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Five of the six Omaha Press Club 2019 Hall of Fame inductees are broadcasters.  For more details or to make a reservation for the June 1 banquet, call 402-345-8008 or email opcchristine@gmail.com   


Omaha Press Club Hall of Fame induction set for June 1

Six journalists/communicators to be honored


One of the Omaha Press Club’s most glorious celebrations, a night to honor journalists past and present, is coming Saturday, June 1. The 11th Annual OPC Journalists of Excellence Hall of Fame will induct six industry professionals recognized for their extraordinary contributions to the media industry.


Past Hall of Fame recipient Ann Pedersen will emcee the evening, which begins at 5:30 p.m. with cocktails and dinner to follow.


The event, sponsored by Firespring, is open to OPC members and non-members, but reservations are required.


The 2019 inductees include:

·         Joan (Joni) Baillon

·         Ben Gray

·         Walt Kavanagh

·         Mike McKnight

·         Carrie Murphy

·         Kent Warneke


Let’s meet this year’s honorees:


Joan (Joni) Baillon, -- Baillon got the television bug as runner-up to Miss Downtown St. Paul (Minn.) when the woman who held the title was too shy to do interviews. She was one of only two women at that time to graduate from the Brown Institute of Broadcasting in Minneapolis and began her first on-air job at KJAM Radio in Madison, S.D.  In 1966 she became the women’s director at KMA Regional Radio in Shenandoah, Iowa, doing a 30-minute talk/call-in show. Three years later she moved to television and KMTV, hosting a daily, half-hour live interview program “Conversations.”  Baillon interviewed stars, politicians, coaches and Johnny Carson during the program’s run from 1969 to 1981. She followed her distinguished career in journalism with and equally outstanding career in marketing Omaha city events. She is a past president of the Omaha Press Club (1982). Joni and her husband met at KMTV in 1971 and were married for 44 years.


Ben Gray – Gray spent his entire journalism career at KETV, Channel 7.  While at KETV, Ben produced and hosted the longest running public affairs show in the history of Omaha television, “Kaleidoscope,” which was on the air for 30 years. During his long career, Gray won numerous local, regional and national awards as a talk show host, journalist and photographer. He was elected to the Omaha City Council in 2009 and re-elected in 2013 and 2017. Gray represents the northwest quadrant of the city and is currently council president. He and his wife Freddie J. Gray have a blended family of seven, with 12 grandchildren and two great grandchildren.


Walt Kavanagh (posthumous) -- Kavanagh was the voice of radio news in Omaha for 42 years.  He grew up in a south Omaha Irish Catholic family. After graduating from South High School in 1940, he went to Creighton to study broadcast journalism. World War II intervened however. He served three years in the U.S. Army in ground infantry and as a paratrooper and spent 12 months in occupied Germany. Kavanagh came back to Omaha to finish his degree and marry his wife Joan. They were married for 46 years and had three daughters and a son. His first broadcast job was at KFJB in Marshalltown, Iowa. He came back to Omaha to work for KOWH and eventually to his radio home, KFAB, where he broadcast for 39 years and became the news director.  School kids loved Kavanagh because his was the voice that announced schools were closed. He retired in 1992 and received many awards during his long career including the Society of Professional Journalists - Journalist of the Year, a lifetime achievement award from the University of Nebraska at Omaha’s Department of Communications, and his Face on the Omaha Press Club’s Barroom Floor. Kavanagh passed away in 1998.


Mike McKnight – The original “one-man band,” McKnight graduated from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln and started work at WOWT in Omaha months later. He’s been there ever since. McKnight ran the station’s state bureau in Lincoln for 10 years and since the 1990s has been the station’s investigative reporter. One of the perks of his long tenure has been working as a Husker football sideline photographer including the national championship seasons. McKnight has received numerous awards over his 40 years in television, including from the Associated Press, the Nebraska Broadcasters Association, a regional Emmy and Nebraska News Photographer of the Year. He has been married to his wife Carla for 32 years, and they have two sons. He is currently a member of the Omaha Press Club board of directors.


Carrie Murphy – A college internship at KMTV turned into a 34-year broadcasting career in television news reporting, producing and management. Murphy credits her college advisor, Joe McCartney and KMTV News Director Mark Gautier for giving her the opportunity to work in her hometown. She is the recipient of numerous local, state and national awards for news, documentary and public affairs reporting, including two Iris Awards presented by the National Association of Television Program Executives for outstanding local television programming. Murphy has served on many community boards and committees including the Omaha Press Club board of directors. She is a graduate of Omaha Burke High School and the University of Nebraska at Omaha. She currently serves as deputy chief of staff/communications for Omaha Mayor Jean Stothert.


Kent Warneke -- Warneke started his newspaper career at the Omaha World-Herald in 1982 as a reporter, copy editor and editorial writer. He joined the Norfolk Daily News in 1987 and serves as editor and vice president to this day. Under his direction, the Norfolk Daily News has won the Omaha World-Herald’s Community Service Award for daily newspapers more than 10 times and the Nebraska Press Association’s Sweepstakes Award the past two years. He has served on numerous civic boards including Faith Regional Health Services, the Norfolk Area Chamber of Commerce, the Humanities Nebraska Foundation and the Nebraska Press Association. Warneke was inducted into the Nebraska Journalism Hall of Fame in 2012. He attended the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. He and his wife, Susan, have two children.