Fact Check

Swearing Child

Child earns present from radio's Uncle Don by giving up swearing?

Published Oct. 11, 1999


Legend:   A child has an unexpected reaction to Uncle Don's divulging the location of a hidden gift.

Origins:   This is a legend with a punchline, so we'll explain the setup and save the delivery for the end.

Uncle Don (Don Carney, nee Howard Rice) was the most well known


of radio's "uncles," the genial hosts of programs aimed at young children (and the one whose career was forever tarnished by the rumor that he had accidentally called children "little bastards" on the air). Uncle Don had a repertoire of characters and ditties whose purpose was to reinforce "correct" behavior in children: to get them to pick up their toys, eat their vegetables, not bite their nails, stop sucking their thumbs, brush their teeth, etc. An integral part of this routine was Uncle Don's practice of divulging the location of gifts to well-behaved children. A mother whose child had been a particularly good girl or boy would hide a gift somewhere in the house, then contact Uncle Don and arrange for him to broadcast her child's name and the location of the gift. Many a little listener got the shock of his life when he heard Uncle Don announce something like: "Little Johnny Smith on 56th Street in Brooklyn, your mother tells me you've cleaned your dinner plate every day for a whole month. If you take a look under the towels in the linen closet, you'll find something extra special." This was magic of a higher level than Santa Claus — after all, even Santa had to actually make a trip to the house to deliver presents, but Uncle Don could just make them miraculously appear.

Which brings us to the present anecdote, which we'll reproduce just as John Dunning tells it in his encyclopedia of old-time radio. It's likely nothing more than a joke, but it's interesting nonetheless as a counterpoint to the infamous "bastard" legend that circulated about Uncle Don himself:

On one occasion it was reported that a certain "young Johnny" was left a gift from Uncle Don behind his radio, a reward for his efforts to stop swearing. As the story went, Johnny found the present, turned to his parents, and said, "How the hell did he know that was back there?"

Last updated:   5 August 2007

  Sources Sources:

    Dunning, John.   On the Air: The Encyclopedia of Old-Time Radio.

    New York: Oxford Univ. Press, 1998.   ISBN 0-19-507678-8   (pp. 688-689).

    Treadwell, Bill.   Head, Heart and Heel.

    New York: Mayfair Books, 1958.

David Mikkelson founded the site now known as snopes.com back in 1994.