Remebering Casey Kasem

Casey Kasem, who hosted the syndicated ­countdown radio show American Top 40 and a number of spinoffs for more than 30 years, died June 15 at the age of 82 after a prolonged dispute between his wife, Jean, and his children Kerri, Mike and Julie relating to his care. Kasem brought world renown to the Billboard top 40 charts. Two guest columnists assess his influence on music, radio and popular culture.



Elvis Duran

Host, Elvis Duran and the Morning show



“Hi. Z100.”


“Yeah, Elvis. Listening to the show. Who was this Casey Kasem guy you keep talking about?”


“The guy that passed away?”


“Yes.”


“He’s the reason I’m on the radio every morning. Go Google him.”


Lots of those calls came in Monday morning. I get it. Casey hasn’t counted down the hits in many years. American Top 40 is now hosted by Ryan Seacrest, who, like me, is in radio, in part, thanks to the influence of Casey Kasem. I was in line to take over American Top 40 upon Casey’s departure back in 2004, but Ryan was hosting American Idol and, well, TV star trumps radio host. Fine with me. The thought scared me to death.


Producing Casey’s American Top 40 show for air on a tiny, unimportant small-town Texas radio station was my first assignment in the radio business. I was convinced we had no listeners...until the day I accidentally skipped from song No. 30 to song No. 1, totally blowing off all the hits in between. The studio line rang and rang as if I was giving away a million dollars to the 10th caller. Instead, it was irate countdown fans. My mistake deprived them of hearing Casey’s methodical journey up the top 40 chart that, on a perfect day, would have ended at the newly crowned “No. 1 song in the land.” They had been robbed of the promising new artist moving up the charts at No. 29 and of the former No. 1 hit that slid down to the No. 2 spot. I get it! Casey would have been pissed as well.


You’ve got to wonder: How can a guy become a radio star by counting backward every week? Well, Casey Kasem did just that. Not only did he tell us the stories of the musicians who made the music, he did “long-distance dedications.” For example, he would read one from a listener stationed in Augsburg, Germany, to his girlfriend in Montclair, N.J. You could hear the soldier’s anxiety as Casey read the love letter. Then, you could actually feel the girlfriend’s pulse race as this soft, personal message was being shot across the planet, directly into her heart, touching every listener in between. Then, on with the countdown.


Casey made radio important. It was a one-on-one connection with each listener. He kept it simple. He was never funny. He was never raunchy. He refused to say “I Want Your Sex” — deciding to simply stick with “that’s the latest from George Michael.” He made you feel that if you turned him off, you would miss something important and, God forbid, this week’s No. 1 song. I can’t imagine what it must have felt like to have Casey Kasem announce to the world that your song was No. 1. The artists loved him.


We all did.




Jon Zellner


Senior VP Programming, Clear Channel Media and Entertainment



“Radio stations play ’em, Billboard ranks ’em and American Top 40 counts ’em down.” For many of us, Sunday mornings meant finding out how our favorite records were doing on the national music scene. But Casey Kasem’s simple concept of counting down the 40 most popular songs in America had an enormous impact on music, radio and pop culture for millions of listeners around the world.


Casey was the ultimate storyteller. He caused us to listen to the radio a little closer while he “teased” us with just enough so we’d stick around through the commercials to hear the rest of the story. Today, we know that Casey’s concept was ahead of its time. There are countdowns everywhere we look, and now, TV shows, news anchors and DJs rarely go into commercials without teasing something that’s coming up after the break. It happens on websites too with “dynamic leads,” designed to get you to click through the rest of the story.


Like millions of other kids, I was hooked on American Top 40 from week one. Every Sunday morning, I’d set my radio on WPIX in New York to see what new songs had entered the charts, what songs fell off and, of course, what was No. 1. Casey inspired me to love music even more and to get involved in the radio industry. I became probably the youngest subscriber Billboard ever had. He made the publication a household name for people outside the radio and music industry.


What started as an experimental syndicated program with eight affiliates in 1970 grew into an international phenomenon heard on thousands of radio stations around the world during the next 39 years. American Top 40 had as much mass appeal as the music itself. But it wasn’t just about the music. It was how Casey presented it. Whether you were a chart geek like me or just a casual music fan, the show made you feel closer to the music and the artists who created it. Casey created a coalition of music fans connected to each other through the show, long before the Internet or social media. While most top 40 jocks were screaming song intros, Casey brought the stories behind the music to life and connected listeners emotionally through “long-distance dedications.”


In 2005, when I started working at XM, I was thrilled to bring Casey’s original countdowns back to the ’70s and ’80s channels. You can also hear them on our oldies, classic hits and adult contemporary stations every weekend. Today, Ryan Seacrest continues the American Top 40 tradition on hundreds of Clear Channel Media and Entertainment stations through Premiere Radio Networks.


I was fortunate enough to meet Casey several times through the years and he said it warmed his heart to know how much of an impact he had on so many people. On his final broadcast in 2009, he signed off by saying, “Success doesn’t happen in a vacuum. You’re only as good as the people you work with, and the people you work for. I’ve been lucky. I’ve worked for and with the very best.”


Whether it’s through the voice of Robin from Batman and Robin, Shaggy from Scooby-Doo or the countless other characters he voiced through the years, Casey’s unmistakable sound will live on, and his vision will affect future generations in ways that even Casey couldn’t have imagined.


THE BILLBOARD BIZ
SUBSCRIBER EXPERIENCE

The Biz premium subscriber content has moved to Billboard.com/business.


To simplify subscriber access, we have temporarily disabled the password requirement.