Radio host, Kathy O'Connell is a pioneer in the field of modern children's radio. Since 1988, Kathy has hosted "Kids Corner," an interactive radio show for kids and their families. "Kids Corner" is heard on WXPN in Philadelphia and the Lehigh Valley, WXPH in Harrisburg and York/Lancaster PA and WKHS in Worton/Baltimore, Maryland, and online at http://xpn.org. Having just celebrated its 24th anniversary, "Kids Corner" is the most listened to public radio show for children in America, according to an Arbitron/National Public Radio study.
Kathy has won numerous major broadcasting awards, including two George Foster Peabody Awards for Excellence in Broadcasting and the Major Armstrong Award. Prior to joining WXPN in 1988, Kathy hosted Kids America, a nationally syndicated program for kids, originating from WNYC in New York City (1983-1987).
Kathy has served as an advisor on children’s media and issues for the University of Pennsylvania and the Philadelphia International Children’s Theatre Festival, as well as the Staten Island Children’s Museum and the City of New York. Musicians, educators, healthcare professionals, and creators of media for families have sought her expertise in children’s music and media. Kathy's voice can be heard narrating exhibits and programs in family-friendly environments like the Franklin Institute Science Museum and the National Constitution Center in Philadelphia and the Brooklyn Museum in New York. She also has narrated several recorded books for children.
In addition to "Kids Corner," Kathy will be a very special guest at the 2012 Philadelphia International Flower Show, which takes place from March 4-11, at the Pennsylvania Convention Center. Kathy will be in attendance on Sunday, March 11 at 2pm as she reads "The Lorax" to children in the family lounge. Come enjoy opening day with the children in your life and enjoy Kathy's love and talent!
For more on Kathy and Kids Corner be sure to visit http://kidscorner.org/
1. Who or what inspired you to want to work with kids? It was completely unplanned, although I always wanted to be a teacher when I was a kid. But combining kids and broadcasting was never on my radar because who ever heard of radio for kids? I truly fell into working with kids when I was an engineer at WNYC radio in New York working for the most unpleasant man on earth, who also hosted the nightly kids’ show. Years of watching & knowing Soupy Sales prepared me to be prepared when said “most unpleasant man” and his co-host had a tantrum and walked off before air time one night. I was asked to host, and halfway through the show, I knew this was what I wanted to do forever.
2. What made you want to host your own show, first on television, then on radio? I took the tour of the NBC-TV studios when I was really young, saw myself on a TV monitor, and I was hooked for life. I started sending away for tickets to “The Garry Moore Show,” which featured my idol, Carol Burnett, and I saw behind the scenes of how a TV show worked and how much fun everyone was having. As a kid, there really weren’t many women hosts on TV or radio to model myself on. Unless I wanted to be Miss Kitty on “Gunsmoke,” which did cross my mind. I don’t sing or dance, so I couldn’t be Shari Lewis. It never occurred to me that I could actually just talk to people as a career.
Volunteering at WBAI radio in New York in 1979, I fell in with a band of creative crazy wonderful people who taught me the power, potential, and intimacy of radio. The person at WBAI who truly made me want to host my own show was Lynn Samuels (Sirius Satellite Radio host who died on Christmas Eve 2011) from WBAI. It seemed like so much fun, even while she made me understand the privilege of being on the radio and the responsibility that comes with it.
3. What has it meant to you to stay on the radio for the past 24 years and been recognized by the industry for your work? It has been a miracle to have a radio job that has lasted this long and has had this much joy attached to it. I’m from a family of factory workers and policemen, so getting paid for talking to people is a dream come true. I’m grateful every day for the opportunities I’ve been given, for the people I work with, and (most of all) for my audience. I’m in the unique position of truly thanking “the little people” for the good things that have happened to me. I’m aware of just how lucky I am. The recognition has been astonishing, and anyone who goes up the stairs at my house passes two Peabody Awards to get to the bathroom. I still make lists of career options if things go badly, but I take the list less seriously every year.
