For the last 39 years DJ Randy Owen’s engaging and down-to-earth personality has reached several generations of country music radio listeners across North America. The Welland, Ontario native has consistently evolved as a radio professional over the years, however what makes him so popular is his unparalleled love for country music, authentic respect for the listener and his dedication to the local community.
It started with TV
The multi-award winning country DJ never had dreams to be on radio. At first, Owen had designs for a career in TV but all changed when he went to college for broadcasting. “I not only fell in love with radio but had top marks my first year so I got a cool award that year.” Owen continues,”The night of the awards show two of my instructors plus my boss from cable tv spoke to me at different times that night and told me there was a part time job at the local radio station and I should apply for it. I did and got a part time job working weekends there and it just happened to be a country station.” Owen again won student of the year honours his second year and continued to grow at his role at the country radio station.
“Country had been around the house because my parents listened to it. So I knew about Jonhnny Cash and would watch him on TV. So I would see if the radio station would hire me at CHOW in Welland…I ended up learning more about country music and falling with it.” Owen bought and read country music magazines to find out more about the scene and it’s musicians.
The start of a bright career
Along with his research on the side, Owen decided to take his homework to the next step. “I happened to notice that a lot of artists that we were playing would be in town and back in those days they would be playing 6 nights a week. I would go off to the hotels, go see these guys and learn more about them and liked them and they liked me. That way I could talk about them intelligently on-air–people that were listening deserved it.”
Interviewing a Beatle
Owen quickly assembled an impressive resume interviewing country legends such as Ronnie Milsap, Glen Campbell, George Jones and Johnny Cash. However, there were a few interviews that stuck out including one with a Beatle. “I got to talk to [Pete Best]…And he had a DVD out at the time about his life story. but there was one part of the story he didn’t tell on it and that’s when he tried to commit suicide…so I talked to him about that and I said I wasn’t bringing it up because I want to sensationalize it but there are people out there listening that might be in the same position that you were.” Owen continues, “if they see that you were in the same position was they were in and you somehow got out of it that’s why I want to get into it. And we talked about it. It was quite interesting. It just blows me away we were talking about that.”
That time Johnny Cash burped
Owen also has had his fair share of funny stories including the time he went to interview Johnny Cash. “I never dreamt as a kid growing up that I would meet Glen Campbell or Johnny Cash for that matter…It’s the human moments with these guys that are sometimes bigger than life.” Owen relates, “It was June 1988 in Kitchener. I had to go interview [Cash] back stage…first thing I had to do was find the road manager. So I’m walking through the hallways and I’m walking past the dressing rooms and there on the dressing room door is the name ‘Johnny Cash.’ And so as I’m walking by I hear blurrrrrpppp come out of the room and you just knew it was Johnny Cash and there was nobody else around to hear it. And to sit down and talk to him was pretty cool.”
However, the interviews that really stick in his mind are the ones that don’t deal with music superstars. “At one point I was working in Mississauga and I was doing a midnight request show via satellite to all across Canada. And we took requests and you would make a dedication. So one time this man called in and said his girl broke up with him. I asked why and he said that he was dying of cancer. He ended up dedicating a song. And then we recorded it for on-air. And instead of cancer, he said he was dying of AIDS. That threw me for a loop…he called me a couple of hours later and apologized. I asked him why he changed his story. He said it was because he never faced up to the fact he had AIDS. He said he had cancer because people would be a bit more understanding so he lied to everybody.”
The veteran radio announcer continues, “He said their was something in my voice that made him trust…and so we talked a couple of times after that and at one point he knew he wasn’t going to be living much longer so he sold all of his possessions, bought an RV and his plan was to go across Canada and say good-bye to his family and friends. And he wanted to stop by the station where we did the show–to meet me, get a picture and an autograph.”
The gentleman never got a chance to see Owen in person but “He called me from his deathbed to say thanks because I had helped him face the disease that he tried to cover-up. We never had a chance to meet. And I thought wow…I had that kind of effect on somebody? It just blew me away. That means more to me then any awards or accolades. That I could reach out and touch somebody in that way so they could be true to themselves.”
“I take lessons from the different artists that I have met…I admire someone like Aaron Pritchett whose now-a-days considered to be one of the older acts. And he’s been in the business for over 20 years. He thought he would never have a number one song until he had one this year! And his work ethic…he’s one of the hardest working people I have seen on stage. He would work himself to the point where he would get himself carried off–he would be that exhausted.”
The future of radio
Although Owen continues to thrive on radio, the future of radio is always seems like a debatable subject without a clear-cut answer. As Owen notes, “I think [radio] is going to be harder to get into. There are going to be fewer on-air positions through technology and automtion.” Owen mentions an example, “There’s a guy these days that can do a show in Ottawa live on the radio. He does the show live and at the same time records bits and pieces and send them via computer to other computers at other radio stations anywhere around the world and it will actually sound like he’s live in your hometown. So that’s going to eliminate a lot of jobs and with companies trying to save as much money as they can and better way of doing that to get rid of on-air people.”
Radio is about community
“The one thing that guy in Ottawa can’t do is replace the immediacy of radio. When there’s some big event happening in your local hometown whether it’s a car accident or festival or an event or even if it’s just relating or with the people you are broadcasting to in the community.”
Along with continuing his illustrious radio career Owen loves bike riding and watching documentaries. He also has developed a unique fascination for the JFK assassination. Owen has spent many years researching the assassination–reading hundreds of books, spending countless hours pouring over the Warren report and talking with people associated to that fateful day including a former KGB agent, Dallas police and Lee Oswald’s wife.
Words of wisdom
Owen is currently an on-air DJ at Country 107.3 in Tillsonburg, Ontario. He is quickly approaching a milestone: 40 years on radio. When asked to share his secret for a long successful career he simply smiles and says: “Enjoy the journey because the destination may not be that hot!”
Main Image: Shutter Released
All images used with the kind permission of Randy Owen