A lifetime dream came true for me about 15 years ago when I moved from New York to Hollywood and actually got to meet my broadcast hero. Actually, Don Graham introduced us shortly after ending the Dick Cavittt Show show in the big apple and moving to Hollywood to assume duties as Executive producer for CRN Digital Talk Radio. Gary Owens became a good friend and did many interviews on short notice. We saw each other at CD parties, industry functions etc., and most of all, he proved to be a "real" person. Here is a profile on this legendary talent.
Gary Owens was born Gary Altman in Mitchell, South Dakota, the son of Venetta (née Clark), an educator and county auditor, and Bernard Joseph Altman, a county treasurer and sheriff. Born on May 10, 1936, Gary is an American disc jockey and voice actor. His polished baritone speaking voice generally offers deadpan recitations of total nonsense, which he frequently demonstrated as the announcer on Rowan and Martin's Laugh-In. Owens is equally proficient in straight or silly assignments and is frequently heard in television, radio, and commercials. He's best known as the voice of Space Ghost on Space Ghost. He also played himself in a cameo appearance on Space Ghost Coast to Coast in 1998.
Owens started his radio career at KORN, Mitchell, South Dakota in 1952 where he served as News Director. In 1956, he left KORN for a job at KMA, Shenandoah, Iowa before moving on to KOIL, Omaha, Nebraska. He also worked in Dallas, New Orleans, St. Louis and Denver where he got his first television experience. He made the move to California in 1959 working at KROY in Sacramento, and KEWBin Oakland, finally setting in Los Angeles.
Owens moved to KEWB's sister station KFWB in Los Angeles in 1961. From there, he joined the staff of KMPC in 1962, replacing previous host Johnny Grant, where he remained for the next two decades working the 3 p.m. to 6 p.m. shift, Monday through Friday. A gifted punster, Owens became known for his surrealistic humor. Among his trademarks were daily appearances by The Story Lady (played by Joan Gerber), the Rumor of the Day, myriad varieties of "The Nurney Song", and the introduction of the nonsense word"insegrevious", which was briefly included in the Funk and Wagnalls Dictionary.
His regular on-air radio terms included "krenellemuffin", as in "We'll be back in just a krenellemuffin". Gary always credited his radio engineer at the end of his broadcast: "I'd like to thank my engineer, Bob Jones, for creebling at the turntables." He also created the heretofore non-existent colors "veister" and "krelb".
In the early 1960s, like punster-TV star comic colleagues Ernie Kovacs, Steve Allen, and Jonathan Winters, Gary Owens created a few comic characters of his own, such as the gruff old man Earl C. Festoon and his wife Phoebe Festoon, the stuffy old businessman Endocrine J. Sternwallow, and the goofy good ol' boy, Merle Clyde Gumpf. Another character was crotchety old cantankerous Mergenthaler Waisleywillow.
During this time Owens was also known as "Superbeard", because like his contemporary radio icon Wolfman Jack, he sported a goatee-beard, wore Hawaiian shirts, baggy Bermuda shorts, and his "1941 wide necktie with a hula girl on it". Often during these comedy skits on the air he would have the assistance of other radio comics, most notably Bob Arbogast (known as "Arbo" to his adoring fans), Stan Ross (of "Drowning in the Surf" fame in 1963), and Jim "Weather Eyes" Hawthorne.
Owens also did his famous "Good Evening Kiss" on KMPC when he was on from 9 p.m. to Midnight, by saying "Now I'll just snuggle up to a nice warm microphone, andembracemoi," making a big wet kiss sound effect followed by the sound effect of a gong striking. In 1966, Owens collaborated with Bob Arbogast, June Foray, Daws Butler, Paul Frees and others on a hilarious comedy spoof record album titled "Sunday Morning With the Funnies" with the Jimmy Haskell Orchestra on Reprise Records.
During this period, Owens became more widely known as the voice of the eponymous TV cartoon characters in Roger Ramjet and Space Ghost, the excitable narrator/announcer from The Perils of Penelope Pitstop, and perhaps most well-known, as the announcer on Rowan and Martin's Laugh-In, all the while continuing his show on KMPC.
He also hosted its daily game show spin-off, Letters to Laugh-In, during its brief run in 1969. In addition, he appeared regularly as a television newscaster on The Green Hornet during the 1966–1967 season. Capitalizing on Owens' "Laugh-In" fame, Mel Blanc Audiomedia, an audio production company based in Beverly Hills, California, developed and marketed "The Gary Owens Special Report," a 260-episode package of syndicated radio comedy shows. He also appeared in the Sesame Street pilot in a skit called The Man from Alphabet.
Owens did the humorous news blurbs that are interspersed throughout the 1975 film The Prisoner of Second Avenue. In 1976, he hosted the first season of the nighttime version ofThe Gong Show; he was replaced by the show's creator, Chuck Barris.
The same year Owens became the voice of a new cartoon character, Blue Falcon, a character that fought crime in fictional Big City with the help of his clumsy sidekick, Dynomutt, also known as Dynomutt, Dog Wonder. The series was a parody of Batman, specifically the live-action version starring Adam West.
It wasn't uncommon to see the Blue Falcon use various falcon gadgets much like Batman used various "bat gadgets". The falcon belt was used in a similar fashion to Batman's utility belt with an endless supply of weapons and other devices. Owens would provide the voice of the Blue Falcon from 1976 through 1977 in 20 half-hour episodes. The 1977 episodes were broken into two parts that ran 11 minutes each — 16 episodes in 1976 and 4 episodes in 1977.
On the album Uptown Rulers, Owens can be heard on the first track introducing New Orleans funkadelic band, The Meters. The live recording took place on March 24, 1975 at Paul and Linda McCartney's release party for the Venus And Mars album held on the Queen Mary.
Owens received a Hollywood Walk of Fame Star in 1980, between Walt Disney and Betty White. In the 1980s, he announced on jazz radio station KKJZ (then KKGO-FM) in Westwood, California. On August 8, 1981, Gary announced the Corps at the Drum Corps International Midwestern Championship. It was held at Warhawk Stadium UW Whitewater
On the weekend of September 12–13, 1981, Owens substituted for his old KEWB station partner Casey Kasem on American Top 40; it was Gary's only appearance on radio's first nationally syndicated countdown show. That same year Watermark chose Owens to replace Murray the K as permanent host of "Soundtrack of the '60s", an oldies retrospective show. It ran in syndication through 1984.
He was the voice of Walt Disney's Epcot Center ride, World of Motion, which operated between 1982 and 1996. His television special was "The Roots of Goofy" which aired from the mid-1980s to the early 1990s.
Owens moved from KMPC to KPRZ (both Los Angeles) in the early 1980s, hosting mornings at the "Music Of Your Life"-formatted station. Owens in morning, and Dick Whittinghill in afternoon drive was an inversion of his KMPC years.
When Roger Barkley surprisingly walked out of the long-running "Lohman and Barkley Show" on KFI in Los Angeles, Owens briefly teamed with Al Lohman for the successful morning commute show. Jeff Gehringer was brought on as producer. The program ended after the station changed format to talk.
In the late 1990s, Owens hosted the morning show on the Music of Your Life radio network, where he later had the evening shift and hosted a weekend afternoon show until 2006.
He also announces pre-recorded station IDs for Parksville, British Columbia radio station CHPQ-FM (The Lounge), and for humorist Gary Burbank's long-running afternoon show on WLW in Cincinnati, Ohio. Owens was also the announcer for America's Funniest Home Videos from 1995–1997, replacing Ernie Anderson.