Bill Owen (writer and announcer)
Bill Owen in 2013
February 1, 1931 |
Grand Forks, North Dakota
Bill Owen, widely known as the "King of Trivia", is a writer and radio/television announcer whose career spans six decades. He served as host and announcer for the children's program "Discovery" in the 1960s.
Bill Owen was born in Grand Forks, North Dakota on February 1, 1931. His father Owen T. Owen (born in Milbank, South Dakota on September 15, 1890) was an outstanding track star at the University of North Dakota where he graduated from law school. He held many public offices including state tax commissioner and chairman of the state's Workman's Compensation bureau.
Bill's mother Else Rohde Owen (born in Milwaukee, Wisconsin on September 12, 1893) was the daughter of the founder of Congress Candy Company, a major manufacturer and distributor of candy. She was prominent in social activities and education. Bill's two brothers, Owen T. Owen Jr. ("Tudor") and Jack served in the United States Navy and United States Army respectively so when Bill joined the United States Air Force he completed the circle of all three branches of the military.
Bill participated in football, baseball, basketball, and track as a young man and became an avid fisherman, water and snow skier, and licensed pilot and one day achieved his dream of parachuting from an airplane. He has said his toughest accomplishment was learning to ride a unicycle.
He was editor of his high school newspaper (the Bismarck, North Dakota "Hi-Herald") and after three years of pre-med studies at the University of Southern California, he switched his major to telecommunications. He started his announcing career at USC working on campus stations KTRU and KUSC-FM.
After graduating cum laude, Bill entered service and was assigned to the American Forces Network in Germany where he did play-by-play announcing of football, basketball, and baseball. He later returned to North Dakota and worked for KFYR radio and TV in Bismarck as an announcer, sports director, and cowboy entertainer "Marshal Bill."
Initially, Bill was reluctant to play the part of Marshal Bill; he wanted to focus on doing sports. One other announcer, Gus Becker, heard about the show and was eager to do it if Bill refused. Bill recommended Gus, but the management told Bill he was the right person for it. One year Bill was asked to lead the annual rodeo parade, which is by far the biggest event in Bismarck-Mandan, to the extent that one year they had a Hollywood movie cowboy lead it. Bill practiced riding for several weeks so he would look his best, waving to the crowd and throwing candy kisses to the youngsters along the parade route.
While in service he met Rosemary Bobo of Gray Court, South Carolina, a high school home economics teacher, and they were married on October 1, 1955. Their three children are Carolyn, a well-known singer-musician-songwriter/artist/horse-trainer, Richard, a banking executive, and Lisa, a horse-trainer and the owner of a horse stable and riding academy.
Bill joined WLW radio and TV in Cincinnati, Ohio in 1957 as a staff announcer. In 1958-1960 he hosted a classical and semi-classical music radio program called "Music for You" which surprisingly beat rock stations in the ratings. Bill had an eclectic taste in music, later emceeing rock, pop, and big band formats.
Three years later Bill was chosen by ABC for its staff. He stayed for thirty years during which time he did news and sports on both radio and television. Among his many sports assignments was filling in for Howard Cosell on Howard's sports shows and post-New York Mets broadcasts. Bill was also selected to become a disc jockey on WABC radio ("MusicRadio 77") as one of the station's original "Swinging Seven" which also included Scott Muni, Herb Oscar Anderson, Chuck Dunaway, Jack Carney, Farrell Smith, and Charlie Greer (who was known for always spraying the microphone for germs when his shift began).
The publicity for the "Swinging Seven" was enormous: full page photos of the DJs in the major newspapers, billboards with their photos scattered around town, posters advertising their "Swingin' Sound Surveys", and constant playing on air of their promos. They also made public appearances attired in trademark bright red blazers.
In 1966 he was elevated from being the show announcer of the award-winning young people's series "Discovery" to succeeding Frank Buxton as host. He and actress Virginia Gibson ("Seven Brides for Seven Brothers") continued as hosts for five more years, traveling throughout the world.
During his years at ABC, Bill co-wrote with announcer Allan Jefferys a novel about a disc jockey titled "DJ" published by Popular Library. Later he collaborated with Frank Buxton on a volume initially self-published as "Radio's Golden Age: the Programs and the Personalities", by Easton Valley Press. This was later greatly expanded, re-titled, and published as “The Big Broadcast 1920-1950” (Viking Press, Avon paperback). It was later re-issued in 1997 as a second edition by Scarecrow Press. This was the first encyclopedia of old-time radio programs.
While working as a free-lancer, Bill did many on-camera and voice-over commercials for national television, and portrayed Ellery Queen in the nationally syndicated series "Ellery Queen's Minute Mysteries". It ran for many years on radio stations, allowing time for local commercials.
Bill also wrote the popular syndicated panel "Return With Us To..." with drawing by comic strip artist Don Sherwood. This nostalgic remembrance of the past enjoyed a long run in Grit, a national weekly newspaper.
From 1982-1990, Bill was announcer for ABC-TV's "World News this Morning" where he contributed brief trivia items along with puzzles and quotations. That segment became the most popular part of the program and developed a cult following. In addition he appeared on the program and on "Good Morning America" as a sports anchor. His sports knowledge also led to assignments on "ABC's Wide World of Sports" and live coverage of the Olympics. In 1962 he covered the America's Cup yacht races from Newport, Rhode Island for ABC Radio from the Goodyear blimp.
After leaving ABC in 1990, Bill was the principal voice of superstation WWOR-TV for three and a half years and then brought back WNEW's legendary "Make Believe Ballroom" for two radio stations in New Jersey where he interviewed such stars as Tony Martin, Cyd Charisse, Kitty Kallen, Margaret Whiting, Al Martino, Les Paul, Patti Page, Julius La Rosa, Jo Stafford, Les Brown, Frankie Laine, Don Cornell, and Patty Andrews. Bill also acted in the role of "TV Announcer #2" in the film production of The Handmaid's Tale, released in 1990.
Retirement: "The King Of Trivia"
In retirement, Bill wrote "The Over 60 Trivia Book", "All Those Things My Teacher Never Told Me", and "Runners-up, Bridesmaids, & Second Bananas", the first two books illustrated by his daughter Carolyn.
He recently released a new book, "Dropping Names", which takes the reader on a wonderful 60-year plus trip through the world of broadcasting, introducing us to the famous and not-so-famous that he met and worked with along the way.
He continues to do radio and TV commercials, the best-known being a series for the National Motor Museum Mint featuring replicas of popular cars and trucks from the past. He also appears before senior clubs with a nostalgia program about old-time radio and other memories of the 1930s and 40s.
Bill and his wife Rosemary are avid contract bridge players and ballroom dancers. They have performed often in public specializing in the Peabody, Paso Doble, and Viennese Waltz. Bill also loves crossword puzzles and seeks out the most challenging ones he can find.
- Bill Owen's Profile at WABC MusicRadio 77
- "Those Great DJs" List of WABC DJs
- Buxton, Frank and Owen, Bill, The Big Broadcast 1920-1950 at Scarecrow Press
- Don Sherwood, "Return With Us To..." comic strip original art at Heritage Auctions, icollector.com
- Owen, Bill, The Over 60 Trivia Book at St. Johann Press ISBN 978-1-878282-21-7
- Owen, Bill, All Those Things My Teacher Never Told Me at St. Johann Press ISBN 978-1-878282-51-4
- Owen, Bill, Runners-up, Bridesmaids, & Second Bananas at St. Johann Press ISBN 978-1-878282-68-2
- Owen, Bill, Dropping Names at St. Johann Press ISBN 978-1-937943-11-0