Behind the Microphone with Radio’s Kitty Kinnin

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Kitty Kinnin Radio Personality Photo by New Depth Creations.



According to radio personality Kitty Kinnin, she came from a perfect family in Miami, Florida. 


Her father worked at the Miami Herald and was a professional tennis player who, at one time, was ranked number one in the seniors circuit. She was even part of her dad’s bowling team, sporting her own blue-and-pink bowling ball.


But don’t be deceived by all of that. Kinnin readily acknowledges that she was always a bit of a wild child. Reflecting on her upbringing, she explains, “My sister was always the most athletic, most studious sweetheart, and I think because of that I sort of rebelled in that regard, because there was no way I could live up to Karen.”


Her passion for rock music found its roots in hours spent listening to the radio, while her love for jazz and blues was deeply ingrained in her family’s heritage. Thus, music played a significant role in Kinnin’s life from a young age. 


The turning point, however, came at age 19 when she tragically lost her mother to pancreatic cancer, a profoundly challenging period in her life.


She spent a short duration as a flight attendant to stay close to her father, but after a year she realized that wasn’t her cup of tea. She says, “I had to wear a little pin that said, ‘I’m Kitty. Fly Me.’ I got to do some traveling, which was fun, but it didn’t last long.”


From there, she navigated her path from the warmth and humidity of Florida to the frigid cold of Colorado, residing in a cabin. “I met this blond-haired, blue-eyed guy, and we ended up in a cabin in Coal Creek Canyon,” she recollects. “He would serenade me with his guitar, and I had a little outhouse with a stained-glass window and a fur cover on the potty.”



Starving and cold, Kinnin moved to Boulder, Colorado, where she received a phone call from Bob Brown, her former employee who owned a radio station she worked for back in Florida. “We always said we’d stay in touch, and one day he called me and said he bought these radio stations in North Carolina and asked me if I would consider moving there,” says Kinnin.

Navigating a tumultuous relationship in Colorado, Kinnon pondered the invitation and ultimately accepted her old friend’s offer to come to Winston-Salem. “I got here and said, ‘No, I can’t do this. I can’t understand a thing anyone is saying,'” she declares.


Brown had assumed control of WAAA, North Carolina’s inaugural African American–programmed radio station. In WAAA’s basement, he introduced the widely embraced music station WKZL. Kinnin got her big break filling in for a midnight shift there, and the rest, as they say, is history.


Kinnin’s on-air presence with A Touch of Jazz began to captivate listeners. She was flown nationwide for interviews with renowned jazz musicians like Billy Cobham and Herbie Hancock. This is where she got her feet wet as an on-air personality. 

Kitty Kinnin and Van Eure.
Kitty Kinnin is good friends with Van Eure, owner of the Angus Barn. Photo courtesy of Kitty Kinnin.

How long were you with A Touch of Jazz before moving to Raleigh?

About four years. I was married, with a baby, and my husband was a chef. When my baby was six months old, I got a call from WRDU, and they asked if I wanted to come and do a jazz show. We relocated here, and soon after I ended up on the air full-time during midday and my Sunday Brunch show. It became really huge, and I was able to play anything I wanted. We did this in various restaurants, and it was a lot of fun. 

You have interviewed a lot of famous chefs during this time as well. Who are some of those chefs, and did you learn anything from them you can incorporate into your daily life today?

The first interview I ever did was with Scott Howell of Nana’s. I’ve talked to Katie Button, Ashley Christensen, Vivian Howard, and some people who aren’t around here, like Bobby Flay. Things I’ve learned from some of them—Scott Howell said he would take whole meat out of the Cryovac for at least three days before he cuts the steaks. He’d put them on a rack so air could circulate around the meat. I’ve never heard that before. Bobby Flay said to always keep your dried spices up-to-date.

Some of the other chefs I interviewed that I was very impressed with were Cheetie Kumar of Ajja, Jason Smith of 18 Seaboard, Dean Neff of Seabird in Wilmington and Walter Royal of the Angus Barn.

Funny story—when the folks from Iron Chef called Walter to compete, he laughed, thinking it was a Ben Barker of Magnolia Grill prank, and hung up. Thankfully, they called back. He won.

The first time I met you, you and I were judges for the Fire in the Triangle competition dining series. It was you, me, Andrea Weigl, who was with the News & Observer at the time, John Huisman, aka The Triangle Explorer, and Johanna Kramer with Southern Food and Drink.

Right? How lucky are we to live in this area with all these phenomenal chefs? I’m thinking back at competition dining and how many great chefs have come a long way since then, Dean Neff being one of them. He’s one of my favorite chefs.

If people are acquainted with Larry’s Coffee, the local roaster, they may have noticed your name showcased on one of their blends. How did the idea for creating the Bad Kitty Blend come about?

I did the morning show on 92.3 The River for about four years. And if you know, I’m not a morning person. But I love coffee, and I always had to have a pot of coffee in my studio. So I thought I needed to get my own coffee, and finding a local roaster was not hard because there are so many good ones out there. 

I fell in love with Larry and his sense of community, so I spent three or four hours coming up with my own blend. We decided to give some proceeds to a nonprofit, and I decided on Foundation of Hope.  

What does Kitty like to do for fun?

I cook a lot. That’s what I like to do, and that’s what I do to relax. My specialty is tiramisu. I love going out and supporting local restaurants. I also love hiking, attending concerts, playing pickleball and spending time with my dog.  

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Kitty Kinnin and Chef Vivian Howard
Chef Vivian Howard, left, and Kitty Kinnin. Photo courtesy of Kitty Kinnin.
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