From my days as a young boy pressing my nose against the studio glass and watching Alan Freed--in overdrive --giving rock and roll the fuel to become the most important and powerful music in broadcast history, I was fortunate to have witnessed and taken part in the development of the golden age of contemporary radio. I recall how disc jockeys like Martin Block, the original host of WNEW New York’s Make Believe Ballroom and one of the granddaddies of pre-Top 40 radio, sadly refused to accept the appearance of rock-and-roll on the music charts. What they didn’t see – or refused to see -- was that the stage had been set for innovation. A new musical spirit and energy were present. The baton was about to be passed to the next generation.
And then along came Casey Kasem.
We met several times at various radio conventions. We also shared honors at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. But the most personal to me were our telephone conversations. Casey was young and energetic and he truly believed that he had the answers. When you’re sitting behind the microphone and the light goes on in the broadcast booth, you become a fictional character almost. You are there to entertain your listeners, and Casey was naturally intuitive on that front. His serious delivery, his stories and long-distance dedications gave him an amazing connection with his developing audience. He was extremely careful with the way he talked about a song. When he was off-duty, he could be touchy and argumentative, but when he was behind the microphone, he was sincere. Some people called him –and me—corny, but corny is good. Corny is human.
One thing that is constantly overlooked by programmers who concern themselves with spotless production technique and an obsessive study of statistics is the importance of the listening audience. Casey and I talked about this frequently. When we saw each other, we’d inevitably discuss two things. He would always say to me, “Bruce, anything new?” And I would say, “I was just about to ask you the same question.” We were always looking for that next single, that next trend in music that we could bring to the listeners. The other thing Casey and I always talked about was connecting to those listeners in a personal way. There were earlier versions of countdown shows, but what Casey understood is that they were just playing music. He connected his audience emotionally to the music he played. He understood that a song was not just a No. 1 or No. 38. Music is representative of life, and a song has the power to evoke happy memories, tears, sights and smells. That’s what gave him staying power.
Casey was a mentor to many of us, and the example he set as a broadcaster lives on. His legacy is not the estate that he left – his legacy truly is the emotional bond he forged between the music and his listeners. Thank you, Casey. You reached the stars.