Sorry, Kevin. To me, you'll always be No. 2.
If someone rode up on his Schwinn and asked me who, in my opinion, was the most delightful continuing presence in all of Buffalo television history, I'd probably pick O'Connell a strong No. 2. No. 1 is reserved for Van Miller, a truly irrepressible man who was even more fun to encounter out in the world than he was on the tube.
That was true of Irv Weinstein, too.
Who else would be in contention as Buffalo TV news charmer? Carol Jasen, of course, but her humor was more passive and, like Irv's, more evenly balanced with an anchor's seriousness. She was more appreciative than overt. Barry Lillis, though, would be on the list; Mike Randall, Kevin O'Neill and the unique Don Polec, too. Of them all, Lillis was, I suspect, the most interesting man and a tie for the most creative with Polec. (O'Neill coming in right after.)
What I loved so much about Van Miller is what I liked about Kevin O'Connell: these were old-fashioned, old-school broadcasters – all-purpose, electronic personalities rather than "feature reporters" or "TV news comedians."
O'Connell and Miller – as did so many – not only came from radio, but all-purpose radio. Miller, especially, was as adept at doing a breakfast show for a largely female audience as he was at charming and firing up Bills fans. He was a consummate pro, an all-purpose delight under any circumstance. Miller was of the generation that created broadcasting in Buffalo. O'Connell is from the one that solidified it.
O'Connell is now, sadly, ending his 25-year relationship with Channel 2. There was an ill-advised O'Connell endorsement of a local lawyer which, all things considered, was almost shockingly lacking in shrewdness by someone with his experience. Whether it was worth severing ties over (if that's what happened; simple money could be the deciding factor), I wouldn't know.
I go back a long way with O'Connell – longer, in fact, than he even knows. Once upon a time, in my first two years as a writer at The News, I was a night general assignment reporter. As such I was assigned to cover a ton of local politics. There, too, a legendary member of the O'Connell family, City Comptroller George O'Connell, came in a solid No. 2.
Nobody, for me, was more fun to cover in the world of "retail" politics (pressing the flesh, schmoozing with voters out in the world) than former Buffalo mayor Frank Sedita. One minute, he'd be tossing Yiddish around in what used to be called the Rosa Coplon Jewish Old Folks Home. The next, he'd be conversing in fluent Italian in a West Side bar.
City comptroller couldn't quite match the affection and respect Sedita could engender just by walking into a room, but if George O'Connell couldn't get a smile out of a prospective voter, there probably wasn't one to be had. Clearly, he was a blarney-meister from way back.
That, I instantly came to understand on meeting Kevin, is where his son learned it. It would be easy to call it "glib" (downright glib, in fact), but it is, both in life and on the air, pretty irresistible. I once enlisted Kevin's help when I was a young writer and Kevin was program director at WYSL, in telling me the story of how radio stations ended the Payola era. He was hugely informative with me and completely charming as well in that cheery way that made his father such an exemplary figure on the campaign trail.
So much happiness radiated from Kevin O'Connell that no one ever expressed a second's shock at his migration from radio to TV. He was such a natural there that he became a game show fixture for a while on "Go." When Buffalo's West Coast migration all returned home – Maria Genero, O'Connell, John Beard – it didn't surprise me in the slightest. In O'Connell's case, charming Western New Yorkers is, quite simply, the family business.
Why wouldn't he come back to Buffalo from the coast?
If this indeed is the end of Kevin O'Connell on Buffalo TV, I'm personally going to miss the heck out of him. He's a cherubic purveyor of sunshine no matter what the weather outside. He is, after all, my all-time No. 2.