Peter J. O'Neal can best be described as the Tiger Woods of Baltimore's television industry.
"P. J." has been carting a video camera since he was 8, filming family reunions. Now, at 15, he wields the handles of a giant TV camera perched on a tripod in Baltimore City Hall, where he transmits weekly City Council meetings to residents on the city's cable station, Channel 21. O'Neal emulates the nation's famous young golfer on another plane, following in the footsteps of his father and teacher, Channel 2 news photographer Peter O'Neal.
"I almost have a tear in my eye every time I go down there, to look over and see your son working the camera like you," the senior O'Neal said.
Peter O'Neal is familiar with City Council meetings. As a newsman, he covered the sessions for years. Last year, when the council faced budget cuts that threatened to pull the plug on the televised meetings, O'Neal offered to help.
Through his company, New Visions Entertainment, O'Neal revived the transmission. Part of the agreement included allowing his son to gain hands-on camera experience.
"He's kind of young and small, but he does a good job," Council President Lawrence A. Bell III said. "People have been very satisfied and proud of him."
As long as he can remember, O'Neal the junior has clung to technical equipment. He recalls sitting in his playpen pressing the buttons of an old tape recorder his parents placed there, pushing on the fast forward and rewind buttons.
As a toddler, he often sat on his mother Beverly's lap, as she typed away on her Commodore 64 computer. Though his friends were mesmerized by television, O'Neal spent his childhood staring at the computer screen.
"I always did like electronics and I've broken a few things," O'Neal said, chuckling. "But I always learn."
He began tagging along with his father as soon as he was able, often helping cart camera equipment, and always asking questions.
"He was always showing me his cameras, and when the new cameras would come out in the catalogs, he would say, 'That's my dream camera' and I would say, 'How does it work?' " the son recalls.
His love for cameras is matched only by his enchantment with computers. He and his 11-year-old brother, Patrick, have formed their own computer company, Rapid River Software.
Much as they did when O'Neal learned about cameras, relatives allow the boys to repair their computers and design educational and entertainment games, happy that O'Neal didn't go into dentistry.
"If it's not cameras, it's computers," O'Neal said. "But my brother, he's the mastermind behind the games."
At a recent council meeting, members stopped to sing "Happy Birthday" to O'Neal and present him with a resolution of appreciation. Walking from the meeting, O'Neal resembled Woods once again, this time flashing a broad, brilliant Tiger smile.
"Look," he said. "I'm a resolution."
Pub Date: 4/29/98