Kitty O’Neal’s Silver Anniversary

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We catch up with the popular Sacramento radio personality.

This month, Sacramento radio icon Kitty O’Neal celebrates 25 years with KFBK. Eighteen of those years have been spent as the host of the “KFBK Afternoon News,” for which Sacramento magazine readers have voted her “best afternoon drive radio personality” consecutively since the category’s inception in 2001. She has interviewed A-list celebrities, politicians and newsmakers; has appeared in numerous commercials, videos and television shows; and is known for her support of charitable causes, including the Sacramento SPCA. O’Neal, who has a degree in communication studies from Sacramento State, sang professionally (and still performs on occasion) before getting into radio. She and her husband, restaurateur Kurt Spataro, celebrated their 21st wedding anniversary last year. We sat down with O’Neal to talk about her years at KFBK, what’s changed in radio and what she foresees for her future.

Was radio your goal when you were working on your communication studies degree?
No, I didn’t even have a goal. I just was intrigued with the communications major and knew I liked journalism.

Twenty-five years at the same station is somewhat of an anomaly in radio. Did you ever think you’d celebrate 25 years? Never.

What has been your most memorable moment at KFBK?
Meeting Rush [Limbaugh] was a highlight. I don’t know if it was the most memorable—I think that would be hard to pick because I’ve had so many—but you could certainly say that was a highlight because he walked in with this immense presence and gave me a huge bear hug and welcomed me to the program. And he was just overflowing with personality. I’ve never met anybody like that before.

What story has been most difficult?
It’s really hard because there’ve been so many tragic ones. There was one where there was some sound from a mother. It was a 911 emergency call and it was her child drowning, and the child died. I could hardly compose myself enough to get back [on] and speak after listening to the audio of that 911 tape, but sadly there are so many stories like that. That was earlier in my career, and I’ve really had to learn to toughen myself.
And, of course, I think it goes probably without saying: the terrorists’ attacks.

What would people be surprised to know about the radio business? People always have this weird impression that everyone in radio is sloppy and homely, and it’s not true.

How have things changed during your years in radio? The Internet alone created such a major shift in how we gather information that it makes me wonder how we ever did our job without it. Plus, the advances in recording and editing have made our jobs so much easier. I started when there was tape, and I edited it with a razor blade and a grease pencil, if you can imagine, and now everything is digital.

What do you foresee for yourself for the next 25 years?
I have never had a five-year goal, let alone a 25-year goal, but hopefully doing something productive and relevant.

What advice do you have for people just starting out in the business? Don’t be afraid to start small or at a lower pay scale. If you’re talented and you have the persistence, you’ll find the promotion and you’ll find your way to your desired place.

Is there anything I didn’t ask you that would be good to take into consideration?
Even though I didn’t really plan this particular career path, it has afforded me opportunities that I never anticipated—primarily, to meet and interview people from all walks of life that have impressed me and inspired me. I couldn’t be more grateful.

Help Kitty Celebrate!

Join Kitty O’Neal as she marks her 25th anniversary with KFBK at the KFBK Kitty O’Neal 25th Anniversary Celebration, Oct. 16 from 7:30 to 11 p.m. at the California Museum. The celebration will include a dessert buffet, wine and dancing; former morning radio show duo Paul Robins and Phil Cowan will serve as masters of ceremony. Tickets, which include a museum tour and parking, are $45 and benefit the California Museum, the Sacramento Children’s Home and the Sacramento SPCA. For tickets or more information, log on to kfbk.com (keyword: celebrate) or call (916) 929-5325.