Perhaps most of the world remembers him from Rowan and Martin’s Laugh-In, which aired on NBC Television from 1968 to 1973. On that, he played the wacky announcer for the show “from beautiful downtown Burbank” with his hand constantly over his ear.
We, of course, knew him even better as the quick-witted, wacky, corny DJ on such stations as the original KMPC (now KSPN, 710 AM), KPRZ (now KEIB, 1150 AM), KFI (640 AM) and of course KFWB (980 AM).
Gary Owens passed away on February 12 at the age of 80, surrounded by relatives at his home in Encino.
Don Barrett of LARadio.Com mentions in his book, Los Angeles Radio People, Volume 2, that Owens’ first radio job was prophetic in retrospect -- KORN in Michell, South Dakota. He sued his given name of Gary Altman until he landed at KOIL/Omaha, Nebraska two stations later.
He arrived in Los Angeles in 1961 after some time at sister station KEWB/San Francisco. Almost immediately, the the station went on strike and Owens was off the air -- he honored the striking newsmen. After the strike was settled, Owens moved into the morning slot and quickly became the top-rated morning show in Los Angeles, leading shortly to an offer from KMPC that he accepted. He remained at KMPC from 1962 until 1981.
In addition to his radio and television announcing, Owens was in cartoons -- both as a writer and characters (most famously Bullwinkle) -- and commercials. He created humorous radio station giveaways at some of his earlier stations including a two-piece jigsaw puzzle that is described by Barrett as still looking wrong after being assembled. Owens was also the host for the pilot episode of television’s The Gong Show and the host of that show’s first season in nighttime syndication.
He was a mentor and friend to many, including David Letterman who had written to Owens while a student at Ball State asking for advise about writing creative comedy. He even contributed to children’s television through his announcing and contributions to PBS Television’s Sesame Street and The Electric Company.
His star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame is right next to Walt Disney, which I am sure made Owens happy. His quick wit, flawless timing and (when appropriate) deadpan seriousness will be missed throughout the broadcast industry. You can hear samples of his work on www.reelradio.com (small subscription donation required) and remembrance letters from fans and colleagues are available on www.LARadio.Com.
Did anyone else take note of the fact that this year is not only the 50th birthday of the Boss Radio format on 93/KHJ (930 AM), it is also the 93rd year of broadcasting for the station that launched in 1922?
Can’t get your fix of old school now that Hot 92.3 FM has become essentially unlistenable? You might see if you can pick up KQIE/Riverside (104.7 FM) ... they just picked up the Old School pop format. Makes sense ... Hot 92.3 was itself very popular in the Inland Empire.