One person shouldn't be allowed to have so much fun.-- John O'Connor
A 40-year career is rare, and a 40-year career in one place is rarer still.
But retired radio personality John O’Connor remembers it like it was yesterday.
“On Aug. 20, 1973, fresh out of Uncle Sam’s Army, I went to work for Bob Hilgendorf at KVGB-AM,” O’Connor began. “It was a hot August day, a little over 100, and I wondered what I had gotten into, moving to a town I’d never heard of in the middle of Kansas, which I had heard of.
“Bob and his staff were friendly and welcoming, so I thought, ‘you know, this might work out.’ Everyone I met around town was so pleasant I knew right away that this could be a good place to spend a few years.”
It was more than a few. In 2010, O’Connor semi-retired to a part-time position with the station and continued to work another nine years on KVGB. In 2021, he won the Sonny Slater Award for Service to Station and Community, through the Kansas Association of Broadcasters. In between, he spent nearly 40 years entertaining, informing and educating central Kansas as the Voice of the Golden Belt for Eagle Radio in Great Bend.
O’Connor was born in Wisconsin. He got into part-time broadcasting in 1964 as a high school junior at the age of 16 and then went to full-time after high school.
He was drafted in 1969 and went into service in 1970. After service as a medical clerk, he obtained a transfer to Armed Forces Radio and TV based in Seoul, Korea, in 1972. After his release, he answered a recruitment ad in a broadcasting publication in 1973 for a position in Great Bend.
It was there that he met Sally Kroeker, a Great Bend girl, who had taken a break from teaching school at Pratt-Skyline to work as KVGB’s first female news person. They were married in 1975.
O’Connor spent four years as on-air personality and part-time newsman for four years, but wasn’t satisfied with the shift he had.
So, he and Sally opened the Record Rack from 1977 to 1984. While in business, he also wrote twice-weekly humor columns for the Great Bend Tribune. Their only child, daughter Erin, was born in 1981.
“We succeeded beyond our wildest dreams, but my heart was still in broadcasting, so when the morning slot opened up in 1984, we sold the store and I accepted Bob’s offer of the morning show,” O’Connor said.
'The Morning Show'
He dropped column-writing to focus on raising their daughter, as well as put his work energy into “The Morning Show,” which he held for 26 years.
He owned the morning airwaves as a one-man show (with frequent help from various sources), with skits and bits, and “The Trading Post,” which covered the last hour.
“That’s when I really started having fun,” he said. “You invited me into your home every morning and I did my best to make it a happy and upbeat part of your day. There wasn’t a day over the next 26 years that I wasn’t eager to come into work; rain, sleet, snow – even occasional morning tornado warnings didn’t bother me.
“I knew you were waiting and I wanted us to have a few hours (or maybe just a half-hour) of fun together as we started a brand-new day.”
Away from the microphone, O’Connor was an active member of the Great Bend Community Theatre, starring in several productions. Other community activities included:
• Membership in the local amateur radio club
• Board member for the Golden Belt Swim Team
• Board member for the Girls Home
• 4-H photo leader
• Member of the American Legion
• Member of the Great Bend Jaycees
Closer to family
The O’Connors moved to Hutchinson in 2019 to be closer to their daughter and their family. Erin is now a nurse at Horizons Mental Health in Hutchinson. She and husband Josh have one child, Josie, 8.
In Hutchinson, the O’Connors are active volunteers at the Cosmosphere, volunteer readers at Morgan Elementary school and members of the Vintage Readers Theatre Group where Sally is leader at the Delos Smith Senior Center. The group has performed many classic short stories and also three of John’s half-hour comedic plays.
Sally also belongs to two book clubs and a knitting group. John is an active member of the Reno County Amateur Radio Association.
They belong to Partridge Community Church, where Sally is a deacon.
With nearly a half-century spent in Great Bend, John O’Connor now considers it his hometown. “One person shouldn’t be allowed to have so much fun, but we did it together, and Sally and I thank you for those years, which we cherish in memory,” he said.
Community Connections is a regular feature of the Great Bend Tribune, showcasing people who live in the Golden Belt. We welcome readers to submit names of individuals who are active in the community that they would like to see featured in a future story. Send suggestions to email@example.com and explain their “community connections.”