‘Em On The Air was a current events TV quiz show for teens that aired
every weekend from November to April on WWJ-TV. The program was first heard in
Detroit on WWJ radio, but began its life as a newspaper column in This Week,
a nationally syndicated magazine supplement included in Sunday newspapers.
The TV version of Quiz ‘Em was franchised to a
handful of stations around the country, including WWJ in Detroit. The rules were
simple. Two teams of students representing their high schools were asked
questions by Quizmaster Carl Cederberg, based on the local, national and
international news of the previous week, as featured in The Detroit News.
Correct answers were worth 50 points. If the first team was unable to answer the
question correctly, the other team was given a chance. In the event of a tie, a
tie-breaking question was presented to the team captains. Panelists were also
asked questions by special guests, like sculptor of the Spirit of Detroit
Marshall Fredericks, Detroit Red Wings captain Red Kelly, Corktown priest Father
Clement Kern and wacky weatherman Sonny Eliot. Prizes like TVs and tape
recorders were given to the winning schools, while hi-fi sets and encyclopedias
were given as second prizes.
The first TV episode of Quiz ‘Em On The Air made its
debut on February 13, 1954 with students from Detroit Redford defeating the team
from Detroit Central. Over the years, public, private and parochial schools from
as far north as Marine City, as far south as Monroe and as far west as Howell
competed for fame and prizes.
Tom Pfeifer, a retired Chief Inspector for the Railroad Police Department, recalls his appearance on Quiz ‘Em. “The show was live and aired in January of 1964. I was on the St. Ambrose High School team, Grosse Pointe Park, and we went up against Sacred Heart School of Roseville. The grand prize was a TV set for your school. We tied at the end of regulation time and lost the tiebreaker question. All of the questions pertained to current events of the day except for the tiebreaker, which was a question that you had to guess at, like “How many stars are in the Milky Way?” We lost.”Tom recalls preparing for the broadcast. “We never received any practice questions ahead of time. We were not prepped. A producer explained the rules prior to the show, which were again explained by the moderator once the show began. My recollection is that we flipped a coin to see which team got the first question. We studied every newspaper we could get our hands on and listened to all of the nightly news programs. Our classmates at school formed study groups to research current events, then they would ask us their questions to prepare us for the program.”
WWJ newsman Don Perrie became Quiz ‘Em’s new Quizmaster when Carl Cederberg left the station in late 1959. Perrie stayed with the program until the last episode aired in December of 1967. Over the years, civic leaders have praised Quiz ‘Em On The Air as a positive influence for Detroit’s teens. Detroit Police Commissioner Edward S. Piggins once praised the show as “one of the greatest means of combating juvenile delinquency.”