In the 1930s in St. Louis, every kid knew who Tom Dailey was. They knew him as that guy on the radio who was called “Kuzzin Tom.” Their parents knew him too. They’re the ones who took the kiddies to Crystal Room at the Chase Hotel, the site of KWK’s 10:30 Saturday morning broadcasts.
Globe-Democrat writer Edna Warren wrote a glowing feature about Dailey in January of 1938 (preferring the proper spelling of Kuzzin): “Twenty-six years old, handsome and smiling, Cousin Tom is as personable a young man as ever crooned into a microphone and set feminine hearts palpitating around the radio. Just why he should choose to devote his talents to the very young is one of those mysteries older sisters will never understand.” If she could have flashed ahead several years, she’d have found Cousin Tom appealing to a completely different audience - their mothers.
Tom Dailey began his radio career in Rockford, Illinois, right out of high school. At his next stop, Birmingham, he hosted his first radio kids’ show. By the time he got to St. Louis, he was a natural for the slot. The station soon boasted a Kiddie Klub membership of over 250 thousand from all over the Midwest, making his sponsor, Uncle Dick Slack of Slack’s Furniture, very happy.
For a man of 26, the show must have been the ultimate test of patience. Most of the entertainment, it seems, came from the kids’ performances. Many would sing, some played musical instruments, and others would recite, provided they weren’t overcome by stage fright. Warren’s article describes the performance of a youngster named Herbie, who “trotted up with all the sangfroid of three years to hold up his arms for Cousin Tom to lift him up to the mike and say hello to daddy.”
And KWK’s management never missed a chance to promote the popular host. They even sent out a press release on May 17, 1935, stating “Tom Dailey, member of the KWK staff and conductor of the very popular Kiddie Klub, is a firm believer in ‘realism.’ In his role as Kuzzin Tom of the Kiddie Klub he is in close contact with hundreds of children daily, and has developed a very popular children’s disease. Tom Dailey is confined to his home with the measles.”
Like the staff of the cult television hit “Remember WENN,” KWK employees were expected to wear many hats. Dailey was appointed to the position of chief announcer in 1936, did broadcasts that same year from Sportsman’s Park, was host of the nightly “Gentleman of the South” program and was involved in on-the-scene news accounts of southern Missouri floods in 1937.
It was truly an exciting time to be in radio. Each station had a stable of talent who quickly became celebrities. Some moved from city to city, lured by offers of better wages. A few moved from station to station within a market. A select few like Tom Dailey, moved away for better wages and then were brought back by their former employers. Nine years after leaving St. Louis, he was lured back by his old employer.
His second stint at KWK began in 1947 as host of an afternoon music show, also helping Johnny O’Hara with play-by-play duties for the St. Louis Browns. It wasn’t long before Dailey got the chance to become a big star with the adult audience.
Aimed directly at the area’s housewives, Tom Dailey’s “Recallit and Win” was a midday Monday through Saturday quiz show giving listeners at home a chance to win money. He became a huge star by simply helping his listeners enjoy themselves and play along with the show’s contestants.
The gist of Recallit and Win was simple: People were picked randomly from the phone book, called, and put on the air with Dailey, where they were asked to identify musical selections from Dailey’s collection of obscure recordings, some dating back as far as 20 years. Even if they guessed wrong, the magnanimous Dailey would mail them a dollar bill and a sample of Old Judge Coffee, one of his sponsors. Those who had the correct answers got more money and a chance to identify the mystery song, which was worth $100. It takes a quick-witted host to pull off a show like this, and Tom Dailey was the perfect choice. A studio audience was eventually added, and soon the show was booked solid several months in advance.
Columnist Ed Keath wrote in the March 25, 1951 Globe-Democrat: “Consistent good ratings on Tom’s show and others here show that radio can hold its own against TV.”
That said, the lure of TV, especially a co-owned station, soon put an end to the big radio show. Dailey took the show to KWK-TV in 1954 and later to KTVI.Tom Dailey’s son Terry was later heard in the market now as Frank O. Pinion’s sidekick. He is justifiably proud of his dad’s work as one of St. Louis’ premier radio announcers in the ‘30s, ‘40s and early ‘50s.
(Reprinted with permission of the St. Louis Journalism Review. Originally published 05/2005)