Saluting Casey Kasem, a Great American DJ

2 Jul

On June 15th, the American music scene lost one of its legendary DJs. Casey Kasem, best known as the host of the extremely popular American Top 40 weekly countdown for more than three decades, died at the age of 82 in Gig Harbor, Washington.
Ignoring the ugly family battles that have played out in the press over the past several years, Casey will be remembered as one of the best ever at his craft. The first American Top 40 aired on July 4th, 1970, with Three Dog Night’s “Mama Told Me (Not to Come)” at #1. The syndicated show, which counted down the 40 most popular songs based on charts published by Billboard magazine, was played on radio stations around the world. American fans who were traveling could count on finding at least one station on their car’s radio dial playing the three-hour show almost anywhere the country, so they wouldn’t have to miss a single week.
Casey presided over American Top 40 from its beginning until 1988, when a contract dispute caused him to leave the original and start his own, “Casey’s Top 40.” Ten years later, Casey acquired the rights to the “American Top 40” name and rejoined the show, remaining as host until handing the reins to Ryan Seacrest. Even then, Casey continued with two shorter countdowns — “American Top 20” and “American Top 10” — until signing off for good in 2009.
What made Casey’s countdown shows so compelling — and so popular — was the humanity he brought to each show. Long before Ryan Seacrest was chatting with every celebrity under the sun, Casey was sharing interesting insights into artists’ lives, mixing classic cuts with current singles and playing album tracks (unusual for Top 40 radio in that era).
In addition, Casey always had a weekly long-distance dedication from a listener to a friend or loved one that often involved heartwarming stories. These vignettes became an American Top 40 trademark.
With his “everyman’s” voice — so different from the deep baritones of so many DJs — that always came with a big smile in it, Casey was unique. (His voice was so universally liked, that producers of the “Scooby-Doo” cartoon made Casey the voice of the lovable Shaggy beginning in 1969.)
On the upcoming 44th anniversary of American Top 40, we should pause for a moment and remember the contributions of Casey Kasem to the dying art of radio.
To paraphrase Casey’s signoff line, here’s hoping that his feet have left the ground and he has reached the stars.

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