LITTLE ROCK, Ark. — (KTHV) – THV11’s series, “RemARKable People,” is centered around highlighting the people in our community who make Arkansas great by serving those around them.
So it’s only fitting that to kick off a celebration of his 50th year in broadcast, we highlight one of our own: Craig O’Neill, a man who has found his purpose in serving his neighbors.
It all started September 3, 1969 at KBTM in Jonesboro. A young man named Randy Hankins broadcast for the very first time over Arkansas radio.
It wasn’t until Randy got a job in Little Rock at KARN that he was handed the name, “Craig O’Neill.” Craig often reflects that his manager at the time had heard that name elsewhere and he thought it was just, “cool.”
“Craig was just a baby,” radio legend Bob Robbins of 105.1 The Wolfe recalled. “I used to critique Craig years ago when we were both at KARN and that was a long time ago. It’s hard to believe I used to critique him, because he didn’t need any.”
Robbins remembers the early days well. Craig was a young, funny, big-hearted broadcaster who shook up the market with jokes, prank calls, and a whole lot of fun.
Robbins said, “I’ve always said that if programmers and operations managers had kept their mouths shut and left Craig alone, nobody would’ve ever beat him in the ratings. Craig is one of the most funny men I’ve ever been around. And he is so quick, his wit is usually two days ahead of everybody else.”
And it wasn’t just his wit. Early in his career, Craig O’Neill opened his heart to nearly everyone he met. He began emceeing fundraisers and reading to children, helping countless charities along the way.
“I know how he is and he will do anything to see a person happy,” Robbins said.
But the group that perhaps made Craig the happiest is Hearts & Hooves, an organization that serves individuals with special needs through partnerships with horses.
Stuart McGilvray, who served on the charity’s board with Craig, said that when Craig learned about the organization, his response was quick. McGilvray recalled, “He said, ‘yep, I’m here, what can I do to help,’ and we started roping him in.”
All the while, Craig kept focused on his career, too, making a transition from radio to television.
“To be honest,” Robbins said, “I was real happy. I thought, ‘he won’t be competing against me now.’ We took Craig seriously from a competitive standpoint.” He added, “We never put our finger on it, but we were lucky enough to force him over to television and get him off the radio.”
January 1, 2000, Craig first broadcast live on THV11 from The Cotton Bowl in Dallas. Arkansas beat Texas that year, and Craig’s been on TV ever since. First, as a sports anchor, then a news anchor, but above all, a public servant.
“The thing that makes Craig remarkable to me, is the amount of time that man spends giving back to people.”
Over this 50-year career, he’s raised more than $40 million for Arkansas charities. In fact, in one night alone, he raised $1.2 million at a gala for the Winthrop P. Rockefeller Cancer Institute.
“He loves life, he loves people, and he loves sharing that life with people,” Robbins said.
THV11 announced this week that Craig, who had planned to retire this year, has actually signed a new contract with the station. He told the team, "THV11 has so much creative momentum, I can’t retire right now! Besides, from what I can tell, I’m looking younger!”