Can't Miss Craig O'Neill; He's Not Going Away

Can't Miss Craig O'Neill; He's Not Going Away
Craig O'Neill of KTHV-TV, Channel 11 (KTHV)

You can’t tell Craig O’Neill he has a face for radio; he’ll beat you to the punch. What the self-deprecating Arkansas broadcast lifer can’t seem to leave is TV.

A fixture at KTHV-TV, Channel 11, since literally the turn of the century, O’Neill announced this month a third delay in retirement. The 71-year-old will remain on THV11’s evening anchor team with Marlisa Goldsmith and Tom Brannon.

The rubber-faced, Mick Jagger-lipped announcer was a latecomer to TV, having made his bones in central Arkansas radio in the 1970s and ’80s. With on-air pranks at KLAZ-FM and a zany sense of humor, he quickly built a fan base and became Little Rock’s most sought-after emcee for charity events. Before giving up that grind a few years ago, he logged 9,000 events over 40 years.

A lifelong Arkansas Razorbacks fan even though he graduated from Arkansas State University, O’Neill entered TV as a sports anchor on KTHV on Jan. 1, 2000, and later joined the news desk.

Now he’s a steady baritone voice in unsteady times, and KTHV is playing him up in 30-second promotional segments that let O’Neill give his reasons for staying. “Because we’ve got to win this war against COVID, I still want to go back to my school reading tour, and there are just too many great stories to tell.”

Many viewers felt relief that O’Neill, who first pushed back retirement in 2019 and then again last year, is hanging around through the end of 2023. At least that’s the view of one retired Little Rock anchor. “I’m relieved for the same reason: consistency,” the former anchor said, speaking anonymously for candor’s sake. “There’s so much movement in the reporter ranks, you really need some consistency at the top” to retain viewers.

“Institutional knowledge of the market is vital,” the ex-anchor continued. “As for the multiple retirements, his fans will love that he’s staying.” Nonfans have probably sampled the other stations, he said. “I am amazed at the overall consistency of the on-air teams in Little Rock. I was pretty sure Sinclair would swing the ax when they bought Channel 7 [Sinclair Broadcast Group bought seven Albritton family stations, including KATV, in 2013 for $985 million]. That stability helps move the market back to the image it had in the ’80s … a place you could settle into and stay for a while.”

KTHV General Manager Marty Schack, of course, is “delighted that Craig will be staying on” for two more years. “His compassion for helping those in our community and passion for training future news leaders is unparalleled.”

O’Neill said that Goldsmith and Brannon, a THV11 favorite who returned as meteorologist nearly a year ago after several years with Ron Sherman Advertising, were two main reasons for staying, along with the rest of the KTHV news family. “I can’t leave family, not now, so I’m staying.”

O’Neill was born in 1950 at the old St. Vincent Infirmary in Little Rock, but the name on his birth certificate was Randy Hankins, “too country sounding” for radio by the time O’Neill hit the Little Rock airwaves in 1972. A boss had already paid for jingles promoting a new DJ named Craig O’Neill, and accepting the job meant accepting the name.

“Now I get called Randy at home, and by family and old friends. Or lawyers,” O’Neill told Arkansas Business. His wife, the former Ruth Jane Fryer, is a widely known Little Rock artist.

(Arkansas Business and THV have a news-sharing partnership.)