OWEN ROBERTS Director of research communications, Office of Research, U of G staff member since 1987 Owen Roberts“People don't usually associate a university administrator with somebody who would step on stage and play Wild Thing,” says Owen Roberts, who does just that as a member of the local country- and classic-rock group, the Genetically Modified Orchestra, also known as the GMOs. He first picked up a guitar at age 13 and taught himself to play. Eventually, he also learned the bass guitar and used that talent to put himself through university, working as a backup musician on the southwestern Ontario bar scene. Four years ago, Roberts, who specializes in agricultural communications, formed the GMOs with other musicians linked to the agricultural industry. Other members of the band are Prof. Doug Larson, Botany; OAC graduate Len Kahn; hospitality and tourism management grad Rob McLean; and Rob Hannam, who works for Monsanto. They've established a repertoire of crowd-pleasing standards and, increasingly, their own songs. One original number, a tribute to family farmers called Over 30 Million Served, was runner-up last year in a national songwriting contest sponsored by the Outdoor Farm Show and judged by Canadian recording artist Michelle Wright. By October, the GMOs plan to release a six-song CD of their own music, which Roberts describes as similar to that of Blue Rodeo and the Eagles (samples are online at www.gmomusic.com). Other fall gigs include the annual meeting of the Canadian Farm Writers' Federation and Better Farming Magazine's fifth-anniversary celebration. Besides making presentations and leading professional development seminars, Roberts helps organize and participate in the musical entertainment at meetings of three professional organizations he's involved with — the International Federation of Agricultural Journalists, the Association for Communications Excellence and the American Agricultural Editors' Association. “It feels very much like you're supporting your own industry, in a way that's fun,” he says.
About The Author
Owen Roberts is a faculty member in the Agricultural Leadership, Education and Communications program at the University of Illinois. As an agricultural journalist, he is the past president of the International Federation of Agricultural Journalists and a lifetime achievement award recipient from the Canadian Farm Writers' Federation. His programs and research papers have been recognized nationally and internationally through awards from the Journal of Applied Communications, the National Agri-Marketing Association, the Association for Communications Excellence, and others.