At home on the airwaves Veteran radio personality Kathy Kennedy’s versatile voice made for the medium

She can laugh about it now. Almost.

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She can laugh about it now. Almost.

Three years ago next month, veteran radio personality Kathy Kennedy, who can presently be heard on 680 CJOB, sat down with the Free Press to discuss her 30-plus year career, as well as a side gig that has made the fingers on her right hand arguably the most recognizable digits in the province.

No sooner had we put the finishing touches on a piece that touched on her duties as the TV host of Kinsmen Jackpot Bingo, which airs every Saturday at 5:30 p.m. on the local CTV affiliate, than the proverbial poop hit the fan.

SUPPLIED

Kathy Kennedy marked her 30-year “bingo-versary” in 2021.

Days after a lucky Manitoban claimed a jackpot prize of close to $400,000, a few eagle-eyed viewers contacted the station, to report one of the 75 bingo balls appeared to be AWOL, prior to the lot being loaded into a machine that spits them out, one by one, until a winner is declared.

Although it was later determined the unaccounted-for sphere had been in the mechanism all along, Kennedy was vilified for not recognizing the gaffe immediately, a set of circumstances that left her reeling, and also sounded the death knell for the fluffy feature we’d woven together. (Know the expression, “Too soon?” Yeah, that would have been waaay too soon.)

“It became so crazy; besides all the local media outlets, I was getting calls and texts from papers as far away as Toronto and Vancouver, seeking a comment,” Kennedy says, adding after reading the news to listeners day in and day out for so long, it definitely felt odd to be on the other side of the microphone. “I’m sorry to have wasted your time back then, so let’s do this for real. What do you wanna know?”


Katherina Kennedy was adopted at birth and spent the first six years of her life in Winnipeg, before moving to Brandon with her parents Chris and Charlotte Kennedy. Kitty, as she was known to her teachers, family and friends, caught the radio bug early. Charlotte Kennedy, who died when her daughter was 17, was a freelance journalist for CBC radio. Kennedy often tagged along with her mom, when she made her way to CBC’s Portage Avenue studio, to chat with the likes of Peter Gzowski.

“Even at the age of four or five, I remember thinking, ‘OK, let me get this straight. All you’re doing is sitting here talking, and they’re paying you? How cool is that?’”

UNDER THE B …

Drummer Brent Fitz has worked with the likes of Slash, Theory of a Deadman, Alice Cooper and Streetheart, making him one of the most recognizable musicians to ever come out of Winnipeg.

So when Kathy Kennedy was tasked with escorting Fitz around the city a few years ago, ahead of a performance by him and his band Toque, she wasn’t surprised in the least when, as they were exiting a Sherbrook Street coffee shop, the driver of a passing vehicle slammed on the brakes, leaned out the window and asked if he could snap a photo or two.

Drummer Brent Fitz has worked with the likes of Slash, Theory of a Deadman, Alice Cooper and Streetheart, making him one of the most recognizable musicians to ever come out of Winnipeg.

So when Kathy Kennedy was tasked with escorting Fitz around the city a few years ago, ahead of a performance by him and his band Toque, she wasn’t surprised in the least when, as they were exiting a Sherbrook Street coffee shop, the driver of a passing vehicle slammed on the brakes, leaned out the window and asked if he could snap a photo or two.

“Sure thing,” Kennedy replied, stepping aside, so the person could get a clearer view of her counterpart.

“No, no,” the driver said, shaking their head. “I don’t want a picture of him, I want a picture of you, bingo lady.”

“If you could have seen the look on Fitzy’s face, it was absolutely priceless,” Kennedy says with a laugh. “He immediately reached into his pocket for his phone and said, ‘OK, I want you to do that all over again, only this time I’m going to record it.’”

