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by Roger Jewell (a/k/a “L.A. Roger”)

From 1976 through 1977, I was nineteen years old and working as an assistant manager of a record store called Big Ben’s, which was a division of the now-defunct Wherehouse Records chain. “My” store was located in Encino, California, a mecca for celebrity and entertainment executive residences such as Michael Jackson’s parents. I remember having a beat up Impala with radiator and engine problems. I may have owned the worst looking car of anyone in Encino. But the job had its benefits, such as being able to meet celebrities such as Tom Bosley (“Happy Days”), Billy Swan (singer who recorded the hit song “I Can Help”), and two of the brothers of Michael and Janet Jackson, among others.

The celebrity that stood out the most, however, was announcer Gary Owens (born Gary Altman), who was a Los Angeles DJ for radio KMPC (for over 20 years) and had been the regular announcer for the TV comedy series “Rowan and Martin’s Laugh-In” in the late 1960s and early 1970s. His trademark was announcing with his hand cupped over his ear while holding a prop script. He was inducted into the Radio Hall of Fame, received a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, and was considered the “honorary sheriff” of Encino, California.

Big Ben’s was on par with the now defunct Tower Records chain. Both of these stores were huge and stocked rare and collector record albums. And if they didn’t have a record in stock, there was a Phono-Log, a catalog of nearly all albums in print from which we could originate special orders to get any record not in stock. This was THE place to shop for records. The Encino store often registered sales of over $10,000 per day,…and that was 1978 dollars! It was the most successful Big Ben’s and Wherehouse record store.

I was stocking records and when I turned around, there was Gary Owens. He said “hello” and we started talking about his radio show. He said that he needed to find a very rare record that we probably didn’t have in stock, and may not even be able to special order. I told him that we had so many records that we might have it despite its rarity. When I started looking for it, I felt as if I had stuck my foot in my mouth. I was sweating out of nervousness. Not because Gary was famous, but because I always hated not being able to satisfy a customer. Besides that, Gary was extremely nice.

The search continued for many minutes and I was really getting worried. Gary said “That’s O.K. It’s probably not available,” when I told him that I needed to check one more place. Voila! I found it.

You would never believe how appreciative Gary was. He even offered to pay me extra for having to search for so long. I declined, of course. I will always remember the celebrity that made the best and lasting impression on me, Gary Owens.

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