4. Who haven't you worked with that you would like to? Carol Burnett. I started performing by lip-synching her records as a child. Next to Soupy Sales, she’s my greatest influence. Soupy gave me his director’s chair (with his name on it) from “The Carol Burnett Show” and laughed because I started crying with excitement. One item representing the two most important people in my life…it was a little overwhelming.
5. What made you want to participate in the 2012 Philadelphia International Flower Show? The Philadelphia International Flower Show is always marvelous, and the theme of Hawaii: Islands of Aloha makes it personal for me. Since I was a little kid and first read “Dennis the Menace goes to Hawaii,” I’ve been in love with Hawaii. Going there made my dreams come true. It’s truly the most perfect, magical place I’ve ever been, and the smells in the air are part of the magic. The only drawback is the 11-hour trip to get there. Bringing the Islands to the Flower Show saves me all those travel hours and brings those beautiful floral scents to me.
6. What excites you about reading "The Lorax" at the Flower Show? I’m especially excited about the challenge of sharing Dr. Seuss’ unique language without stumbling. Will I do justice to words like Thneeds? Will I be able to speak for the trees properly? It’s exciting and humbling at the same time.
7.What do you hope kids and families will come away with after hearing you read "The Lorax"? One line from “The Lorax” hits home for me: "Unless someone like you...cares a whole awful lot...nothing is going to get better...It's not." Each individual has the responsibility to be more than themselves, to find something they’re passionate about and use that passion to take action and make the world a better place. I hope hearing (and reading) “The Lorax” will encourage families to have that conversation…what do you care about in life and what are you going to do about it? I think the best way to honor Dr. Seuss’ words is to do our part individually and collectively to live out his message of honoring the planet.
8. What have you learned about yourself from being a TV/Radio host? That I can use my own words powerfully. I was a secretary for years, supporting other people using their words. I learned that I can speak (and speak up!) for myself.
9. What's the best advice you've ever received? My 4th grade teacher Mrs. Minot wrote “Aim high!” in my autograph book. I didn’t understand how important those words were until I was an adult and had wasted a lot of time.
10. If you could dream about anyone while you sleep, who would it be? Paul McCartney. My best friend & I used to make up Beatles stories at sleepovers where invariably a Beatle was in a coma, woke up, saw us & said “hello, luv.” I never picked Paul because he was too cute & I had low self esteem...John was married…Ringo too short for me…So I became a Georgie girl. Now I can be loud and proud about my lifelong love for Sir Paul. Getting in touch with my inner 12 year old.
11. What was it about Soupy Sales that made you such a big fan? Did he influence your professional career at all? His sense of humor grabbed me with the first joke of his I ever saw: Off-screen Frank Nastasi said “watch out, Mr. Sales…the walls have ears…” and they panned to a wall covered with rubber ears. I was 12 years old, and this was hysterical to me. But at the same time he used older references that I understood, like the phrase “you’re trying to ‘Gaslight’ me” when someone was trying to convince him he was crazy.
Seeing him work live in a variety of venues: his TV show, game shows, personal appearances over the years, I think I learned how to respond to things quickly. My friends and I spent our teenage years stalking him, and he was never anything but gracious and good-humored about it. The first thing I said to him when we reconnected in 2002 was “thank you for never calling the cops on us.” He became like a father to me in the last years of his life, and I was able to see the look of pride in his eyes at my accomplishments. I still base some behavior on “what would Soupy say?” It’s served me well.
12. Favorite way to spend your day off? Hitting thrift stores & yard sales, then sitting on the couch with the dogs watching documentaries. I’m a big Ken Burns fan.
13. Favorite website? Television without Pity allows me to dabble in a lot of shows without actually having to watch the shows. Very handy in the case of reality TV.
14. "Mary" or "Rhoda"? Rhoda, always and forever.
This posting is brought to you with the support of the Philadelphia International Flower Show.