Channel 2’s newest meteorologist, Kevin O’Neill, made a scary, long-range forecast four years ago that led to his new career.
After 15 years as Channel 4’s “Why Guy” and on Channel 2’s “Daybreak” doing light features, O’Neill plotted a strategy aimed at the end of his five-year contract in February 2014.
“I thought four years from now, there’s a good chance a) I might not want to do the morning show anymore or b) people might just get sick of me,” he explained over coffee at a Delaware Avenue spot. “Everything has got an expiration date. Nothing can last forever.”
It only seems like he has been getting up at 4 a.m. forever. He admits a certain degree of fatigue has set in because of the hours.
“I nap every day, like a toddler,” said the personable 45-year-old O’Neill, who has to schedule dates with his wife of 10 years.
Of course, some viewers think he acts like a child in his goofier moments on “Daybreak” and on a Twitter account that won a local newspaper award.
But O’Neill also has a serious, reflective side.
Looking at his future, he took a three-year online program at Mississippi State University that required some real classroom time to get the same broadcast meteorological degree that Channel 7’s Mike Randall and other weathercasters in this market have received.
“I’ve always had a fascination with weather,” said O’Neill, who has looked at forecasts a week ahead to schedule his shows for the past 19 years. “I say, ‘it is going to rain Monday so I shouldn’t go in the pumpkin patch that day. I should be indoors. But it’s going to be clear on Wednesday so that’s my pumpkin patch day.’ ”
O’Neill actually did weather briefly on Channel 4’s noon news on location around 1995. “I’d be sitting on an elephant, do a plug for the circus I was at and read a forecast given to me by a station meteorologist,” said O’Neill. Then the station decided only meteorologists should be doing weather.
“I understood,” he said. “That put something in my head. ‘Someday I’ll be a meteorologist.’ ”
He is keeping his day job and filling in on weather when needed starting in December. His road to Storm Team 2 is about as atypical as an October storm.
A graduate of West Seneca West High School and Ithaca College, O’Neill began his media career as a DJ in Utica before coming home in the 1990s to work at WKSE-FM and Star 102.5.
He began his TV career in 1993 as the host of a show that aired on the Empire Sports Network. It gave O’Neill a resume reel. At the time, Star 102.5 and Channel 4 were in the same Elmwood Avenue building. After noticing Channel 4 was using a “terrible” media expert for reports, O’Neill went into action.
“I walked down the hallway and told management, ‘I want to be your media guy,’ ” recalled O’Neill.
Channel 4 started its morning news show a few months later, with O’Neill as “The Why Guy.” Initially, the job was to be a roving reporter explaining why Route 198 is called the Scajaquada and why doughnuts don’t have holes.
The idea was quickly shot full of holes when a woman answered “they just come out that way” to the doughnut question.
“I realized if I was going to have any longevity that rather than picking ‘why’ questions on topics that aren’t visual, I need to pick visual locations, interesting people and it became really about celebrating the people, places and events in Western New York,” he explained. “And that’s what made it work.”
“People seemed to like that I was a regular blue-collar guy who was having fun and had a lot of pride in Buffalo … The reason it worked was not necessarily because I was so talented because I’m not. It is just that people have so much pride in Buffalo.”
He covers positive stories and notes that he’s never seen one chalk outline at a murder or accident or had to talk to a grieving person.
“I’d rather cover a llama farm than a lost loved one,” said O’Neill. “I have the best job in Western New York.”
He left Channel 4 after 12 years for Channel 2 in 2006 without the Why Guy title. Why, guy? “It is a moniker that is limiting,” he explained. “And I wanted not to be that forever.”
He said he switched stations because Channel 4 management told him there were going to be changes and cutbacks. He also forecast good things ahead for Channel 2.
“I saw a station trending upwards,” said O’Neill, who expected to do more at Channel 2.
“At Channel 4, I started and I was really good at live shots,” said O’Neill. “Twelve years later, I was really good at live shots. That’s it.”
At Channel 2, he learned to shoot, edit and package stories. Eventually, he became the host of a new version of the high school quiz show “It’s Academic,” which returns this spring.
The idea of a guy who does light morning features hosting such a smart show might seem to be a stretch to anyone who doesn’t know a secret about O’Neill. “I’m a pretty smart guy,” said O’Neill. “I did well in school … You have to be smart to last 19 years having this much fun.”
He also says he is smart enough not to be as goofy doing the weather as he can be doing morning features. He may eventually have some fun doing weather, but viewers shouldn’t expect to see the same guy who runs around museums, airports and llama farms.
“We don’t mess around with weather in Western New York,” said O’Neill. “I am going to give people the most confident weathercast I can … People aren’t tuning in to get a laugh. They want to know what they need to wear the next day.”
In other words, forget about him riding any more elephants.