CRAVEN’S NOTES: The Man with the Golden Krelb
Free Press Music Columnist
Whenever I read the latest essay or article announcing the impending death of radio (and I’ve written several of them myself!), I try to tally a list of the things radio is able to achieve that no other content conduit can. Nowadays, if we’re to judge by most of what’s available on the radio dial, that list is pretty sparse.
Radio is, to a large extent, a moribund medium, homogenized by industry consolidation, and populated by indistinguishable voices so intent on imitating each other’s stale jokes and staccato cadences that personality has practically disappeared from the ether.
But it wasn’t always so, and I offer as proof a voice and personality who was a big influence on a young Craven Lovelace back in the late 1960s and early ’70s. Most people remember Gary Owens as the ear-cupping announcer of “Rowan and Martin’s Laugh-In,” but if you grew up in Southern California, you may know Owens was also a brilliant disc jockey, possessed of an amazing baritone speaking voice and a strange, strange mind. Gary Owens’ radio show was a virtual clubhouse for surrealists and nonsense lovers long before “Monty Python” or “Saturday Night Live” brought giant hedgehogs and coneheads into America’s living rooms.
Owens’ show, which ran from 1962 to 1981 on Gene Autry’s Los Angeles radio station, KMPC, was a hilarious, bizarre, daily appointment with the absurd. His smoothly delivered non sequitur patter was liberally peppered with trademark nonsense words like “nurney” and “krelb” and “krenellemuffin.” Owens’ show was punctuated by regular features like “The Story Lady,” in which comedienne Joan Gerber would tell raucous (and occasionally risque!) parodies of fairy tales, and “Let’s See Who’s at the Door,” in which Owens would ceremoniously open a prop foley door crafted for him by NBC technicians during his “Laugh-In” days, and exchange one liners with a different famous celebrity each day. He held contests for “the best chicken joke” to promote Kentucky Fried Chicken, and on one infamous occasion, went on an 18-minute laughing jag trying to get through a Preparation H commercial.
Listening to Owens, you never knew exactly what you were going to hear. His show was cordial anarchy, the radio equivalent of Mad magazine, never suffering the pretentious and never succumbing to the serious.
Owens had other irons in the fire besides his radio show, of course. He was also an in-demand voice actor. By his own account, he voiced more than 3,000 cartoons. He was the voice of Roger Ramjet and Space Ghost. He played Batman and announced for Superman. He was also a writer and worked for some time for Jay Ward, writing gags for “Rocky and Bullwinkle” and “Hoppity Hooper” among other beloved cartoons. He also has had many acting roles during his long career.
Nowadays, at the tender age of 77, Owens is still active as the voice of the nostalgia-oriented cable network, Antenna TV. To Craven, he stands as the last of his species, a living monument to a kind of imaginative, absurdist mind play that only radio can truly provide… and yet no longer really does.
Craven Lovelace is the producer of the Notes Blog & Podcast at http://cravenlovelace.com/notesblog and also writes about popular culture at the Cravenomena blog at http://cravenlovelace.com/cravenblog/. You can also find him on Facebook.
Notes is made possible by Tina Harbin of Real Estate West, the premier resource for all real estate information and services on the Western Slope.
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