It seems like it is the most loved and hated show from the Golden Age of Radio, It Pays To Be Ignorant. I have received numerous comments from people today saying this is their favorite old time radio show. And on the other hand John Dunning in his work “The Encyclopedia of Old-Time Radio” referred to it as moronic. Its first airing was on June 25, 1942 on the Mutual Broadcasting System. Its last airing was on radio and TV during the summer of 1951 as a summer replacement for You Bet Your Life starring Groucho Marx. It starred Tom Howard as the host with panelists, Lulu McConnell, George Shelton, and Harry McNaughton. Although some people label it a spoof of intellectual quiz shows like Information Please it stood on its own as a unique show in the era of Old Time Radio.
It Pays to be Ignorant came from an idea from Bob Howell and his wife Ruth Howard Howell. Ruth the daughter of Tom Howard sent the idea to her father who got the show on the air. Ruth and Bob came later to write the show. When Ruth’s husband died she became the head writer. Tom and Ruth Howard might be the only father and daughter team in all of radio.
The show assembled a great cast, all who had experience. Tom Howard was a long time vaudevillian. During his career he teamed up with George Shelton. They did 55 short films for Educational Pictures together and starting in 1933 appeared on Rudy Vallee’s Fleischmann’s Yeast radio show. In 1935 they appeared for 27 consecutive times on this show. In 1941 they did a 5 minute series called Howard and Shelton for Royal Crown Cola. Harry McNaughton came from a British background and before Ignorant was on Phil Baker’s radio show as Bottle the Butler. Finally Lulu McConnell, who only had a few guest spots on radio that I could find, she had extensive experience in the theater even on Broadway.
As we stated before it started on WOR for the Mutual Broadcasting System for Piels Beer. The show from 43-10-04 gives us the best example of what the show was like from the WOR era. In 1944 it switched to CBS
where it was sponsored by Philip Morris Cigarettes. It was during this time that Johnny Roventini joined the staff and would call out Call for Phillip Morrrrriiiiiiiiissss. He also did some announcing of guests and announcing prizes on the show. A good example of this era is 47-03-07. This is the most unusual show I have found. Philip Morris was switching its sponsorship from It Pays to be Ignorant to the Milton Berle Show. So they had Milton Berle on the show to announce this. Certainly an uncomfortable position for the It Pays to be Ignorant staff. Unfortunately most of the shows that are available to us come from AFRS and in my opinion are butchered. Whoever edited these shows destroyed them. The most unique relationship that was established was with Kate Smith. From 1943 thru 1947 the It Pays to be Ignorant staff were frequent guests on her show. They would perform 1 question usually on her show. In 1944, while Lulu McConnell was ill, Kate Smith substituted for her on It Pays to be Ignorant for 2 shows.
The BBC even got into the act by doing a take off It Pays to be Ignorant called Ignorance is Bliss. It was on BBC’s Light Programme station and started in April 1, 1946. It starred Stewart MacPherson as the host with panelists Harold Berens, Gladys Hay, and Michael Moore.