After a long bitter feud with family members over legal and health issues, Casey Kasem, 82, passed away early Sunday from complications of dementia. Kasem had been in the news of late regarding his declining health, mysterious disappearance, and re-appearance in Washington State. The drama played out with Casey’s adult children from his former marriage versus his current wife Jean Kasem. However, there’s a lot more to this man that has greatly influenced popular music as we know it today.
Back in the day before MTV, CDs, internet, iTunes, YouTube, social media, and satellite radio, there was the old-fashioned radio disc jockey heard playing the latest top 40, best-selling tunes in the country. On July 4, 1970 a radio program titled “American Top 40” premiered. The announcer and radio host of this long-running program, now helmed by “American Idol’s” Ryan Seacrest, was none other than Casey Kasem. Many of the radio stations in my local area, and elsewhere too, were filled with obnoxious and loud radio disc jockeys commonly known as deejays (not to be confused with today’s club DJs).
Kasem’s soothing, calm voice literally drew you into his fascinating countdown program of all the latest hits. It was interesting to learn what songs would make it up the charts and which ones would drop off. Those top 40 songs were determined by sales and radio airplay from Billboard magazine’s Hot 100 chart. These are predominately pop and rock songs with a number of crossovers, songs from other niche genres. The only way to know what was the number one song of the week was to listen to “American Top 40.”
The program usually aired during the weekends, sometimes in the mornings or evenings depending on the radio station’s schedule. One of the many fixtures of Kasem’s famous radio program was his fascinating trivia. Right before a commercial break, he’d give you a piece of information on a particular recording artist whose featured song was coming up. I’ll never forget he mentioned a singer (forgot the name) who had been a sparring partner for Muhammad Ali. Casey never gave out information that was already widely known. It made his program all the more riveting. “American Top 40” was on the air coast to coast from 1970 until 1989. In the late 1990s Casey came back in 1998 and stayed on until 2004. Seacrest has since taken it over.
It’s the only time I made an effort to actually listen to a radio show that was on for a few hours. This was even old school by 1970s standards. Throughout the ’70s I truly enjoyed listening to it, whether at home or in the car. Currently our Tampa Bay area oldies ration station, Q105, used to play “American Top 40” from the 1970s and 1980s. Perhaps they’ll bring it back again.