Still, by the time Kennedy was a Grade 12 student at Crocus Plains High School, she was more interested in hurtling through space, than communicating on-air. Problem was, when she showed up at a career symposium held at Brandon University, she was unable to attend a packed seminar led by Canadian astronaut Marc Garneau. She was about to turn around and go home when she poked her head inside an adjacent room populated by representatives from 880 CKLQ, a 10,000-watt AM station in the Wheat City.

A person was broadcasting live and asked if any students present wanted to read a public service announcement to a listening audience. Kennedy’s arm shot up immediately.

“I enjoyed it so much that I wanted to read more, only they said, ‘no, that was enough for today,’” Kennedy says, taking a sip of her Americano coffee. “But they also said there was an opening for a community events co-ordinator, and that I should apply for the job.

“I got it and there I was, 17 years old, hitting every small-town fair in western Manitoba, for live cut-ins.”

A series of other jobs followed, in and around her studying journalism at BU. Still referring to herself as Kitty Kennedy, she landed a position at CFRY in Portage la Prairie, where she covered school board and city council meetings. (Her strong, smooth voice? She credits that to Alan Mann, her station manager in Portage, who taught her how to enunciate properly. That and an early diet of whiskey and cigarettes, she adds with a wink.)

Next came a weekend position at 1290 FOX in Winnipeg, which saw her handling the news for it and its sister station, Q94-FM. That’s also where a news director took her aside one morning, to let her know that going forward she should introduce herself as Kathy Kennedy, Kitty being “too country.”

Her big break — or so she thought at the time — occurred in May 1989, when she caught on with CKO News Radio, a national chain that had been going head to head with CBC since its inception in 1977. Kennedy had only been with CKO’s newly minted Winnipeg outlet for five months before the conglomerate declared bankruptcy, days before she was poised to get an afternoon lifestyle show of her own.

She moved over to KY58/92 CITI-FM shortly thereafter. In addition to production duties, she co-hosted an all-oldies show on KY called The Clubhouse, along with former Guess Who frontman Burton Cummings and Gary MacLean, of the musical-comedy duo, MacLean and MacLean. What made that memorable, she says, was listening to Cummings wax poetic about, say, a car ride he once took with the Doors’ Jim Morrison, ahead of spinning that band’s Light My Fire.

In 1994, CITI’s top-rated morning team of Tom McGouran and Larry Updike packed their bags, to take their shtick to Vancouver. Kennedy and another jock, Frank Capozzollo, slid into their chairs. When McGouran and Updike returned months later, she transferred over to the news desk, where she became an integral part of CITI’s Tom and Joe Show (Joe Aiello having taken Updike’s spot) for the next 19 years.

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Kennedy with Streetheart’s Kenny Shields.

Roped in is a good way of putting it, she says, in regard to how her role gradually grew from just delivering the headlines, to becoming an active participant in McGouran and Aiello’s oft-crazy antics.

“There was the time Tommy made me wear these… nope, can’t tell you that one,” she says, blushing at the memory. “Then there was the morning Joe and I were discussing … sorry, can’t repeat that, either.

“Let’s just say that years ago, I, along with many if not most of my colleagues, didn’t think too much about what we were going to say, or the impact it might have, when we flipped on the microphone,” she continues, mentioning she can’t count the number of times the three of them did a bar promotion into the wee hours, only to return to the station looking for a couch to crash on, before waking up at 4 a.m. to prepare for that morning’s show. “It’s a much different story today. I am constantly cognizant of how I need to be culturally, racially and gender aware.”

RUTH BONNEVILLE / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS

Kathy Kennedy caught the radio bug early and has now worked in the medium for over three decades

The first time Kennedy was fired from a job occurred back in the mid-1980s, when she was working as a teenage server at Brandon’s Roll’n Pin Restaurant. She got over that easily enough, but when she was dismissed from CITI-FM in 2012, she curled up in a ball on the floor for three days, almost unable to move, she says.

