O’Neill Williams: A Lifetime in the Outdoors

O'Neill is a radio and television personality who has built a life and a business in hunting and fishing.

Georgia resident O’Neill Williams has been entertaining outdoor enthusiasts for almost three decades. If there is a way to make a living doing what you love, then O’Neill has surely done that. O’Neill, now 63, became interested in hunting and fishing as a small child and today has more than 500 television episodes and 800 radio programs under his belt.

O’Neill’s life didn’t begin as well as it has turned out. His biological father died when he was 6 weeks old. His mother later remarried the man he now calls his father. Although his father didn’t hunt or fish much, O’Neill got the chance to hunt and fish with both his grandfathers. He said he started at an early age and has loved it ever since.

O’Neill began his career as an outdoorsmen fishing in farm ponds. O’Neill said he would go fishing with friend Jeff Hobbins, who now owns Piedmont Outdoors, when they were near the age of 12. O’Neill and Jeff would pay $1 to fish and catch more than the adults at the pond. Then they would sell their fish to adults on the bank for spending money.

During high school O’Neill played football and baseball until he suffered a knee injury. He set a state record for the highest batting average at .567 which lasted for 23 years. His record now places second on the list.

After graduation from high school O’Neill attended Emory University in Atlanta where he achieved a B.A. in economics. O’Neill married Olivia Gail Williams the week he graduated from Emory. They had attended high school together but weren’t close friends at the time. They met again as freshmen at Emory introduced by one of O’Neill’s fraternity brothers. More than 40 years later Olivia is still by his side helping with the radio program. Olivia originally wasn’t working with O’Neill and only traveled with him to stay on the same sleep schedule. Occasionally she would answer the phone or help with other small tasks. One morning she decided to speak on the microphone and has been doing it ever since.

O’Neill tried his hand at sales management in the food industry after graduation from Emory but soon realized television and radio was the place for him. O’Neill said it’s much easier to talk about hunting and fishing all day than hotdogs.

He would soon get his chance when a man named Steve Hines, who worked for Prime Cable (now Comcast), approached O’Neill about a television show after learning of his fishing experience through O’Neill’s bass tournament fishing. O’Neill said he had a few small sponsors and was doing pretty good when Steve approached him and wanted to produce a fishing interview show with O’Neill as the host. It began in 1982 as “The Metro-Channel Sports Fishing Report.” The show is now called “O’Neill Outside” and continues going strong celebrating its 26th season in 2007.

The radio show began 12 years after the television show and celebrated its 14th year anniversary in 2007.

O’Neill is now the creator, host and producer of three television programs and co-produces and hosts another along with his radio show.

O’Neill said he doesn’t have a lot of free time with three television programs and a radio show. O’Neill does most of the advertising work for all the shows himself and doesn’t have much time to take a break. With two more television programs scheduled to begin in January, O’Neill was quick to say he is busy, but isn’t whining.

“I’m not complaining by any means, I love my life and my job, I’m just a busy man,” said O’Neill.

Although O’Neill is a very busy person, he said he isn’t considering retirement just yet.

“What am I going to do if a retire? Go hunting and fishing?” O’Neill joked.

Though he rarely gets to take a casual trip to the lake (without cameras), O’Neill still fishes 130 to 150 days a year. He says he’s still in good health and thinks he’s got at least another 10 years before retirement. O’Neill says his everyday workouts keep him young and strong.

O’Neill and Gail have two married daughters and two grandchildren. When O’Neill does retire his oldest grandson, Travis who is 16, will take over the radio and television tradition. Travis’ first appearance on the show was at the young age of 7. O’Neill said Travis has had plenty of experience with the program and is confident he’ll do an excellent job.

When asked about the future of hunting and fishing, O’Neill said he didn’t think it was in as bad of shape as everyone thinks it is, but he’s still doing his part to help preserve it. He hopes his new television show, “Growing Up Outdoors” will help encourage more kids to get involved.

Every week more than 1.4 million people listen or watch O’Neill on radio and television or read his articles in magazines. Even with all this attention, O’Neill continues to be a down-to-earth guy who loves to hunt and fish and is always willing to talk to fans.

His Web site contains information about both radio and television programs. The site also has a message board where outdoor enthusiasts can talk to each other. If you’re really lucky and have caught a big fish or harvested a big deer lately, you can post your pictures in his scrapbook as well.

If you don’t already watch or listen to O’Neill’s programs then you should give it a try. With one of his programs airing at least once every day of the week, there’s a good chance you’ll get to see or hear O’Neill soon. A schedule of O’Neill’s programs follows this article.

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