Dennis Owens, voice of witty classical music and commentary in DC, dies at 87


Dennis Owens, a popular DC radio personality who for decades made classical music fun and accessible, died of degenerative heart disease on September 26.

Dennis Owens of WGMS has died in Naples, Florida, aged 87. (Courtesy of Scott Thureen)


Dennis Owens of WGMS has died in Naples, Florida, aged 87.

Courtesy of Scott Thureen

<p>Dennis Owens, right, is seen with Marvin Hamlisch.  (Courtesy of Scott Thureen)</p>
<p>                              Dennis Owens, right, is seen with Marvin Hamlisch.<br />
<p>                                Courtesy of Scott Thureen                            </p>
<p>                                                    <img src=

Dennis Owens is pictured with opera singer Luciano Pavarotti.

Courtesy of Scott Thureen

Dennis Owens, a popular DC radio personality who for decades made classical music fun and accessible, died of degenerative heart disease on September 26 in Naples, Florida, where he had retired. Owens was 87 years old.

For nearly four decades, Owens has entertained WGMS listeners not only with a broad repertoire of classical music that soothed raw nerves during peak hours, but also with a witty sense of humor that wowed a large audience.

By all accounts, Owens was proud to make classical music accessible.

“Sometimes you think classical music… you must have studied it. And he didn’t put it that way. He made it accessible to everyone. He made it fun, ”Christiane Owens, his wife of nearly 50 years, told OMCP.

She recalled a young woman approaching Owens at a concert to tell him that she was not a fan of classical music and that she actually decided to listen to him in penance for Lent – but it ended up converting to the classic.

“The story ends with ‘I’m now a listener all the time’, and that was kind of cute and funny,” Christiane said. “And she just loved the way he presented everything she was stuck with.”

His wife laughed as she recalled another encounter with unlikely fans – this time a group of motorcyclists who visited Owens station: to let him know that they maybe didn’t always like music… but because of the way he spoke, they loved him so much and they wanted him to know that they were listening to him.

Former OMCP national security correspondent Chas Henry, left, is seen having lunch with Dennis Owens, right, in February 2019 in Naples, Florida. (Courtesy of Chas Henry)

It was the same with many others. The morning program Owens hosted at WGMS, then known as Classical 103.5, consistently achieved high marks and had an impressive run from 1981 to 2002.

Owens started at WGMS in 1966 – he also worked at OMCP during his early years in Washington – rising through the ranks even though he had no classical music experience. In fact, his taste for music was like his fan base: eclectic.

Born in England, Owens moved to Canada, where some people suggested he try the radio because of his voice and wit, Christiane said.

Eventually Owens did a gig in Bermuda, where he played “rock ‘n’ roll, he played Frank Sinatra, he played all kinds of modern music around that time,” Christiane said. “He actually didn’t think of himself as a DJ.”

Neither did his fans, many of whom were drawn more to Owens’ lively – often unfiltered – commentary than to the composers he played.

“On the air, he recited poetry, made headlines and noted the surrealities of life, asking one morning, ‘What’s the color of your hair on your driver’s license if you’re bald? and observing another day, “Some of you are drinking from the fountain of knowledge. Others just gargle, ”wrote Marc Fisher in Owens’ obituary for the Washington Post.

OMCP CEO Joel Oxley, who worked with Owens, described him as “one of the funniest, smartest, smartest people I’ve ever met. … There will never be another broadcaster like him. Humor and classic. Great combo.

Owens delivered perhaps one of his most memorable lines at the end of his morning show in 2002 and observed that “classical music is like sex. You never know how long it’s going to last, and it’s embarrassing if you’re clapping at the wrong time.

Owens officially retired in 2005 – WGMS went out of business two years later – and moved with his wife to Naples.

Christiane said her husband was tired of getting up in the middle of the night to go to work and was ready to retire. “He was at the age he was supposed to be enjoying life.”

But she said Owens “loved everything about Washington.” The only thing he didn’t like was the same thing he was trying to improve a bit for his compatriots in Washington: trafficking.

In one 2003 Q&A What Owens did with Bob Levy of The Post, a listener thanked Owens “for making our mornings of crowded commutes more enjoyable and stimulating” – to which Owens replied, “You are very flattering and flattery will take you. anywhere with me.

Owens did not hesitate to criticize his own industry while simultaneously thanking his “assembled ears,” the term he used for his listeners.

“Today, radio very often lacks a great deal of freedom for an individual to emerge as a distinct personality. Where it emerges, it’s often obscured by vulgarity, bulk, cheapness and VERY directed at certain segments of the perceived audience, ”Owens said.

“I was extremely fortunate to acquire an audience in the Washington market where I was able to play the personality role with a lot more subtlety and attempt a lot more finesse than most.”


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