I'm usually not one for celebrity eulogies, but will occasionally bid farewell to those who have impacted my life as a child of the '80s. I've been a lover of radio since I can remember which is mainly a result of my mother's enjoyment of popular music. I used to enjoy playing her 45 records on our stereo and eventually, my own records that she bought for me. Some of my music taste came from watching MTV videos, but it was largely influenced by local Top 40 radio and Casey Kasem. Reports on the welfare of the legendary announcer and voice actor over the last several weeks have deeply saddened me. With the end to his life seemingly near, I began drafting this eulogy about a week ago as I felt like I needed to pay a proper tribute.
Casey Kasem changed radio. It wasn't just through counting down the most popular hits every weekend but essentially creating "Top 40" as a 24-hour radio station format. Local radio countdowns can be traced back to the 1940s, but when "American Top 40" hit the airwaves on July 4, 1970, popular music would truly reach "coast to coast" for the first time. As the show's popularity increased nationwide, many radio stations began changing their format to "Top 40" and for the first time, playing singles regardless of their genre.
Along the way to radio stardom, Kasem also became a viable voice actor. His most famous role was Shaggy Rogers from various Scooby-Doo shows, beginning in 1969's Scooby-Doo, Where Are You? and continuing through What's New, Scooby-Doo? which ended in 2006. Other credits include Batman's sidekick Robin in Superfriends, various roles in Transformers, and guest appearances on Tiny Toon Adventures, Captain Planet and the Planeteers, Johnny Bravo, and Blue's Clues. Kasem also made several guest appearances in television and movies (some as himself) which included Quincy, M.E., Charlie's Angels, Ghostbusters, and Saved By The Bell.
As America's premiere countdown show, "American Top 40" also spawned many spinoffs over the years. In 1973, "Amercian Country Countdown" hit the airwaves hosted by Don Bowman and continues to this day with host Kix Brooks. As music videos rose to popularity in the mid 70s, AT40 expanded to television in 1980 with America's Top 10. The 30 minute syndicated program hosted by Kasem would highlight not just the pop charts, but also music videos from the country, R&B, dance, and album charts. As MTV came on seen in 1981, America's Top 10 gained momentum and would continue to air through 1992. AT40 would again branch out this time on the radio in 1992 with "American Top 20" and "American Top 10" tailored specifically to adult contemporary radio stations.
Kasem's radio career wasn't always a pleasant ride. Beginning in 1988, a contract dispute caused Kasem to leave AT40 and create his own "Casey's Top 40" show which would run as a rival to AT40 until 1998. CBS cancelled AT40 in '98 and Kasem acquired the rights to the name. His current company Westwood One refused to change the name back to AT40 and Kasem took his newly relaunched show to what is now Premiere Networks. After 10 years, Kasem was finally reunited with his original show. He would continue to host through 2004 when he passed the AT40 reigns to current host Ryan Seacrest. However, Kasem would continue for five more years on "America's Top 20" until his final radio broadcast in 2009.
My musical taste was definitely impacted by Casey Kasem's programs. It seemed like our household always had the countdown on over the weekends in the '80s, whether it was on the 2-hour drive to see my grandparents or in the garage while my dad was working on something. When the Columbia House/BMG era came about in the early 90s, my CD selections seemed to be mainly greatest hits albums which were the songs I heard on AT40. But even as the Top 40 format stations slowly drifted away from my music taste over the past 20 years, I definitely don't regret the music I enjoyed in the '80s and early '90s via AT40.
Over the past couple years, I've made it a point to venture outside the Top 40. For the first time, I'm enjoying some '80s albums in their entirety and I'm loving it. I feel like I've almost discovered a hidden channel to new '80s music and now that Casey Kasem has finally "reached the stars," I feel like my journey is finally "okay." I feel like I need to dedicate this journey to his memory. Thank you Casey for bringing all that great music into my life and now, I look forward to exploring more and more of the music that didn't quite make it onto your show.