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GARY OWENS
"Laugh-In" Funnyman Busier Than Ever

By JOSEPH GORIA

Gary Owens (right) with the author

When you think of Gary Owens, the legendary Los Angeles radio personality, you might remember him as the wacky announcer on the 1960's TV variety comedy show "Laugh-In". Owens, best remembered for coining the phrase "Beautiful Downtown Burbank" and the recipient of The National Association of Broadcasters Hall of Fame award, is currently working on various television programs, commercial voiceover and animation projects. However, his first love, the medium that brought him to Hollywood, was -- and still is -- radio.

Born in the Midwest, Owens has hosted more than 11,000 national and local radio shows, and is current afternoon host for the "Music of Your Life" Big Band and Middle of The Road format. "Radio has been very kind to me," Owens said. "I've never been out of the loop since I was a teenager, due to hard work & good luck, which seems to go with good longevity.

His career began very modestly with station KOIL in Omaha, Nebraska. Owens was doing news at the top of the hour each morning, assisting the morning drive host on the station. But one day, due to an unforeseen incident, he was called into duty by the station's program director. "I got this call from the boss, he needed me to spin records and do the news because the morning drive jock was sick. Well, the morning drive guy never came back and I took over the slot," Owens said.

Within one month, Gary Owens, only 17 years old - took Omaha's KOIL up to No. 1 in the competitive morning ratings. His career was heading well into new and better opportunities. Shortly thereafter, Owens decided to come to the West Coast and become the morning drive host for the legendary Top 40 rock pioneer station KEWB (Now KNEW 910) in San Francisco. He became the most listened to rock radio disc jockey for two years, at the infancy of the Rock and Roll revolution. "It was an incredible experience, as KEWB was the pioneer of Rock & Roll radio in The Bay Area, years before KFRC (610 AM) embraced the format," Owens said.

KEWB was the sister station to Los Angeles' Top 40 legend KFWB (980 AM) "Color Radio". In the spring of 1961, Owens left San Francisco to come down to Los Angeles and work afternoon drive time at "Color Radio" KFWB. "KFWB was my first radio station in Los Angeles , which led me to break into television at around the same time," Owens said. Owens was a frequent guest performer on "The Jack Benny Show" on CBS, as well as writing work for Jay Ward Productions, home of "The Rocky & Bullwinkle Show". "Jack Benny was a truly nice human being, he helped me get my career on TV off to a good start, as well as working at Jay Ward along with Allan Burns (Who later created "The Mary Tyler Moore Show") & George Atkins, who wrote Mr. Magoo cartoons, Chris Hayward (Who later worked on "Barney Miller") and Lloyd Turner, who did "Mork & Mindy", Owens said.

In the mid 1960's - as the counterculture was in full swing, Gary Owens left KFWB and Rock & Roll for the more subtle pastures of Middle of The Road radio KMPC (Now KDIS 710). "I moved from Rock & Roll to MOR - From Elvis & Bo Diddly to Frank Sinatra and Peggy Lee," Owens said. "I took over from Johnny Grant for the afternoon drive time." Owens stayed at KMPC for more than 20 years, earning more awards in the Los Angeles radio market for his smooth delivery and his one of a kind sound. At the same time, he started in his first cartoon voiceover assignment as the voice of "Roger Ramjet" In 1968, his television career reached to new heights. "I was approached by NBC producer George Schlatter regarding this idea of creating a counterculture-style variety show and Schlatter used to listen to me on the radio and felt I was perfect for the Laugh-In format - to be the straight guy who would be it's narrator of sorts, so I agreed."

"Rowan and Martin's Laugh-In" was truly revolutionary for television in the late 1960's . As America was experiencing events such as the struggle for civil rights and anti-war protests, with the Vietnam War dividing America in two, "Laugh-In" brought America back together in that magic form called comedy. Owens recalled the magic "Laugh-In" had created. "The show was highly successful because we were going into different areas such as politics that were considered taboo for TV up to that time," Owens said. "And, that means Sex, Drugs & Rock And Roll - No one was safe, no idea was safe from ridicule." Owens appeared in every episode for six seasons on NBC from 1968 to early 1973, and became a household fixture .

Lately, Owens is busier than ever before.

He's been doing voiceover work for several projects, including Disney's "Tarzan" an on-camera promotion work for shows such as "The Rosie O'Donnell Show" and the announcer for the syndicated game show "The Hollywood Squares."

Owens is one of the fortunate ones. He's stayed in a business that goes through constant change. Most amazingly, his durability in an industry that is hardly known for long-lasting careers is well known. Currently, he is planning to work on a feature-length film for 20th Century Fox, appearing as a guest on hit shows such as "Sabrina, The Teenage Witch" and "That '70s Show". On top of his acting and commercial voiceover work, he's just released a comedy CD working in collaboration with Jonathan Winters. "Very funny stuff - Jonathan is an incredible person to work with," Owens said. He still keeps in touch with the old "Laugh-In" cast. "I see Goldie Hawn from time to time, and we laugh back at each other," Owens said.

But, one thing he does every day, and loves most of all, is being on the radio. He is current afternoon host for the nationally syndicated "Music of Your Life" network, with 200 affiliates across the country (However, there is currently no Los Angeles outlet, but you can catch the broadcast online at www.musicofyourlife.com).

"Radio is my first love," Owens said. "I can't think of a finer medium to communicate to the masses, and it's fun to do."

Gary Owens was the first radio star to be inducted into The Hollywood Hall of Fame, and his star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame is a testament to his love of the medium that had brought him here so many years ago. "Being along the likes of "The Real Don Steele" and Robert W. Morgan is amazing," he said. "Without radio, I don't think I've would have gone so far into television and motion pictures." Owens added, "I'm grateful to those who helped me believe that I could make it as a personality, and a personality that millions still remember and laugh."


UPDATE: His latest film credit is in the 2004 release "Comic Book: The Movie", in which he plays himself, and he is currently heard on KLAC 570 AM in the Los Angeles area.

Read more about his exciting career at imdb.com


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