Omaha Press Club to Induct Six to Hall of Fame

Joni Baillon

Ben Gray

Walt Kavanagh

Mike McKnight

Carrie Murphy

Kent Warneke

The Omaha Press Club will add six names to its hall of fame at its 11th annual induction ceremony.

The event will begin at 5:30 p.m. on Saturday, June 1, at the club on the 22nd floor of the First National Center, 1600 Dodge St.

Past hall of fame inductee Ann Pedersen will emcee the event. Tickets are $50 for club mem­bers and $60 for nonmembers. Reservations are required. 

This year’s inductees are:

Joan “Joni” Baillon: Baillon got the television bug as runner-up to Miss Downtown St. Paul 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, South Dakota. 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). Baillon and her husband met at KMTV in 1971 and were married for 44 years.

Ben Gray: Gray spent his entire journal­ism career at KETV. While at Channel 7, Gray 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: 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 career includ­ing the Society of Professional Journalists’s 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 Omaha’s WOWT 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 works for Omaha Mayor Jean Stothert as her deputy chief of staff/communications.

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 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.

– Omaha Press Club



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