The Spirit of Radio: A Press Photo of “Uncle John” Daggett of KHJ Radio, His Wife Marguerite Bunton and his Young Fans, Los Angeles, 1 August 1927

by Paul R. Spitzzeri

With the development of radio in Los Angeles in the early 1920s, one of the pioneering figures was John Stewart Daggett (1878-1945), a figure known for years in the region as “Uncle John,” manager and a principal personality of KHJ, launched by the Los Angeles Times in spring 1922. Tonight’s highlighted object from the museum’s holdings is a press photo with the date of 1 August 1927 and featuring Daggett and who appears to be his second wife, Marguerite, surrounded by a group of his greatest fans, young folks who were fans of his children’s hour program.

Daggett was born in Kansas City, Missouri, the son of Mary Stewart, a writer of published novels and short stories and Charles D. Daggett, a lawyer, and was the third child and only son of the couple, with one of his sisters, Maud, becoming a well-known sculptor in greater Los Angeles. The family was one of the hordes of homeseekers (and, perhaps, healthseekers) who came to the region during the great Boom of the 1880s and were among the early settlers of South Pasadena, buying 4 1/2 acres of Columbia Hill where Sierra Madre College, which never opened, was established.

Daggett cartoon mining article The_Los_Angeles_Times_Sun__May_12__1907_
Los Angeles Times, 12 May 1907.

Charles Daggett was not only an attorney, but became a successful insurance and real estate broker in the area. As for John, he attended Stanford University and Throop Institute (which became the California Institute of Technology) and became a reporter for the Los Angeles Times. In 1904, he married Martha Behr, the daughter of a prominent South Pasadena chemist, but later in the year, she and the couple’s infant daughter died.

Daggett continued working with the Times for about another decade, but, almost certainly due to his father’s deep connections and friendship with Jared S. Torrance, who lived in Pasadena. When Torrance and a syndicate of investors bought a large property in the South Bay, they developed the city named after him and, in 1913, Daggett was hired to be the sales manager for Thomas D. Campbell and Company, the tract’s agents.

Torrance ad The_Los_Angeles_Times_Sun__Nov_26__1916_
Times, 26 November 1916.

He appears to have worked in Torrance for about four years, but, during the First World War, Daggett was in Detroit where he worked for an airplane production company, manufacturing craft for the war effort. By 1920, however, he was back in this area and joined the real estate business if Rufus P. Spalding, a former Hawaii territorial legislator who was married to a sister of Daggett’s late wife and lived in Pasadena.

In June 1921, however, Daggett began his second stint with the Times and wrote articles on art and entertainment, among other subjects, but when the paper embarked on its radio venture with KHJ the following spring and appointed him as its manager. In the 2 April 1922 edition of the paper, Daggett wrote about the recent formation of the Times Radio Department and its immediate success with nearly 1,700 members signing up in just a week:

The club s going over big, and as soon as the Times radio broadcasting station is “on the air” we will hold our first meeting, elect officers, formulate plans for the future and get acquainted.

The call numbers of The Times Radio Station are KHJ—a call which it is hoped will stand for Knowledge, Happiness and Judgment.

Radio is one of the biggest developments of the age. We were fortunate to be able to play a part in its beginnings, and must progress with it. Knowledge is the key to success, Happiness the lock to co-operative effort, and Judgment the open door of progress.

In short order, however, Daggett was not just directing the operation of KHJ, but became its, and local radio’s, first celebrity and personality, taking on the moniker of “Uncle John” not long after his first broadcast on 13 April 1922. The centerpiece was the station’s children’s hour, hosted by him at 6:30 p.m., and featuring such figures as Queen Titania, the Fairy of the Microphone, played by 7-year old Helene Pirie when she debuted in fall 1923. The Homestead has a 1924 book based on the show and the character. In 1925, Daggett was featured briefly in an Our Gang comedy in his “Uncle John” guise at the station broadcasting the reading of a children’s story.

Daggett 1st mention KHJ The_Los_Angeles_Times_Sun__Apr_2__1922_
Times, 2 April 1922.

His “Uncle John’s Column” in the Times was also very popular with children for a few years and his success spawned the inevitable imitators on other local stations. This prompted columnist E.D. Frayne of the Los Angeles Record to write, in his column of 2 March 1926, “I don’t know if it is playful mimicry, jealous satire, bitter ridicule or savage irony, but I do wish that rival radio announcers would please relinquish the practice of imitating Uncle John Daggett’s stuff. It bores me to tears.”

