(Pictured: Gary Owens at KPRZ in Los Angeles, 1983.)
When Gary Owens died three weeks ago, I was on the road and unable to cobble together a tribute to one of America’s most famous radio DJs. Fortunately, Premiere Radio Networks, the company that syndicates American Top 40, helped out last weekend by offering affiliates the show from September 12, 1981, which was guest-hosted by Owens. It was the third option for AT40 80s affiliates on that weekend, so I doubt many of them aired it, but I got me a copy of it, because of course I did. The first part of a two-part live blog is on the flip. We’ll do part 2 on Monday.
38. “General Hospi-tale”/Afternoon Delights. When I first took over the afternoon show on KDTH in 1982, my boss thought it would be a good idea if I had a soap-opera update feature. He had a friend who was addicted to Days of Our Lives, so I would call up this woman a couple of times a week and she’d tell us what was happening on the show. It was not good radio. Because she didn’t tell the plots very well and I couldn’t keep them straight enough to talk intelligently about them from week to week, it wasn’t long before we took the feature out behind the building and shot it. “General Hospi-tale,” about the soap then at its peak cultural influence thanks to the highly publicized romance of Luke and Laura, wasn’t much more explicable to non-GH viewers. But it did well enough to eventually make #33.
36. “I’ve Done Everything for You”/Rick Springfield. Further General Hospital flavor, with the singer/actor who played, and still occasionally plays, Dr. Noah Drake on the show. (“Jessie’s Girl,” a former #1 hit, is also on the show, up at #11.)
The first thing you notice about Gary Owens on this show is how “announcery” he sounds. All you can think of is his Laugh-In persona, in the studio with his hand over one ear. But after a while, you don’t notice his perfect diction and glorious pipes as much as you notice the twinkle. Where that magnificent voice could have been off-putting had it belonged to somebody else, Owens’ great gift was to sound friendly and accessible in spite of it. And he was. When he died, absolutely every tribute to the man talked about how nice he was, to fellow radio types and to regular listeners who crossed his path.
35. “Chloe”/Elton John. If you remember hearing “Chloe” on the radio, I’ll give you a dollar, because I don’t. There’s a copy of Elton’s album The Fox up here in the office someplace, but I bet I haven’t played it since 1981.
33. “You Could Take My Heart Away”/Silver Condor. I am pretty sure I haven’t heard “You Could Take My Heart Away” since 1981, either. Guitarist Earl Slick, famed for his gigs with David Bowie and Phantom Rocker and Slick, is on this.
32. “Share Your Love With Me” and 31. “I Don’t Need You”/Kenny Rogers. The stuff Rogers made with Lionel Richie was the best stuff of his career—better songs and better performances than Rogers had been releasing in the late 70s.
31. “Draw of the Cards”/Kim Carnes. Any followup to a hit as big as “Bette Davis Eyes” was destined to come up short, even though “Draw of the Cards” is more interesting. (That video, though.)
Owens periodically remarks he’s on loan from Soundtrack of the 60s, the syndicated show he was hosting in 1981. But Owens’ daily radio gig in Los Angeles during the 60s (and until the early 80s) was on MOR station KMPC, where he did afternoons. After he left KMPC, he went to do mornings on KPRZ—a station doing the nostalgic Music of Your Life format. Day to day over the course of his radio career, I’ll wager he played more Frank Sinatra and Patti Page than he did the Beatles and the Rolling Stones.
27. “Breaking Away”/Balance. Owens could have said this was Silver Condor and nobody would have known the difference.
25. “In Your Letter”/REO Speedwagon. It’s true, America—you’d rather hear “In Your Letter” than listen to “Take It on the Run” again. Honestly, you would.
“I’m Gary Owens, feeding the AT40 goldfish for Casey Kasem this week—and working for scale—as the countdown continues.” (Jingle out.)