The Original "Swingin' 7 from 77"!
Top: Jack Carney in top hat with Farrell Smith with the feather in his hat.
Front Row: Bill Owen, Charlie Greer, Herb Oscar Anderson, Chuck Dunaway and Scott Muni
(courtesy Chuck Dunaway)
Trivia: The Emperor of Esoterica proclaimed
him the King of Trivia, but in 1960, he was known
as the seventh member of 77 WABCs Swingin Seven
One Sunday morning in the fall of 1960, Bill Owen and six other air
personalities toured part of New York City as a photographer snapped their pictures at
Penn Station, by the skyscrapers and on the subway.
The photographs, which were taken over four or five hours, would soon appear on a series of billboards and in newspaper advertisements that would announce that 77 WABC was the Big Apples new musicradio station.
The joke at the time was that WABC was one notch higher than the police calls in the ratings, Bill said in a Feb. 3, 2006 phone interview with Musicradio77.com. There were shows with Broadway tunes and talk shows. There was no cohesiveness to the format.
Hal Neal, then the general manager at the station and later the president of ABC Radio, had decided that Top 40 rock & roll would generate higher ratings even though WMCA and WINS were using that format.
Going with Top 40 rock was controversial among some of the people at ABC, Bill recalled. The old-timers said it wouldnt last. However, the younger desk assistants said that it was great.
What happened was that WABC revolutionized American radio, with Dan and Cousin Brucie and the rest, he said, referring to Dan Ingram, Bruce Morrow and the other All-Americans who became the most listened to air personalities in the nation.
Bill had arrived at ABC in New York City earlier in 1960 as a staff announcer.
Versatility always has been strength of mine, he said, reflecting on a career that has included stints as an air personality, television host and a studio announcer for some of the ABC television networks top news shows.
I have always been conversational, Bill added in regards to his announcing style. I can be the stentorian announcer, but thats not my most natural style.
Hal had heard him doing newscasts and station breaks and told him he would be the seventh of the air personalities in the Swingin Seven that would launch Musicradio at WABC.
The contingent also included Scott Muni, Herb Oscar Anderson, Charlie Greer, Chuck Dunaway, Jack Carney and Farrell Smith.
Bill said he told Hal that most of his experience as an air personality had come at 700 WLW-AM in Cincinnati, where he did a show with opera tunes.
Rock was not my forte, he said.
Bill continued his staff announcers duties, working from around 9 p.m. until 4 a.m when he would do a two-hour music show at WABC immediately before the famed Herb Oscar Anderson started the morning drive time.
He said he continued the show for about six months and then left to be the studio announcer for Discovery, an ABC News series that ran on late Sunday mornings and was primarily geared to teens.
Bill said that ABC News, particularly on the television side, was undergoing a transformation as James Hagerty, the White House press secretary to former President Dwight Eisenhower, had just become president of the division and sought to hire upper echelon newspaper reporters as correspondents, such as the gravelly-voiced Bill Lawrence of The New York Times.
He didnt want pretty boys on television, he said, regarding the feeling that some network correspondents apparently were hired more for how they looked in a trench coat and their announcing ability than there skills at covering news.
In 1966 Bill was promoted from studio announcer on Discovery to the co-host with actress Virginia Gibson, who had been nominated for a Broadway Tony Award.
The show went on to capture some Emmy awards.
Since it was on Sunday mornings at 11:30 eastern time it was mostly a vocabulary for a 15-year-olds intellect, but we had a lot of adults that watched it, Bill said of Discovery, which during its run until 1972 took far-flung trips to such places as Moscow during the Cold War, Helsinki and Hong Kong.
Trivia: He was Howard Cosells regular substitute on Speaking Of Sports.
Bill also did boxing and ice skating assignments for the
award-winning ABCs Wide World of Sports, which was the first program that the
legendary Roone Arledge created after he arrived at the networks sports division.
On radio, in the 1970s he resumed his work as a staff announcer and was the regular substitute for Howard Cosell on Speaking Of Sports, the commentaries that Howard delivered over musicraio77 WABC from the American Contemporary Network at 8:25 a.m. and 5:25 p.m. and on the WABC Six Oclock report at 6:10 p.m.
Howard had a long affiliation with WABC radio, even after he became highly recognized through ABCs Monday Night Football. In fact, his commentaries continued on the station after it went to a talk format in May, 1982.
ABC sportscaster Brent Musburger, then with CBS, was quoted in a 1984 Sports Illustrated piece as saying that Howard told him early in his career that he should continue to do radio after he became established in network television.
Bill said that although Howard was considered pompous by some associates and sports fans, he also had a gentle side and could give good advice.
A tape misplayed in May 1963 while Bill was doing a story on the death of Ernie Davis the Heisman Trophy-winning running back from Syracuse University and he quickly had to go live to finish the report.
He said that immediately afterwards, Howard, who had heard the sportscast, told him that it wasnt your fault.
Additionally, Bill said that when he inquired about story selection for a sportscast, Howard told me if I just mentioned some auto racing story for five seconds it was acceptable, because it would still make those fans happy.
Bill, who grew up in North Dakota, was a good enough athlete that he
played on the junior varsity football team at the University of Southern California (USC)
in Los Angeles.
He said he still has a sore finger from tackling future New York Giants Football Hall of Fame inductee Frank Gifford.
Bill, who graduated from USC in 1953, said he played freshman basketball for the Trojans, wearing Bill Sharmans former jersey. Sharman later played on the Boston Celtics championship teams of the 1950s and coached the Los Angeles Lakers to a 1971-72 National Basketball Association championship.
