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Radio picture Improv for an invisible audience
Daria (Eckhardt) O’Neill ’94 didn’t follow the well-worn trail of small-town radio shows and dismal late-night time slots that eventually leads to the promised land: morning-show rock jock in a top-25 market. O’Neill, who graduated in theatre, jumped completely over the path and onto the air in one unlikely leap.

O’Neill was working with deaf and developmentally disabled children at Portland’s Wilson High School—loving the kids, hating her bosses—when in 1997 she heard rock station KNRK make an open call for audition tapes. The morning DJ was leaving, and the station was making the finding of his replacement a promotional event. As you can guess, this is not how it is usually done.

“I was home, sick with a cold, probably delusional on cold medicine, and on a whim I decided to make a tape,” O’Neill recalls. “I told a long, rambling joke. I read an excerpt from Burt Ward’s Robin Hood: My Life in Tights. I did all sorts of strange things—it was all very low pressure for me, because being on the radio had never been my dream. Until, of course, they told me I was a finalist—then it suddenly became what I had desperately wanted my whole life!”

Daria (Eckhardt) O’Neill ’94 picture
Daria (Eckhardt) O’Neill ’94
On O’Neill’s 26th birthday she got the call telling her that she had been chosen, over hundreds of others, to get the gig. She proved to be a natural.

“Radio,” O’Neill says, “is exactly like doing improvisational theater for an invisible audience. My real fear was ‘What do I know about choosing music for the format?’ Turned out the program director does all that.”

There were a few other things she didn’t know. Like don’t badmouth the songs. And for God’s sake don’t badmouth the sponsors.

“You’d think those things would be obvious,” O’Neill laughs. “But I still remember my first week—I said something and before the words were out of my mouth the window of the studio looked like people stuffing a phonebooth: a crowd of panicked salespeople all pulling their fingers across their throats.”

The now 31-year-old O’Neill weathered the initial mistakes and is now part of a very popular morning team. She also acts in Portland theater, to reviews that often read something like “Local radio personality surprises, shines in stage play.” She has, however, been acting on stage since grade school.

“I was never bashful about expressing my opinions,” O’Neill says, “but Reed intensely honed my ability to think on my feet and took away the hesitancy that will kill you on the radio. On the air you have to be fearless about just forging ahead. The really good times are when it feels like you are just having a wonder-ful conversation with friends. This is a great job— I’m in the place I want to be.”

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