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Kevin O'Connell is departing Channel 2 after 25 years

Channel 2 weathercaster Kevin O'Connell's 25-year run at the NBC affiliate is over.

WGRZ-TV General Manager Jim Toellner announced O'Connell's departure in an email to the staff in which he thanked O'Connell "for his many contributions to our station and city."

His contract ends this week.

Toellner added O'Connell "has been a big part of our long and consistent ascent from last place to the top-rated station for the last several years."

"His broadcasting talents and body of work are among the best Buffalo has seen," added Toellner. "Kevin has also helped raise money for countless charities over the years and donated much of his time to help make WNY a better place to live, which is what 'On Your Side' is all about."

O'Connell has had a multifaceted, 40-plus-year broadcasting career in which he has been a disc jockey, a news anchor, a weather anchor and a game show host in Los Angeles. Born and raised in Buffalo, he started in radio in the 1960s and got into TV after a Channel 4 executive saw promise in him when he was one of the celebrities involved in a Channel 17 TV auction.

In 2015, O'Connell said: “I’ve been the luckiest guy in the world. Our family has met world leaders, the pope, presidents; we have been in the company of the elite of Hollywood when we were out there working with the likes of Bob Hope, Johnny Carson, Sammy Davis Jr.”

O'Connell's likability and community involvement were among his strongest assets.

Toellner said the station is planning an on-air tribute on Monday that O'Connell will attend. He did not give a reason for O'Connell's departure.

The general manager and O'Connell had been in negotiations recently for a contract extension.

However, the negotiations are believed to have ended shortly after O'Connell testified in a case for a law firm he had endorsed on the firm's website without using his job title. The quote was eventually removed by lawyer Robert D. Berkun.

Attorney Berkun comes to defense of WGRZ's Kevin O'Connell

This week, Berkun defended O'Connell by saying, "It was just a quote, it was never an endorsement by Kevin O'Connell. It was just a quote."

He added the quote never mentioned O'Connell worked at Channel 2 or was a Channel 2 weathercaster and just gave the name Kevin O'Connell.

"So it was never an endorsement of me by him in it, so you know," Berkun said.

The definition of an endorsement is "an act of giving one's public approval or support to someone or something."

The quote on the website attributed to O'Connell about Berkun partly read: "He's the person you want fighting for you in court."

Channel 2 management and Tegna, which owns the station, apparently found the idea of O'Connell testifying and giving an endorsement embarrassing.

Asked last week a general question about station policies that didn't specifically mention O'Connell's situation, Toellner gave this explanation in an email: "Our employment and ethics policies do not allow newsroom employees to provide endorsements for commercial businesses. Station management approval is required for testimony and it is rarely given.”

That indicates O'Connell was in violation of those policies.

One reason for those policies is to avoid a conflict-of-interest in case a business that has been endorsed becomes the subject of a news story.

Toellner didn't say who is replacing O'Connell. However, the station has been preparing for his departure for about two years.

Patrick Hammer was hired in 2015 on the assumption the Buffalo Broadcasting Hall of Famer would be leaving in January 2017. Hammer eventually was moved to mornings. Then Heather Waldman was added to a lineup that includes Maria Genero, Jennifer Stanonis and Kevin O'Neill.

In 2015, Hammer said: “Kevin is irreplaceable. Nobody can match his presence. I can’t say I’m replacing him. He is larger than life. He’s embraced me. I can’t even explain how much that means.”

In late April, O'Connell confirmed he had "discussions with the station about extending, but not for a determined amount of time."

O'Connell, who turns 70 in October, had said he wanted to continue working the same four-day schedule he has been working under his present contract for perhaps an additional 18 months.

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