Frayne continued that “Uncle John is more than a friend. He is an institution.” and went on to suggest that “more than that, Uncle John is an idol to the children of the city and many other cities. The kiddies venerate him. He does what many a mother and father would not have the patience to do—he spends an hour of his life every day amusing other people’s children.”

Daggett Op Ed Los_Angeles_Record_Tue__Mar_2__1926_
Los Angeles Record, 2 March 1926.

The columnist asked who had not seen children “listening with rapt attention to every word of this wonderful man?” adding “who is there among you who has not conceived a vast respect for this kindly, lovable character whois moulding the minds of thousands of tiny hearers in a way that all right-thinking persons want them moulded?” This description might make those of us of a certain age think of local television’s Miss Mary Ann of Romper Room or the national influence of Mr. Rogers.

Targeting those who thoughtlessly mocked Uncle John, Frayne further inquired, “Why wantonly kill a beautiful thing? Illusions go fast enough; for heaven’s sake let’s not take them away in babyhood.” Yet, there was an “on the other hand,” as the columnist took Daggett to task for injecting his political views, specifically about his disdain for unions (a topic of great interest to his employer, the notoriously “open shop” and anti-union Times) while saying that “I can still his fine qualities” despite this unncessary intrusion.

Daggett marriage The_Pomona_Progress_Mon__Nov_22__1926_
Pomona Progress, 22 November 1926.

In September 1926, after over two decades as a widower, Daggett, who was pushing fifty, married 18-year old Marguerite Bunton, a neighbor in a community at the south side of the Elysian Hills next to where Dodger Stadium now is and who performed on his show, singing and playing the ukulele or celeste as “Pal ‘o Mine.” The ceremony was held at the station’s studio, with some three dozen of the “wonder children of KHJ” present along with family members and a few close friends, and, of course, “the ceremony will take place before the microphone which Uncle John has served so faithfully through the years, so the vast radio family will in reality be the wedding guests.”

The Times, naturally, lauded its star by proclaiming:

There is probably no one in Southern California who is loved by more people than is Uncle John. His voice has gladdened countless homes with his messages of cheer and friendliness. His magnetic radio personality has projected itself out over the air winning the hearts of hs listeners. Thoughts are things, and the good wishes of this great unseen audience will go out to the happy couple, carrying their blessing.

The featured photo appears to be of the Daggetts returning home from Hawaii, where it was reported they spent part of each summer, but was also dated just after the fifth anniversary celebration of KHJ, for which Uncle John “gave his fans a fifteen hour non-stop program presenting an array of KHJ talent new and old.” An article commemorating the milestone included a photo of Daggett with his three “studio canaries,” named, unsurprisingly, Kindness [replacing Knowledge], Happiness, and Joy [substituted for Judgment].

John S Daggett Radio Announcer KHJ 2014.788.1.1

Despite the celebration and the testimonials of Daggett and his work, the Times decided in November 1927 to sell KHJ to the prominent Cadillac dealer Don Lee. In its article on the deal, which led to Daggett leaving the station and returning to the paper’s staff of reporters, it was stated that he had to build the station without precedent or experience and it lauded “his personal and tireless efforts.”

Moreover, the account continued, “KHJ was the first station in the West to feature regular music, educational and entertainment programs . . . [and] was the first station to use sponsored programs, a plan devised by Uncle John and now common to all stations.” It also asserted that KHJ “has been a training school for radio-station men of Southern California.” In addition, “Uncle John himself has set a record which is likely to stand for some time to come, that of the longest consecutive period of service with one station of any station manager in the United States.” Proclaimed the Times, “A host of friends of Radioland will miss his cheery voice, his uniform optimism and kindliness, embodied in his slogan for KHJ and for which he named the famous studio canaries.”

Daggett KHJ sold program ends The_Los_Angeles_Times_Sun__Nov_20__1927_
Times, 20 November 1927.