I wore his former jersey, but I never filled his shoes, he said of Sharman, who was inducted into the Basketball Hall of Fame as both a player and coach/executive.
Bill said his mother became upset when he decided to forego his pre-med studies and seek a career as an announcer.
But he decided to change career paths after watching the live radio
shows performed in Hollywood while he was in college.
I could see that I couldnt be one of the actors, but I could become the announcer, Bill said. My heroes were the announcers.
However, it wasnt his knowledge of sports from playing at a high-powered school that landed Bill an ABC network radio sports show in the early 1960s.
Maury Benkoil the ABC network program director happened to see him with a copy of The Sporting News sticking out of his back pocket one day and asked if he would do the new network sports show for ABC Radio.
Bill also did newscasts at Musicradio77, where, he recalled, such air personalities as Dan Ingram, Ron Lundy, Scott Muni, Herb Oscar Anderson and Chuck Leonard would interact with him on the air.
One day Scott Muni said that my necktie had to go, he recalled with a laugh.
He said that a family friend, Beverly Partridge, was a huge fan of Ron Lundys, who at the time lived in Pearl River, not far from Bills home in Valley Cottage, also in Rockland County.
He said as a favor Ron called Beverly and used his signature phrase, Hello, Luv, as he wished her a happy birthday.
Bill said he was honored to be one of the 27 staff announcers at ABC handling assignments from local radio to local television to the network radio and television operations.
He worked with legends, whose careers dated to the early years in radio. There was Don Gardiner and Doug Browning and Milton Cross, whom out of reverence he called, Mr. Cross.
However, Bill has been ambidextrous. He also has excelled in print - having had four books published; another is about to be published and yet another that is being written.
Trivia: He claimed the crown with the answer of Fred Noonan.
Jim Lowe has been a vocalist, who had a number-one hit record in 1956
with The Green Door.
Hes also a pianist, composer and an air personality, who used trivia during the lonesome overnight hours when he was on WNEWs Milkmans Matinee decades ago before he went on to appear on NBC Monitor and in other venues.
Jim became the King of Trivia and held the title until he met Bill.
I asked him, Who, on her fatal flight, was Amelia Earharts co-pilot, Jim wrote of his attempt to stump him with a Hall of Fame question.
With no hesitation and looking me right in the eye, he replied, Fred Noonan, of course, Jim wrote in the foreword to The Over 60 Trivia Book, which was published in 2002 (St. Johann Press).
After asking him two additional questions of equal density and intensity, I proclaimed him the new King of Trivia and gave myself the modest honorific of Emperor of Esoterica, Jim stated.
These days, Bill frequently discusses trivia and the music and radio shows the 1940s and 1950s at senior citizen centers and libraries.
People tell me that I remind them of the joy that they had as a kid, he said regarding his appearances.
Trivia: Even though you never saw him on the air, he got more fan male than popular ABC morning newscaster Kathleen Sullivan.
Bill said interest in his mastery of trivia began while working as
the staff announcer for ABCs World News This Morning in 1982.
He said that one day due to a technical problem a producer asked him to enlarge his time check leading into a commercial, so he asked a trivia question regarding Thomas Jefferson.
A short time later the trivia questions became a regular part of the station breaks and Bill started to receive more mail than the anchors.
He has been gathering data for decades.
In the early-1960s he wrote Radios Golden Age, with Frank Buxton, which chronicled some of the old-time radio shows before rock & roll emerged.
Bill said that except for NBC, the networks had very little information on file about the shows and that he and Frank had to use several fan magazines as sources.
His second book, The Big Broadcast, also was written with Frank, who preceded him as the co-host of Discovery from 1962 to 1966 and later directed episodes of ABCs Love American Style and The Odd Couple and also hosted a quiz show.
The Big Broadcast chronicles the radio shows from 1920 to
He also wrote a novel, D.J., in the 1970s with Allan Jefferys, who also was an ABC staff announcer at the time and now lives in North Carolina.
In 1990, after 30 years, Bill accepted an early retirement package
from ABC and became a staff announcer at WOR, Channel 9, in New York City for three years.
From there, he had two stints at Juke Box Radio - playing music by Frank Sinatra, Bing Crosby and Perry Como, among others and in between worked at WVNJ radio.
He currently does voiceovers for Bloomberg Radio, which he has worked for off and on for 10 years, and for cable channels in Rockland and Westchester counties in New York state.
Bill and his wife, Rosemary, have lived in Valley Cottage since 1962 and have two grown daughters and son.
He recently shot a pilot for a television show on the old movies that may be picked up by a cable channel.
On March 18 Bill will start hosting a four-hour Internet radio show for RadioASB (American Song Book) with music of the 1940s and 1950s that he believes might eventually be acquired by one of the satellite networks. The show will air live on Saturdays from a studio in Hillsborough, N.J., and also will probably air on tape on Sundays.
The veteran announcer said he doesnt yet have a subscription to either XM or Sirius, the two satellite networks, but a daughter does and she enjoys the programming.
I think radio makes more sense when people specialize, Bill said. I find news intrusive when I listen for music. And I say that as a former newscaster.
I think satellite radio is the wave of the future, he said. From what I read, people are ready [for satellite]. They dont want outside intrusions.
I see the satellite networks as being similar to cable television, Bill said. Bit by bit cable became a larger share of the market. Now about 95 percent of what I watch is on cable television, but it took a while to reach that point.
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