One of Us: Kathy O’Connell

This month, the beloved Kids Corner host celebrates 30 years at WXPN. Here, she talks punk rock, the celebrity she’d vote for (not Oprah), and why This Is Us isn’t on her watch list.

Kathy O’Connell. Illustration by Andy Friedman

My name is … Kathleen Anne Clare O’Connell. I include my confirmation name in everything.

I grew up in … Long Island.

I came to Philly … in 1988. I got laid off at WNYC, and because I had my grandma’s fear of unemployment, I took the first offer: WXPN.

These days, I live in … my very gentrified neighborhood, in University City. I used to live in Cedar Park, which I just saw on a list of the next hippest neighborhoods. When I lived there, you couldn’t even get Papa John’s to deliver.

The best thing about my job is … I get paid to be me. I get to wear crazy Christmas sweaters and I’m not a sad old lady — I’m a kids’ entertainer.

When I was a kid, I wanted to grow up to be … Carol Burnett.

The biggest difference with kids today is … the information they have at their fingertips and can Google in a second. I can’t do spelling bees on the air anymore.

The most famous person I’ve ever met was … John Glenn. And Soupy Sales. And Groucho Marx. JFK once waved to me from his open limo, which seems like not such a great idea in retrospect.

One book every kid should read is … Suzuki Beane, a story of a little beatnik girl in New York City. My father got it for me when I was eight.

One book every grown-up should read is … A Tree Grows in Brooklyn.

The most beautiful spot in Philly is … my deck in summer. Or Penn’s Landing. I love just looking at the water.

Being a woman today is … really in-ter-es-ting. A change is gonna come.

My parents taught me … several ways to get out of paying bills and to have fun. They were lovely people who had no business having children.

I met my husband … when we were both working in New York, in 1983. He still lives there but comes to Philly regularly. It’s an ideal situation.

One song I always turn up is … “Lust for Life” by Iggy Pop.

If I were mayor, I would … change the Parking Authority to make it less of whatever it is that makes it so bad.

If you’re taking me out to dinner, let’s go to … Iron Hill or Standard Tap. Anyplace with very hoppy craft beer, the kind where somebody will ask for a sip of my beer and never will again.

I still subscribe to … cable. I watch anything that’s not going to be sad or challenging. Project Runway, yes. This Is Us, no.

People will be surprised to know that I … am the greatest lip-sync artist on the face of the Earth.

The best advice I can give to a young girl today is … Learn to drive, and make sure that you have your own credit card.

One person I’d like to see run for president in 2020 is … Matt Dillon, the marshal in Gunsmoke. Back in 2016, I used to say that one TV star I’d vote for was Oprah, but now that everybody is on that train, I got off. That old thing they say about not belonging to a club that would have you as a member …

I’ll do this job until … they take me out of here in a body bag. And then I’ll just haunt them.

Published as “One of Us: Kathy O’Connell” in the April 2018 issue of Philadelphia magazine.