical game show aired on NBC radio. The game show contained two series. The first one, which ran between January 28, 1940, and February 23, 1941, was sponsored by Kix cereal. It broadcasted on Sundays at 6.30 pm. Garry Moore hosted the show, and Fort Pearson was the announcer.

Listeners would submit music-related questions in the form of riddles or puns. Musical band members present at the station would have to answer those questions. Listeners whose questions were selected would receive $10. If the musicians failed to answer the question, the listener would get $20 and a Kix box.

The second series, aired from June 15, 1943, to September 6, 1944, followed a similar format. The first host was Hildegarde, who Eddie Mayehoff later replaced. The announcers were Marvin Miller and Tom Shirley. 

Did you know?

The famous catchphrase “A little traveling music, please was popularized by this show.

7. Dr. IQ

Original release: April 10, 1939 – March 23, 1959
Medium: Radio and television
Presented by: James McClain, Lew Valentine, Stainley Vainrib, Jay Owen, and Tom Kennedy

Doctor IQ_photo source: Wikimedia Commons

Dr. IQ was a quiz-based game show where the audience members had to answer fast-paced questions. Those who correctly answered would get a silver dollar. The first episode aired on April 10, 1939, on Blue Network. The show was heard until November 29, 1950, on NBC and ABC networks.

The television version began airing on November 4, 1953, on ABC. It ran until October 17, 1954, and was again resumed on December 15, 1958.

Initially, the radio show was hosted by Lew Valentine. Later, the quiz master’s role was taken by Jimmy McClain and Stanley Vainrib consecutively. Finally, the first host for the television version was Jay Owen.

Did you know?

NBC adopted a children’s version of Dr.IQ. It was called Dr. IQ. Jr. It was aired between 1941 and 1949. 

6. The Ask It Basket

Original release: November 5, 1938 – April 10, 1941
Medium: Radio
Presented by: Jim McWilliams and Ed East

The Ask It Basket was a weekly radio gameshow heard on CBC. It was first aired on November 5, 1938.

The show followed a quiz format. The host would call four audience members to the stage and ask them questions sent by the listeners. Each correct answer would increase the score of the contestant.

The questions would become increasingly difficult as the show progresses. For example, the first round of the game usually included multiple-choice questions. In contrast, in the second round, the contestants could be asked to translate a foreign language song or poetry into English.  

The winner of the game would receive a grand prize of $25, the second-place holder would get $10, and the contestant in the third place would receive $5. In addition, the fourth player would get a chance to play a consolation round where they were asked four questions and could earn $1 for each correct answer.

Did you know?

Game shows became extremely popular during the Great Depression. As the people faced economic and social hardships, these shows offered them instant gratification.

5. Information Please

Original release: May 17, 1938 – April 22, 1951
Medium: Radio and television
Presented by: Clifton Fadiman and John McCaffery

Information Pleasephoto source: s3.amazonaws.com

Information Please was primarily adopted as a radio game show that later briefly aired on television. The show format was similar to Beat the Band. However, instead of musical bands, here, the questions submitted by the listeners were answered by a panel of four experts.

Three regular panelists who appeared on each episode were newspaper columnist and well-known intellectual Franklin P. Adams, journalist John Kieran, and author-actor-pianist Oscar Levant. Besides these three, each episode would have a guest panelist, usually a celebrity, author, or politician.

The show was presented in a humorous manner where the panelist would come up with witty answers using puns and malapropisms.

Did you know?

The show’s name was taken from the phrase used to request information from telephone operators working at the directory assistance.

4. Kay Kyser’s Kollege of Musical Knowledge

Original release: February 1, 1938 – July 2, 1949
Medium: Radio and television
Presented by: Kay Kyser’s

Kay Kyser 1942photo source: Wikipedia

Kay Kyser’s Kollege of Musical Knowledge was a musical quiz show conceptualized by music band leader James Kern Kyser, commonly known as Kay Kyser. He included a quiz segment in his performance to differentiate himself from other musical bands playing similar music.

He first broadcasted this segment in October 1937 as part of his Monday night performance via the radio station WGN. The program followed a two-way format. Listeners would receive a diploma for submitting questions and answering them.

The game show became very popular, and by December, it began receiving 2000 letters per episode. In February 1938, the American Tobacco Company began to sponsor the show. Eventually, the program was moved to NBC radio and then ABC.

A television version of the game show was adopted in December 1949. It aired on NBC.

Did you know?

During WWII, Kyser began airing the show from military installations and hospitals. He traveled to more than 500 places and aired the show from there.

3. The Answer Man

Original release: 1937 – 1956
Medium: Radio
Presented by: Albert Carlyle Mitchell

The Answer Man was a show where the questions submitted by the listeners were answered by the host Albert Carlyle Mitchell. Each episode was 15 minutes long and aired on the Mutual Broadcasting System.

Mitchell, posing as the Answer Man, would answer a few selected questions on air, and the remaining questions were answered by mail. The questions covered various topics, from life hacks to legal advice. A team of over 40 people would prepare the answers to the questions with the help of experts.

The office of the Answer Man was located right opposite the New York Public Library, a source of many answers provided on the show. Besides, they built a library for themselves to do their research. 

Did you know?

A parodied version of the show was later broadcasted on television. It was titled The Question Man.

2. Uncle Jim’s Question Bee

Original release: September 26, 1936 to December 16, 1939
Medium: Radio
Presented by: Jim McWilliams

Uncle Jim’s Question Beephoto source: Wikipedia

Uncle Jim’s Question Bee is the second oldest game show. This radio quiz program was hosted by Jim McWilliam and debuted on September 26, 1936.

It was the first game show where the host asked questions to the contestants. Then, the listeners submitted the questions. Six people, three men and three women, from the audience were chosen as the contestants. The prize money for the show was $25.

Initially, the show was broadcasted on Blue Network but eventually moved to the CBS network. 

Did you know?

The show’s success was celebrated by producing one special episode to be aired on television. It was telecasted on July 1, 1941, on NBC.

1. Professor Quiz

Original release: May 9, 1936 to July 17, 1948
Medium: Radio
Presented by: Arthur E. Braid

Professor Quizimage at: wikipedia.org

Professor Quiz is the oldest full-length game show ever broadcasted in America. It set the tone and format for many quiz programs that followed afterward.

The quiz used the questions submitted by the listeners, and five audience members were selected as the contestants. The show was conducted by Professor Quiz (Arthur E. Braid, aka Dr. Craig Earle), his wife Betty, and their son Professor Quiz. Jr. The show announcer was Robert Trout.

The show’s winner was rewarded with $25 in silver dollars, and the runner-up received 15 silver dollars.

Did you know?

The show became so popular that a home game was developed based on it. The home game went by the same name and was available as a free gift with the purchase of a liquid dentifrice called Teel.


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