My old radio boss is finally calling it quits on broadcasting. Gary Burbank was the last of his breed, a radio personality who did “theater of the mind” comedy sketches. Mel Blanc may have been called the “Man of 1,000 Voices” in Looney Tunes cartoons, but Gary probably did more voices than anyone else, including Mel. And unlike the current breed of “morning zoo” personalities, his bits were funny without being prurient and/or insipid.
Gary’s show was syndicated to multiple stations in the mid- to late-90s, which is when I was part of the cast and crew. I learned a lot from GB -about humor in general, about doing character voices, about comedic timing, about how to deal with freelance writers and how to organize a show. Every day was a new adventure. It wasn’t always easy, but the end result was always entertaining. In many ways it was a dream job for me, but I was born about 20 years too late to be able to make a decent living at it.
In 2007, Gary retired from his weekday afternoon radio show on WLW-AM (known as “the nation’s station” because as a 50,000 watt clear channel AM station based in Cincinnati, it would reach 38 states at night). He created dozens of indelible characters (a partial list is on this Wikipedia page) but the one who lasted the longest was Earl Pitts, a blue-collar, ‘murica-loving redneck. Even after he retired from his daily show, Gary continued to record Earl Pitts commentaries, which are syndicated and air on several stations around the country. Now, at 79, he’s finally calling it quits on Pitts.
Gary’s already in the national Radio Hall of Fame — deservedly so — and at this point in his life he’s certainly earned the right to call it a day. But it’s a sad day for radio, because they don’t make ’em like Gary anymore. The good news is, Gary is turning his attention to a podcast that will feature several of the characters he created. So we’ll still be able to hear his voice(s).
You can read more in this article from John Kiesewetter, formerly of the Cincinnati Enquirer and now with WVXU (the former Xavier University station!).