Every website and every blog that has any connection to radio or TV now has an obit for Gary Owens, who just passed away at the age of 80 of complications from the diabetes he'd had all his life. The reason he's being remembered in every blog is because what he also had, besides one of the best voices ever, was a warm and winning personality. Everyone knew GO, because he was genuinely interested in everyone. He helped hundreds of kids get their first break in radio and TV. I myself made half a dozen trips to radio station KMPC on Sunset Boulevard in Hollywood to interview Gary, and he sat and humored me every time. I kept coming up with class projects that involved interviewing him, just so I could talk to him.
Gary Owens was silly. His radio comedy was free-form goofiness, and I grew up on it. Most people will remember him as the announcer on Laugh-In, hand over his ear, but anyone who grew up in Los Angeles will remember that he was constantly on the radio with that silly goofiness and that great voice. When my friends and I car-pooled home from high school every afternoon, we all tuned in to KMPC -- not for the music, which was a wondrous mixture of big band and Doris Day -- but for Gary Owens and his silly bits and wordplay. From him, we learned about nerneys and fnorks, and listened as the Story Lady told fables about drunken dwarves, and got a first-class education in puns. Gary had a bit on his show called "Rumor of the Day." His original idea was to start a rumor, then see if it would spread and eventually wind up being reported as fact. Eventually, it became a daily pun-fest, and he began accepting rumors from listeners. When he read my rumor -- "Music buffs are usually very polished gentlemen" -- and thanked me on the air, my aunt was listening in her car and later told me she was so excited to hear my name on the radio she nearly drove off the road.
Gary Owens is the reason I got into radio. I tried to pattern my voice and my sensibilities after his, and even today I'm still borrowing from him. Because if you're gonna steal, steal from the best.
Thanks Gary. You were the best.