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Awesome Men Throughout History: Gary Owens

This week’s topic on Awesome Men Throughout History is one of the voices of my extremely nerdy youth; radio personality and voice actor Gary Owens. If nothing else, I found out that Owens, who was already kind of old when I first discovered him, is still alive and still working today. Hopefully this won’t become a Vaclav Havel situation where he dies right when I decide to tell people how cool he is.

The great Gary Owens

Gary is an old-school radio guy whose career began in 1952 (the same year Playboy published its first issue) at KOIL in Omaha, Nebraska. He moved around the Midwest and West Coast for years, hosting a variety of radio shows and branching into TV and voice-over work when his travels brought him to Los Angeles; he was a guest on The Jack Benny Show and was the voice of Roger Ramjet and the original Space Ghost, which was a real (terrible) superhero cartoon in the 1960s. Gary was also the announcer for Space Ghost Coast to Coast, which was made with recycled footage from the old cartoon.

Gary’s ultimate TV legacy was making your Baby Boomer parents shriek with laughter as the surreal announcer of Rowan and Martin’s Laugh-In. If you’ve never heard of this show, ask your folks about it. Don’t let them talk you into watching it, though. Fifty years after the fact, it kinda sucks, although watching a young Goldie Hawn dance in a bikini is still pretty hot.

I first heard Gary’s velvety baritone on Ren & Stimpy (he was Powdered Toast Man), and again as the narrator for Space Quest 4, one of the many computer games that came with the Compaq desktop computer my family had when I was a little kid. I loved that game, and Gary Owens was at least 60% responsible for that. He returned to that role in Space Quest 6, and will come back yet again for an upcoming game made by the same developers.

Gary’s voice is his greatest comedic gift, because it’s deep and authoritative and dignified, and often completely at odds with Gary’s goofy sense of humor. He’s almost a living parody of the stodgy radio announcers of his childhood, none of whom would ever say things like “cling tenaciously to my buttocks!” or “Thank you for playing Space Quest 4! As usual, you’ve been a real pant-load!” in their working voices, no matter how much you paid them. One recurring gag of his was throwing nonsense words like “krenellemuffin” and “insegrevious” into his on-air banter, which was delivered with just enough mock sincerity to be funny without sounding too awkward or campy.

Here’s a compilation of funny moments from Space Quest 4, most of which are lines delivered by Gary as the unseen narrator.

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And here he is getting interviewed about his book, How to Make a Million Dollars with Your Voice, and talking about his career a bit.

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About Dave Kiefaber Dave Kiefaber is a Baltimore-based writer who regularly contributes to Adfreak and the Gettysburg Times. His personal website is at www.beeohdee.blogspot.com.

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