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
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 was assigned to the American Forces Network in Germany where he did play-by-play announcing of football, basketball, and baseball.
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.
the mid-1950s, he began working at station KFYR 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 year Bill was asked
to lead the annual rodeo parade, by far the biggest event in
Bismarck-Mandan, 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.
By 1960, he was experiencing a meteoric rise to fame in the radio and
television industry in New York City. Owen arrived
in the Big Apple as staff announcer for the radio-television station WABC.
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
joke at the time was that WABC was one notch higher than the police calls in
the ratings,” Bill said in an interview “There were shows with
Broadway tunes and talk shows. There was no cohesiveness to the format.”
Very shortly, he had his own daily, two-hour music show
to go along with his announcing duties. The new sports anchor at the station
was an arrogant and verbose attorney, Howard Cosell, who had been hosting a
show on ABC, Speaking of Sports. Cosell took a liking to the
announcer, largely because of Owen's extensive knowledge of sports. Whenever
Cosell was away, he got Owen to fill in for him on his radio show, and when
New York obtained a new major league baseball franchise, the Mets in 1962,
he often subbed for Cosell on the Mets post-game shows. Owen later commented
on his association with his mentor stating that, "Howard had a gentle
side and could give good advice."
In 1965, a firm in Cincinnati, Ohio, hired Owen to be the voice of Ellery Queen (on over 500 radio episodes). These short, syndicated radio presentations were called "Ellery Queen's Minute Mysteries." The mystery was presented on the air in 60 seconds, and listeners were encouraged to call in with the solution to the cases in order to win prizes. The shows ran in syndication until the early 1980s.
In 1966, the book Radio's Golden Age was
released and Owen and Buxton were the authors. Buxton left Discovery
and 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. When the fifth season began on Sept.
25, 1966, the show was filmed in color and the format changed, allowing Owen
and Gilmore to travel to different locations for filming.
In 1971, Owen and announcer Allan Jefferys released their novel, DJ, about a disc jockey. The next year, Owen and Buxton greatly expanded their previous book so that it became "the first encyclopedia of old-time radio programs." The title was changed to The Big Broadcast 1920-1950.
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.
In 1975, Owen embarked on a new medium of communications - newspapers. Along with comic strip artist Don Sherwood, Owen created a popular syndicated panel called Return With Us To. . . In many ways it resembled Robert Ripley's Believe It Or Not, but instead of oddities, its focus was to recreate the "warm nostalgia for radio programs, pop culture, and historical personages" of the past. Sherwood did the drawings, and Owen provided the script (Picture below).
On July 5, 1982, ABC-TV debuted a news show with Steve Bell and Kathleen Sullivan as the anchors. Owen was the announcer, but early on, he became the most popular part of the 60-minute program. 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. On August 6, 1984, the Associated Press ran an article stating that little is known about "the man who brightens "ABC's World News this Morning" with facts, philosophy, obscurities, puzzles, and quotations [and] gets more mail than anybody on the show, including the anchors." Owen garnered tidbits from magazines and newspapers and read them on the air. The viewers loved it. The show's producer, Rick Kaplan, stated, "I think the audience just tolerates the anchors until Bill comes on." Jim Lowe, best known for recording a No. 1 hit in 1956, The Green Door was acknowledged as the King of Trivia. When Lowe was unable to stump Owen on any questions, he passed the crown to the new champion of little-known facts. So a man born and raised in North Dakota who had succeeded on a national scale on radio, television, the movies, newspapers, and book authorship, appeared to be most proud of the unofficial coronation as the King of Trivia.
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
He recently shot a pilot for a television show on the old movies that may be
picked up by a cable channel. 5
"There are two kinds of people in this world - takers and givers. The takers eat better, but the givers sleep better."
(3) Class of 48 - Profile
(4) Did You Know That: Bill Owen was known as the 'King of Trivia'
by firstname.lastname@example.org Aug 11, 2013
(5) Profile of Bill Owen by Scott Benjamin at musicradio77.com)
(6) Did You Know That: A look at the remarkable life of 'Marshal Bill' Owen
Additional video & audio sources
(1) Ellery Queen's Minute Mysteries at ComicBookPlus.com
(2) The Handmaid's Tale Clip from 1990 movie
|This actor profile is a part of the Ellery Queen a website on deduction. The actor above voiced Ellery Queen in Ellery Queen's Minute Mysteries.|
Page first published on June 1. 2018
Last updated June 1. 2018
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