SAD NEWS CAME FROM CALIFORNIA... the legendary Gary Owens passed away, Thursday, February 12th, 2015. This Info was from allaccess.com and Variety tells some of the details: "Iconic voiceover performer GARY OWENS died on FEB. 12th at his home in the L.A. suburb of ENCINO, VARIETY reports. OWENS, who was 80, was best known as the announcer on NBC-TV’s "ROWAN AND MARTIN’s Laugh-In" (1968-73), but he also enjoyed a lengthy radio career as a DJ on KMPC/LOS ANGELES and as an executive with GENE AUTRY’s GOLDEN WEST BROADCASTERS and GANNETT. "
HERE ARE SOME OF MY PERSONAL MEMORIES OF GARY OWENS:
GARY OWENS IS ONE of the reasons I've been in Broadcasting since 1967. He was one of my early "Radio Heroes" and listening to him, day-after-day, I learned how good, creative, truly one-on-one radio could work...and how it was truly "the theater of the mind". He taught you that you could make your audience believe almost anything they heard, if you believed it yourself. Gary Owens could read the phone book and make you laugh.
Gary Owens in action with, obviously, another record-breaking event taking place in the WIL Studios, St. Louis ! (Photo courtesy of the St. Louis Media History Foundation)
OWENS WAS AT WIL / 1430 RADIO IN ST. LOUIS between 1958-1959, and those of us who were in high school at the time loved that "Mad Magazine" sense-of-humor that he brought us in Morning Drive. His antics were legendary and included many characters that he created...such as "Clinton S. Feemish", the tap-dancing weather forcaster with a "Daffy Duck"-type lisp.
Although KXOK, and, KWK, were featuring shows that were fine for that time period, WIL had become the station that most of us teens gravitated to. The vibe they created 24/7/365 was friendly, hip, fun, and, with their quest to "localize" some announcers & air personalities with house names like "Nelson Kirkwood" & "Dick Clayton"...they subconciously struck a responsive chord with their listeners.
I still have my "I Am A Complete Failure" Membership Card from that almost-exclusive-but-extremely-wacky Club that Owens created. The club's motto was: "Speak softly, and carry a big Aardvark". (Year's later when I was working with Don (Johnny Rabbitt) Pietromonaco at KXOK/St. Louis, I showed him the card which I have preserved in my Archives since 1959. He couldn't believe it ! Told me Owens was always one of his idols too and he would have loved to have had that card, or anything, sent to him by Gary Owens !)
What Gary Owens brought to his show every morning was that energy, sense-of-humour, and, rapid-fire delivery, that made him a must-listen-to Air Personality. As of this writing, much of the Broadcasting Industry has forgotten how important those factors were - and are - in not only getting an audience to listen, but to keep them there after they're tuned-in.
One of the reasons is that at one time Radio Stations were run by those who "were in radio" ! They'd been on-the-air, or in the sales department, or in the office in one capacity or another, learned the history of the station they were with and the town they were in, and knew how to handle their staff, program a station, market & promote it correctly, and, reach their listeners one-on-one. Today, most stations are run by conglamorates & accountants interested in the bottom-line, cash flow...they not only "lost" the vision of their predecessors, but most of the time, have never had it to begin with.
Satellite feeds, voice tracking, and, computerization of radio stations around-the-country, have all contributed to the problem of getting & holding an audience at any given station, taking away that "hometown", human, personal element that Pros like Gary Owens represented. Competeing with radio for in-home, in-car, at-the-office, and, earbud listening today are CD's, MP3's, Tablets, Pandora, iPads, iPods, iPhones, the iWatch, Flashdrives, YouTube, Desktops, Laptops, Internet Radio Stations, Bluetooth, and any other modern, electronic-media device you want to name...and that area keeps growing year-after-year. So, in this new 21st Century World that we live in, we are constantly bombarded with visual & aural forms of entertainment 24/7/365...all we have to do is choose what we want, whenever we want it. And, many times, "radio" itself isn't even considered.
IN 1958-1959, even though they were simpler, I had choices too, and every morning, I chose Gary Owens on WIL Radio. And, if he was still on there...I wouldn't need any other choice: mine was made fifty-seven years ago.
FAST FORWARD TO THE '62-'64 time I was in California studying at the Pasadena Playhouse, and later, living in Hollywood: Gary Owens was doing Afternoon Drive on KMPC in L.A. and he was better than ever. Just perfect in every respect. I was so excited about being able to, once again, hear his show everyday ! He always announced that he was broadcasting from the "Gary Owens Building on Sunset Boulevard here in Los Angeles."
I never patterned myself after Owens or anyone else, but listening to him I learned so much more than I could ever tell you. One thing you should know, if you never had the true privilege of listening to him On-The-Air, is that he was a "wordsmith" of the highest caliber. He created some words that I still use today like "insegrevious"...which actually means "not segrevious". And, some of those associated with his show included characters such as "Ramona Snarfle" and "Garsney S. Wigslip". He was a genius at what he did.
Sadly, so many only remember him from "Laugh In" on NBC-TV, or, the cartoon voices he did for "Space Ghost" & "Roger Ramjet",or, for the many commercials he did through the years. But, I remember him as an early "mentor" steering me into the profession I'd wanted to be in since I was eight years old. A mentor that I, sadly, never got to meet, but always wanted to so that I could thank him personally...thank him for all of the hours of pleasure I had listening to him on BOTH WIL, AND, KMPC. Thank him for helping to teach me. among other things, that applying humour, in small, fast, in-and-out bursts, can be so much more effective than a long, windy, drawn-out "shaggy dog" story that seems to go on forever, and does go on w-a-y to long before it finally gets to an often mediocre punchline which wasn't even worth the wait.
Gary Owens would never insult his audience that way. He had class; he was a true Pro in every sense of the word. He was a creative genius at doing it ALL the right way...from his first break everyday, to his sign-off, he NEVER missed a beat. Never. He was ALWAYS Spot-On-Perfect.
I'LL SHARE THIS WITH ALL OF YOU VISITING HERE ON MY WEBSITE: Gary Owens was one of our Industries All-Time Legendary Broadcasters. Like Alan Freed, Dick Clark, Casey Kasem, and, Wolfman Jack, Gary Owens was a truly iconic figure in his profession. If you want to know how good the Art of Communication through the power of Radio was when "AM Radio Was King", and the talents of those behind-the-mike were limitless, listen to some Classic Airchecks of Gary Owens. Seriously, I urge you, find some of his old airchecks available on different web sites...especially one he did on KMPC using Mel Blanc's "Superfun" Series in about 1968.
His radio shows were where Owens talents really shone through; that's where he was truly in his element. His great voice, his persona, his sense-of-humour, his rapid-fire delivery, his ability to move seamlessly from one subject to the next, that was the true genius of Gary Owens. Listen to the true "Art Form" of his daily On-Air work, and when you do, you'll know why the man was one of my Heroes...and why I've been driven to do what I do in this Industry - in all its various forms - for the last 48 years.
R.I.P. Gary, I could never thank you enough.
Jonnie King (February 13, 2015)
(What many don't remember, or maybe, don't know, WIL Radio in St. Louis, had a Powerhouse Morning/Afternoon Duo during that 1958-1959 time period: While Gary Owens was doing AM Drive, Jack Carney was doing Afternoon Drive. Talent personified !! (Plus, others on WIL through the years included: Dan Ingram, Ron Lundy, Gary Stevens, and, briefly, Danny Dark. All would go on to National fame.)
NOTE: The Gary Owens "Laugh-In" Photo at the Top of this Tribute Page courtesy of Cartoon Brew, LLC...with sincere thanks !