As a teenager, I listened to Casey Kasem, but not on American Top 40. Before he came up with the idea of doing a national countdown, he was a local DJ on KRLA, one of the two leading Top 40 stations in Los Angeles, along with KFWB. In the summer of 1963, Pasadena-based KRLA introduced Kasem as an afternoon jock, freshly relocated from KEWB in San Francisco. I was already a devoted fan of the charts, having discovered them just four months earlier, and was impressed with Kasem’s love for music trivia. He had a deeper knowledge of the charts than any DJ I had ever heard and since it was summer and I wasn’t in school, I listened to his show as often as I could.
I remember one afternoon hearing Casey say something that has remained with me for my entire life. He introduced a new song by announcing: “Here’s a group from England that is as popular in their own country as the Four Seasons are in America.” That told me instantly how mega this group must be. Then Casey played “From Me to You” by the Beatles. And that’s how I learned — six months before “I Want to Hold Your Hand” and the beginning of Beatlemania in the U.S. — exactly how big the Beatles were.
After seven years on KRLA, Casey went national with American Top 40 on July 4, 1970. It would be another 27 years before I would meet him in person. As Chart Beat columnist for Billboard, I attended the 19th annual Billboard/Airplay Monitor Radio Awards at the Renaissance Resort in Orlando. I was walking through the lobby with Billboard’s Chuck Taylor, who was in charge of the event. Casey was the host for the Awards (and at the gala dinner, a surprised recipient of the conference’s first Lifetime Achievement Award) and he was just arriving, so as representatives of Billboard, we greeted him. To my surprise, Casey knew who I was and seemed happier to meet me than I was to meet him (though believe me, I was thrilled to meet him after years of being a major fan). It never occurred to me that he might be a reader of my column or my “Billboard Book of Number One Hits” and I appreciated him letting me know.
Casey was genuine and humble in person and I was grateful that I was finally able to let him know how much he meant to me. When I first became obsessed with local radio charts and the national Billboard charts, a part of me felt guilty for spending so much time with these facts and figures and I felt like I was the only person in the world with this secret passion. As a local jock and as the national host of American Top 40, Casey made me feel OK about my hobby, long before I knew it would become the core element of my professional career.
Thanks, Casey. I think I kept my feet on the ground while I was reaching for the stars, and thanks to you it all turned out just fine.