With Gary Owens' smooth, authoritative baritone, it made sense he had a broadcasting career spanning 50 years — working as the ear-cupping announcer on “Rowan & Martin's Laugh-In,” lending his voice to cartoon characters including Space Ghost, Roger Ramjet and “Ren & Stimpy’s” Powdered Toast Man, and working as a DJ in Los Angeles since 1961.
What didn't make sense: many of the goofy lines he uttered with his deadpan delivery. Such as, “The Eiffel Tower is not really made of eiffel,” or, “I'd rather hear Barbra Streisand sing than eat. Of course, I've never heard her eat.”
Owens used his stentorian voice of authority to convey the most absurd non sequiturs and corny jokes: “This just in. Union 76 will merge with Smuckers to sell petroleum jelly.”
The man who would glorify “beautiful downtown Burbank” on “Laugh-In” from 1968 to 1973 began his radio career at 16 on, appropriately, station KORN in Mitchell, S.D., just 25 miles from where he was born. He went on to San Francisco when a tornado leveled his neighborhood, then came to L.A. in 1961.
He began at KFWB-AM (980) when it was a rock station, before leaving after a year for middle-of-the-road music outlet KMPC-AM (710). He remained there for 20 years, a fixture in the afternoons on the Gene Autry-owned station. After that he bounced around other stations in the Southland, often left out in the cold by format changes, such as KFI-AM (640) in 1989, when it went all-talk, or KJQI-AM (1260) in 1995, when it ditched music for an all-news format.
In a 1997 poll commissioned by L.A. radio historian Don Barrett, Owens was voted the No. 1 DJ of the previous 40 years, both beating out and earning the praise of other legends, including the Real Don Steele, Robert W. Morgan, Rick Dees and Charlie Tuna, who said Owens was “constantly twisting words and phrases into a whole new funny angle. Just a pleasure to be around.”
Owens parlayed his radio success into performances in television and film, and voice-over work, including an estimated 3,000 cartoons and 30,000 commercials and appearances on “Sesame Street,” “Scooby-Doo,” “Midnight Cowboy” and “That '70s Show.”
Owens died Feb. 12, 2015, at his home in Encino, Calif. He was 80.