The Enid News and Eagle, Enid, OK

January 15, 2013

Variety show host O’Neill, Enid native, dies at 73

By Phyllis Zorn, Staff Writer
Enid News & Eagle

ENID, Okla. — A 1957 graduate of Enid High School who became one of the most influential people in the music industry in the 1960s died last week in Los Angeles.

Jimmy O’Neill got his first taste of radio in an EHS class and soon was working weekends at a local radio station. In 1964, at at age 24, O’Neill became a national celebrity when he became the host of ABC’s “Shindig,” an early, prime-time television rock ’n’ roll show.

“He and I were in radio and television and debate speech in high school,” said Jerry Kunkel, a classmate.

When they were juniors, both had weekend jobs at local radio stations.

“I was at KCRC, and Jimmy was at KGWA,” Kunkel said. “It was located downtown then.”

“Those were the only two radio stations that were on in 1956,” said J. Curtis Huckleberry, program director at KGWA.

According to O’Neill’s obituary in the Monday Los Angeles Times, “Shindig” “featured frenetic dancers … and mingled black and white musicians in an era when much of the country was still segregated. Each episode showcased a dozen of the biggest names in pop music, such as Jerry Lee Lewis, Sam Cooke, Chuck Berry, Tina Turner, the Beatles, the Beach Boys and the Rolling Stones. Bobby Sherman, Leon Russell, Darlene Love and Billy Preston were also among the regulars.”

“He was, in his day, the most influential disc jockey in the United States,” Kunkel said.

After the show was canceled in 1966, O’Neill’s life went into a tailspin for a few years. O’Neill later told interviewers he went through his life savings drinking and using drugs, according to the Times obituary.

He went back into radio in the late 1960s. He also ran nightclubs for teenagers and hosted a youth-oriented TV talk show, “The Jimmy O’Neill Show.”

O’Neill was 73. He is survived by a son and daughter; two stepchildren; three grandchildren; and two great-grandchildren.