While Daggett continued writing articles for the paper through the end of 1931, he returned to the airwaves in late November 1928, as the Los Angeles Express reported “the radio audience of Southern California is to hear an old friend over station KNX, ‘The Voice of Hollywood,’ from 6:30 to 7 o’clock, when ‘Uncle John’ Daggett, one of America’s leading radio announcers, returns to the air after an absence of more than a year.” The piece noted that “‘Uncle John’ has been called ‘the greatest radio personality in the history of broadcast,’ and his hundreds of thousands of friends in the radio industry and in the vast radio audience will welcome the news of his decision to ‘come on the air’ again.”

Not quite a year later, in September 1929, Daggett, a popular speaker and master of ceremonies, addressed the Altadena Kiwanis Club. Notably, he decried that commercialism was ruining the “human element in radio” and led to his decision to step back from radio work before signing with KNX. He expressed the hope and belief that a pendulum swing was turning the situation back to one in which the power and spirit of radio was such “that within a short period of years, thoughts will be transmitted from one person to another, or from one person to thousands, perhaps even from thousands to one, by ether waves.”

Daggett to KNX Evening_Express_Fri__Nov_30__1928_
Los Angeles Express, 30 November 1928.

The reality was, though, that Daggett’s spotlight in radio was long past. Through the 1930s and the Great Depression years, he hosted programs on such stations as KEFJ, KFAC (with Uncle John’s Opportunity Hour), KNX, and KFWB. He and his young wife, however, went through a very bitter and public divorce in 1933 with Daggett claming she cheated on him with Michael Cudahy of the well-known meat packing firm and she filed on grounds of cruelty, with her securing a decree and custody of their sole child, John, Jr. (later well-known for purportedly being the first person to swim across the Colorado River within the Grand Canyon—though one wonders if an indigenous person achieved that feat millenia ago.) While he occasionally served as a master of ceremonies at Camp Baldy, served as Santa Claus for holiday broadcasts, and emceed at the opening of Union Station in 1939, his career was basically over at the end of the decade.

On 14 March 1945, just as World War II was coming to a close, the 66 year-old Daggett died of a cerebral hemorrhage and the Times, after reviewing his career, noted he’d lived quietly in recent years in his Craftsman-style bungalow next to the Cal Tech campus, which he’d attended over four decades prior. An editorial in that paper stated, “radio owes much to John S. Daggett who, in the decade of the ‘twenties, was one of its creative and popular personalities and whose passing will be noted with sincere regret by his onetime wide audience of the airwaves.” It lauded his introduction of innovative programming and multifaceted role in managing KHJ, concluding that “‘Uncle John’ was truly a pioneer in what has now become one of the greatest of all cultural, educational and entertainment mediums.”

Daggett speech on radio The_Pasadena_Post_Sat__Sep_14__1929_
Pasadena Post, 14 September 1929.

A memorial in verse was penned by Dr. Alice M. Reinhold, which, in part, reads

You missed the children! Those bright, artless ones

Of years gone by: your pupils, well-beloved

Who, gently trained, produced “The Children’s Hour.”

Now come those children’s children—adult grown

To honor, and to tell “Dear Uncle John,”

That of the bright-eyed children, some have gone

Before him through the singing, shining way,

And wait with outstretched hands to welcome him.

With them are countless happy children, who

Will merge in “Uncle John’s New Children’s Hour.”

God’s Music of the Spheres swells forth to greet

Our erstwhile friend. Farewell—until we meet.

“Uncle John” Daggett is a mostly forgotten figure, but deserves remembrance as a pivotal pioneer in the development of radio in Los Angeles from its inception in 1922 and developing programming, especially for children, through the Roaring Twenties.

10 thoughts

  1. You’ve done an amazing job on the story of John S. Daggett. What is easy to research and look up now, took me many years in the 1980s and 1990s, going through microfilm of the Los Angeles Times to find on Los Angeles radio history of the 1920s. I would say Uncle John was the first really famous and important radio personality that Los Angeles had, at the dawn of broadcasting! Congratulations on this wonderful presentation with words and photos of Uncle John Daggett and early KHJ and So. Calif. radio history. I always meant to one day write a book on the first decade of Los Angeles radio and its personalities, etc. I somehow never got around to it, though I have written a few articles and essays since 1997, still on the internet today. Take care and best wishes. Warm regards, Jim Hilliker, early Los Angeles radio historian. Monterey, CA P.S. I would love to read how you present early Los Angeles0 radio in future articles.

