Owens was a journeyman DJ/announcer throughout the midwest and southern U.S. in the late 1950s, finally ending up at radio station KEWB, Oakland, California in 1959. He moved to its sister station KFWB in Los Angeles in 1961. From there, he joined the staff of KMPC in 1962, where he remained for the next two decades working the 3 p.m. to 6 p.m. shift, Monday through Friday. A gifted punster, Owens became known for his surrealistic humor. Among his trademarks were daily appearances by The Story Lady (played by Joan Gerber), the Rumor of the Day, myriad varieties of "The Nurney Song", and the introduction of the nonsense word "insegrevious", which was briefly included in the Funk and Wagnalls Dictionary.
His regular on-air radio terms included "krenellemuffin", as in "We'll be back in just a krenellemuffin". Gary always credited his radio engineer at the end of his broadcast: "I'd like to thank my engineer, Bob Jones, for creebling at the turntables." He also created the heretofore non-existent colors "veister" and "krelb".
In the early 1960s, like punster-TV star comic colleagues Ernie Kovacs, Steve Allen and Jonathan Winters, Gary Owens created a few comic characters of his own, such as the gruff old man Earl C. Festoon and his wife Phoebe Festoon, the stuffy old businessman Endocrine J. Sternwallow, and the goofy good ol' boy, Merle Clyde Gumpf. Another character was crotchety old cantankerous Mergenthaler Waisleywillow.
Owens also did very funny radio promotions like sending in for "Yours", which turned out to be a postcard from him from the radio station which simply said "Yours" on it; and autographed pictures of the Harbor Freeway in Los Angeles; and his famous "Moo Cow Report" in which Gary and his character Earl C. Festoon would describe where moo cows were moving inbound on the crowded freeways of L.A. During this time he was also known as "Superbeard", because like other radio icon Wolfman Jack, he sported a goatee-beard, wore Hawaiian shirts, baggy Bermuda shorts, and his "1941 wide necktie with a hula girl on it". Often during these comedy skits on the air he would have the assistance of other radio comics, most notably Bob Arbogast (known as "Arbo" to his adoring fans), Stan Ross (of "Drowning in the Surf" fame in 1963), and Jim "Weather Eyes" Hawthorne.
Owens also did his famous "Good Evening Kiss" on KMPC when he was on from 9PM to Midnight, by saying "Now I'll just snuggle up to a nice warm microphone, and embracemoi, with a big wet kiss sound effect followed by the sound effect of a big gong striking. In 1966, Owens collaborated with Bob Arbogast, June Foray, Daws Butler, Paul Frees and others on a hilarious comedy spoof record album titled "Sunday Morning With the Funnies" with the Jimmy Haskell Orchestra on Reprise Records.
During this period, Owens became more widely known as the voice of the eponymous TV cartoon characters in Roger Ramjet and Space Ghost, the excitable narrator/announcer from The Perils of Penelope Pitstop, and perhaps most well-known, as the announcer on Rowan and Martin's Laugh-In, all the while continuing his show on KMPC. He also hosted its daily game show spin-off, Letters to Laugh-In, during its brief run in 1969. Capitalizing on Owens' "Laugh-In" fame, Mel Blanc Audiomedia, an audio production company based in Beverly Hills, CA, developed and marketed "The Gary Owens Special Report," a 260-episode package of syndicated radio comedy shows. He also appeared in the Sesame Street Pilot in a skit called The Man from Alphabet.
In 1973, Owens wrote The (What to Do While You're Holding the) Phone Book (ISBN 0-87477-015-7), a comedic look at the history of the telephone.
On the weekend of September 12-13, 1981, Owens substituted for Casey Kasem on American Top 40; it was Gary's only appearance on radio's first nationally syndicated countdown show. That same year Watermark chose Owens to replace Murray the K as permanent host of "Soundtrack of the '60s", an oldies retrospective show. It ran in syndication through 1984.
He was the voice of Disney's Epcot Center ride, World of Motion, which operated between 1982 and 1996.
Owens did the humorous news blurbs that are interspersed throughout the 1975 film The Prisoner of Second Avenue. In 1976, Owens hosted the first season of the nighttime version of The Gong Show; he was replaced by the show's creator, Chuck Barris. In one of his bizarre giveaways on KMPC, he offered listeners a chance to receive "an autographed picture of the Harbor Freeway."
Owens has also provided the voice for
In the 1980s, Owens announced on jazz radio station KKJZ (then KKGO-FM) in Westwood, California. In the late 1990s, Owens hosted the morning show on the Music of Your Life radio network, where he later had the evening shift and currently hosts a weekend afternoon show. He also announces pre-recorded station IDs for Parksville, British Columbia radio station CHPQ-FM (The Lounge).
Gary also said things like:
Gary Owens, Los Angeles, K- -les -M- -les -les -les C-K!"
"I wanna listen to: Ga-ry O-wens, Los An-ge-lope!"
"I think Gary Owens is a idiot."
"Who asked him?"