The Voice of Clive Buttburn

It was the day after prosecutor Christopher Darden had tangled with Judge Lance Ito in the O.J. Simpson trial in a display of anger and emotion that ended only when Darden grudgingly apologized.

The news was still Page 1 when Gary Owens announced in the kind of voice that heralds great moments, "This just in. DNA reports in the O.J. Simpson case were conclusive. The blood under the fingernails of Judge Lance Ito matches the neck wounds on prosecutor Christopher Darden."

If you weren't familiar with Owens, his announcement over radio station KJQI (K-Joy to its listeners) might have seemed strange, to say the least. It was delivered absolutely straight, the way Edward R. Murrow used to report the firebombing of London in World War II.

It is a style that Owens calls the "sillies," where one incorporates a doomsday voice to fill the airwaves with, well, just about everything clean and funny between tunes popularized in the 1950s and '60s, which is the station's format.

One tune, for instance, featured the voice of Vikki Carr, causing Owens to announce: "Vikki Carr's real name is Florencia Bisenta DeCasillas Martinez Cardona . . . which, surprisingly, is also the real name of Newt Gingrich."

For radio, he doesn't deliver the lines with one hand cupped over an ear, the way he did for television's old "Laugh-In" series. Instead, he sits in a booth the size of a bathroom and is Gary Owens for all the world to hear.

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We are a city of familiar voices, from George Putnam to Michael Jackson, but disc jockey Owens is probably the most familiar voice of all. His soothing baritone sounds a little like a cat purring on a rug or monks chanting in the corner of a monastery.

The reason I sought him out is because he is a fixture in town, and because I have always envied anyone with that kind of tonal quality. I sat and listened to him one day at KJQI's studio while he played music and made comments like:

"I'd rather hear Barbra Streisand sing than eat. Of course, I've never heard her eat."

"Rock star Bo Diddley got his name from his mother, Mrs. Diddley."

"The Eiffel Tower is not really made of eiffel."

This is the same guy who once sent out autographed pictures of the Harbor Freeway (signed, "Yours truly, Harbor Freeway"), and, with satirist Stan Freberg, staged a Tap Dance for World Peace.

Owens has been a part of L.A. since 1961, and not just as a deejay. His voice, and sometimes his likeness, has been featured on more than 2,500 television cartoons, from "Scooby Doo's All Stars" to "Roger Ramjet."

He is the voice of Clive Buttburn on "Eek the Cat," he says with impish pride, the narrator for "Two Stupid Dogs," the voice of Cap'n Squash on "Bobby's World" and the very personification of the incredible Space Ghost.

Ask him, and he'll do all the voices for you, squeaking, squawking and squealing as the character requires, then falling back into the mellifluous tones of the real Gary Owens to suddenly ask, "Are bran muffins a healthy choice? If you're looking for a dance partner, probably not."

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I realize that, in the age of MTV, it is probably more hip to be a fan of Valley Girl cum rock groupie Daisy Fuentes than Gary Owens. Today's music is meant to be seen and moved to, rather than listened to. You don't need discriminating musical taste to bounce.

But Owens is a part of the city's sound that remembers quieter times, before Daisy and MTV, and before guys like Howard Stern added scatology to the national broadcast repertoire.

The man who would glorify "beautiful downtown Burbank" began his radio career at age 16 on, appropriately, station KORN in Mitchell, S. D., just 25 miles from where he was born. He went on to San Francisco when a tornado leveled his neighborhood, then came to L.A.

He was hired as the ear-cupping announcer for "Laugh-In," Owens says, "because I looked like a man who might know what he's doing, but we're not sure. I had authoritative overtones."

The day I sat with him, he was wearing a gray, pin-striped suit, white shirt and red patterned tie, which is the way we used to dress for work, before jeans became haute couture.

"It's a great life," he said to me off-mike. "I love this town. Where else can you get an ocean, palm trees and show biz in the same place?"

Then, with the microphone on again, he leaned in closely, lowered his voice and said, "This just in. Union 76 will merge with Smuckers to sell petroleum jelly." Then he played a tune from the '50s.

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