Their ratings were good, they were still No. 1, so why, after 22 years, should she have expected to be terminated, she says, leaning back in her chair. Her boss informed her that it wasn’t personal, it was a business move. It turned out there was some truth to what he said, because three years later, he was the one who ended up hiring her for 680 CJOB.

Kennedy was better prepared the next time she got the pink slip. She and Richard Cloutier hosted the morning show at ’OB for a little over two years, before she was called into the office in 2016 and told her services were no longer required. Instead of storming out, mad as heck, she was the one comforting her manager, she recalls, who felt horribly about the situation.

“Could I have been bitter? Absolutely,” she asserts. “But in the end, it doesn’t serve you well. Plus, this is a small industry. The guy who fires you today might be the guy who hires you tomorrow.”

RUTH BONNEVILLE / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS

Kathy Kennedy works on-air from her home recently. She credits her strong, smooth broadcasting voice to the coaching of the station manager at CFRY in Portage la Prairie, one of her first radio jobs

Twelve months later, CJOB reached out again. She’s been there ever since, hosting informational programs such as Talk to the Experts and Retirement Strategies, in addition to filling in as needed, whether it be morning, afternoon or evening. For example, when Hal Anderson stepped away to run for public office in the recent civic election, Kennedy was tasked with his 10 a.m. to noon slot.

“The magic with KK is that she’s so versatile,” says Joe Aiello, her longtime chum. “Not only could she do the hard rock with Tommy and I back in the day, she could work the classics crowd on KY, as well as handle the news for a talk station like ’OB. I can’t say this about too many other broadcasters but to me, Kathy is never out of her wheelhouse.”

Aiello counts Kennedy as one of his closest friends to this day. They have leaned on one another when times were tough — the death of his wife, her divorce — and have a standing lunch date, at least once every six weeks. There was one occasion 20 or so years back, however, when their relationship was put to the test, thanks to a stunt he and McGouran pulled.

It was April Fool’s Day, and he and McGouran feigned a heated argument in the middle of their show. McGouran had cracked wise, as was his bent, to which Aiello announced he’d gone too far this time… that he’d crossed the line. As Kennedy looked on, mouth agape, Aiello slammed his headphones on the controls and stormed out of the studio, vowing to never return.

RUTH BONNEVILLE / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS

Kennedy currently splits her time between 680 CJOB and Kinsmen Jackpot Bingo.

“We wanted a natural reaction from her, so we hadn’t let her in on the joke,” Aiello says, chuckling. “But because she’s so nice, and wears everything on her sleeve, she sat there going, ‘Omigod, what’s happening here?’ I swear, a few days passed before she would even speak to me again. I couldn’t apologize enough.”

Like we mentioned off the top, Kennedy currently splits her time between 680 CJOB and Kinsmen Jackpot Bingo. She marked her 30-year “bingo-versary” in 2021. To mark the occasion, the Kinsmen Club of Winnipeg gave her $30,000 to put toward a scholarship of her choosing, which turned out to be Red River College Polytechnic’s Creative Communications program. (She should have saved some moolah for nail polish; viewers are forever commenting positively or negatively on the shade she chooses for the show.)

And while she does look back fondly on those periods in her career when she was heavily involved in the city’s music scene — ask the admitted headbanger about the time she almost bowled over Ozzy Osbourne during a scheduled meet-and-greet — keeping Manitobans up to date on what’s happening in the world around them has always been her first love.

She was at her friend Leeandra’s for supper last week when she noticed it was approaching 6 p.m. She asked her pal to turn on the TV, so they could watch the news, to which Leeandra remarked, “Do you ever stop working?’”

“Not really,” came her answer, as she reached for the remote.

david.sanderson@freepress.mb.ca

David Sanderson

Dave Sanderson was born in Regina but please, don’t hold that against him.

History

Updated on Friday, October 28, 2022 8:40 PM CDT: Fixes typo

Updated on Friday, October 28, 2022 9:11 PM CDT: Fixes typo

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