The art of storytelling: it’s a rare skill that many have tried to master for centuries. In a world of bold headlines and instant gratification rather than in-depth reporting and delayed reactions, anybody can be a “storyteller”, but a genuine one is hard to find. I, myself, have tried to do the best I can with my blog to be the storyteller rather than give into an easy fix. It can be challenging. However, through it all, there’s been one inspiration that I could trust in, one that ensured that I work hard and let my chart geek flag fly. That man was Casey Kasem.
In the early morning of June 15, Kasem passed away at the age of 82. I first became familiar with him at age 9 when I heard American Top 40 for the first time on Kiss 108 (WXKS-FM) in Boston, MA. It was May 16, 1999 – I remember the date very clearly because my father and I were going to meet my grandparents at a museum exhibit in the city, and with a turn of the dial, there I was listening to the countdown. It was halfway through “We Like To Party” by The Vengaboys, which ranked at #28 that week, followed by “Almost Doesn’t Count” by Brandy at #27.
I was fascinated by it, and every Sunday morning around 7:30 (Kiss always started the airing early) I was glued to my black boombox radio, feverishly writing down the top 40 songs that week. By then, I was already familiar with TV music surveys like Total Request Live, but American Top 40 was a different experience. It was a privilege to have the resources and time to listen to it: the songs, the stories and the Long Distance Dedications. It was a turning point in my relationship with music and writing about it. I didn’t choose music; music chose me.
Several months after first listening to Casey Kasem, I started a weekly top 40 of my own, and I’ve kept it up to this day. I began to find other affiliates that played the show, like 92 PRO FM out of Providence, RI. In the summer of 2001, it was the end credits of the program that led me to discover what Radio & Records was. I learned what a recurrent rule was, a bullet, an adds date, etc. By age 11, I was way too savvy about what was going on in the world of popular music. However, Kasem and AT40 fostered that willingness to learn in me. Most of all, he was always a friend in my head who would be there for me on Sundays during my highest highs and lowest lows.
As I grew to find more about the charts online, my weekly listening declined. Of course, when Kasem left the mic on AT40 in January 2004, I tuned into the last few shows. Still, I tried to catch his AC and Hot AC programs (American Top 10 and American Top 20, respectively) from time and time, and I would also listen to a series of top 40 countdowns from the 80’s broadcast on WMMX-FM in Dayton, OH from a (then) cancelled Flashback program. The success of these repeats not only gave me an opportunity to revisit the music of that time, but it encouraged Premiere Radio Networks to reinvest in both AT40 – The 70’s and AT40 – The 80’s to be picked up on dozens of stations around the U.S. beginning in 2007.
The weekend of July 4-5, 2009 marked Kasem’s last time presenting a current program on both AT10 and AT20. Should you find yourself listening to that last episode, I was quite humbled to be a part of it. That was my Long Distance Dedication for Andrew Gold‘s “Thank You For Being A Friend” that aired, along with a letter thanking him for his time hosting. Years had passed since our first encounter, but I never forgot where I was on that May day. I must have listened to every stream I could find playing that very last show.
A few of us were lucky to run the board or load the files for one of Kasem’s programs. For me, it was about a year’s worth of American Top 40 – The 70’s shows on a former affiliate here. It wasn’t the same as airing a fresh copy of AT40 on vinyl or CD, but I always cherished that time and knowing that I had a part in continuing his legacy. To some, it was work; for me, it was an honor. It completed the circle for me and perhaps gave me a little peace with what was about to come today.
The death of Casey Kasem is obviously a very sad one for everyone in the charts community, whether a casual listener or a diehard fan. Many of us are listening to old countdowns of his or watching clips of him on YouTube. However, listening to American Top 40 on the weekend was just as much about Kasem’s delivery and the music as it was about finding ourselves. Without the experience that I had, my top 40 chart, blog… I mean, my interest in music and the industry never would have developed into what its become. My passion for writing about “(word)” in x amount of song titles or (act) from y amount of countries was directly impacted by what I heard on those broadcasts. I’m fortunate enough to have a few hundred shows in my collection to relive the memories. It’s part of what keeps me and my interests going.
It’s truly the end of an era, but for the children of countdown generation, it was one that was worthwhile. My thoughts are with his family members at this time. They no longer have to worry about the pain and suffering he endured. After reaching for the stars for decades, he’s finally made it up there. We’ll miss you, Casey. Your story’s safe with us.