  2. Thank you, Jim, for the very kind words. It is clearly much easier to get the info now than in days of yore, for sure! Daggett is, as you say, the first major radio celebrity in this area and a very interesting figure. When the opportunity presents itself for future posts on early LA radio, we’ll be sure to do so.

  3. Oh Wow! Thank you for your research! I know of John Daggett, Sr. because he was married to my 2nd cousin, 2x removed, Marguerite Lynn Bunton. She remarried, John Henry Kraft (1of the 5 brothers of Kraft Foods in 1940). My mother would housesit in their Chicago’s Gold Coast mansion to keep an eye on young John Daggett, Jr.

    You have filled in some holes for me regarding Marguerite’s story along with a photo of her. Her own brother was in correspondence for years with my mother doing family research, swapping photos, stories, etc but he steadfastly refused to share anything about his sister. He had in fact, disowned her.

    One of my cousins met Marguerite, living back in the area of her birth and was quite interested in Marguerite. Carol was a journalist student at Columbia University at the time and thought her life story would make for an interesting book, as she is certain Marguerite meet John Henry Kraft in LA, as one of this girls riding a swing at some club.

    Anyway, thought you might be interested in what happened to Marguerite, who lived to be 89. I applaud your fantastic research!

  4. Hi Patti, we’re glad you came across this post and that it helped with your knowledge of your relative and thanks for sharing more about Marguerite, including her marriage to one of the Kraft brothers!

  5. Great article, especially in terms of giving credit and recounting history in a time when the moderately recent persons and concluded events are so quickly gone from consciousness and media presence. Thank you so much for this. BTW, his son John Stewart Daggett Jr. (1928-2010) was an ambition-on-steroids man in his own right; his memorial bio, below, has some detail. Not to steal any thunder but I’d like to point out that Jr. was the co-first person in recorded history to swim the Colorado River, the other being his equal partner in the adventure, Bill Beer. Mr. Beer wrote a book account of it, below. At the time they conceived of the idea and embarked, the both of them were living together in a Los Feliz apartment in the same building where I now reside.

    Lois Felice

  6. Patti — The draft card of Marguerite’s & John’s son John Stewart Daggett Jr. is now publicly posted at genealogy sites; which show that on the line where the draftee is to state a contact person who is to always know of his whereabouts, and the contact’s location, Junior filled in, “John H. Kraft, Chicago, IL.” This is despite Junior’s basically being a Californian at the time. I concur that Marguerite would be an intriguing book subject; as would Junior, and Senior. (See my comment about Junior posted today.) Their lives were one exclamation point after another.

  7. Jim Hilliker — I don’t know how far back you want to go in what’s deemed “early” in LA radio history, but music deejay Art Laboe first went on the air here in the early 1950s and, phenomenally, is STILL on the air, six nites a week, doing his requests & dedications show. Intriguingly, the lions share of his audience/participants are in SoCal prisons, plus their wives/girlfriends/family members on the outside. Born in 1925, Art Laboe is now age 96!

  8. Hi Lois, thanks for the comments, including the link to “Uncle John’s” son and we’re glad you enjoyed the article!

  9. Lois – My cousin, John Stewart Daggett, Jr. would have been 14 years old in 1942 and not eligible for service. He served In 1950 in the Marine Corps. What sites have you seen a draft card? I would like to see it myself. I don’t find it on Ancestry.

    Also I have been attempting to get Find-a-Grave to correct the glaring errors that some member who entered his memorial made. He indicated John’s 1st wife (pregnant with what would have been a son, named (of course John) was married to the unborn child. She, their 2 daughters & the unborn son all died when the car struck a train. Sadly, much information about my family members has been posted in error by those who do not know the facts.

    BTW…my mother would house sit at the Krafts when they were traveling without John Jr. going on their trips. Since John was a teenager in school during his mother’s marriage to Kraft, he stayed in Chicago.

  10. Patti Huntington — I am looking at the draft card right now (John Stewart Daggett Jr.) on It is dated March 1946, and he is listed as age 18, b. 1928. His address given is in Chicago, at 199 E. Lake Shore Drive. I googled the address a minute ago, which brought up references claiming Oprah Winfrey proceeded to live in that building in the 2000s! I also looked at Find-A-Grave a minute ago at the page of Jr.’s deceased first wife, and it accurately links Jr. as her spouse. If there was an error, it has been fixed. 🙂

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