Just as some "Star Trek" viewers were inspired to follow science as a career or become astronauts, some of Casey Kasem’s most avid listeners pursued their dreams of working in radio. Billboard reached out to some key industry folks to find out what Kasem meant to their lives and their profession.
Guy Zapoleon, senior vice president, research for Clear Channel Music + Entertainment, was obsessed with the charts and was reading Billboard even before Kasem hosted his first American Top 40 show. The Warner Bros. Records publicity department published a cover story on Zapoleon in their Circular newsletter, complete with a listing of his top 1,000 songs, based on L.A. radio charts. Rolling Stone picked up the story and that led to a summer job at KRTH in Los Angeles, and eventually full-time employment at the station.
“Casey influenced everyone in the music business in some way,” Zapoleon told Billboard within hours of Kasem’s passing. “Millions around the world were fascinated with the hit music process and pop culture and listened to Casey on American Top 40 weekly to get the inside scoop. Casey was always kind to everyone he met, including me. I was a young college student filled with questions about American Top 40 when I was introduced to him. So many radio broadcasters got their passion for the business as young kids listening to the countdown and for those of us who love the science behind the music and how songs become hits, Casey and the countdown were our No. 1 inspiration.”
Lou Simon, senior director of programming for SiriusXM Radio, also spoke to Billboard after the news broke of Kasem’s death. “Casey was the first national DJ most of us heard,” said Simon, who programs stations like Siriusly Sinatra, ’50s on 5 and ’60s on 6. “He was bigger than life, smooth and conversational in an era of ‘boss jocks.’ And he was the keeper of the charts. I listened every week, since I didn’t have access to the Billboard charts back then, and Casey was king. His closing quote, ‘Keep your feet on the ground – and keep reaching for the stars,’ stays with me today as an inspiration. Thank you, Casey, for setting the course so many of us who followed.”
Billboard reached out to Tom Poleman, president of National Programming Platforms for Clear Channel. "My radio career began in my basement doing countdowns for my family pretending I was Casey Kasem,” Poleman replied while on business in Europe. “I desperately wanted to be like him. He's the father of countdowns. And the master of how to tease listeners through a stop set. We learned so much from him. Radio wouldn't be where it is today without him."
Scott Shannon, currently a morning DJ on WCBS-FM in New York City, once hosted his own top 30 nationally syndicated radio countdown, for Westwood One. “I have always felt there were two great radio personalities who were able to captivate their audiences with content and stories: Paul Harvey and Casey Kasem and now sadly both are gone,” Shannon told Billboard. “Casey’s voice cut through the radio ga-ga like a sharp knife, and no one told rock and roll stories quite like he did. Even today, when I hear reruns of his show from years ago, I still find myself fully engaged and still amazed with his style and ability to communicate with his listeners.”
Ryan Seacrest, who hosts American Top 40 with Ryan Seacrest, will pay tribute to Kasem on the June 21-22 edition of the show, featuring some of the legendary DJ’s best moments from almost 40 years of hosting the series he originated. “It’s a sad day for the broadcasting community and for radio listeners around the world,” Seacrest said in a statement issued shortly after Kasem’s passing. “When I was a kid, I would listen to Casey Kasem’s AT40 show every weekend, and dream about someday becoming a radio DJ. So when decades later I took over his AT40 countdown show, it was a surreal moment. Casey had a distinctive friendly on-air voice, and he was just as affable and nice if you had the privilege to be in his company. He’ll be greatly missed by all of us.”
Also paying tribute to Kasem is iHeart Radio, Clear Channel’s digital listening service. A collection of memorable AT40 countdowns from the ’70s and ’80s are being played 24/7 at http://bit.ly/1pNibYi. Darren Davis, President of Clear Channel Networks, said, “People all over America have fond memories of Casey counting down the best songs each week. I can vividly remember listening to American Top 40 each Sunday morning when I was a kid, and Casey’s polished style and dedication to his craft helped me fall in love with radio. He was a true gem, and I’m grateful I got to meet him several times over the years. Casey was such a wonderful man.”
Another long-time Kasem fan who came to know the legend personally is Steve Resnik, president of the Radio and Music Pros newsletter and curator of his own rock and roll museum in Southern California. Best known for owning every single to chart on The Billboard Hot 100, Resnik told Billboard, “Casey was a friend of mine. My wife Mary was Casey's make up artist on the TV series American Top Ten. One day, Casey called and asked Mary if she could come to his house the next day and do his make up for a interview at ABC. They were sending a car for him around 1:30. Mary asked me if I'd like to take the day off from my position as VP of Promotion at A&M and accompany her to Casey's house. We got there at noon and rang the bell. A maid came out and said Casey was not home. We told him why we were there. She said the interview was canceled. It turns out, he left a message on our home phone answering service about the cancellation. He called late that afternoon and apologized for the false alarm. Mary told him that we had a great day and went to Gladstone’s on the way home and it was no big deal. The next day, Fed Ex was at our door with a check "in full payment" for Mary's make up daily rate. A year later, Mary was in a bad car accident and was in the hospital for four weeks. Casey showed up the second day with a full tray of lunch, even before some of her family members could get to the hospital.”