Monday, June 16, 2014

A tribute to Casey Kasem

Sorry to hear that Casey Kasem passed away yesterday. He was 82. His last few months have been a circus with his kids and stepmother, Jean Kasem fighting over his care. I don’t have any insight into that whole mess. I never knew his kids and this seemed very out of character for the Jean Kasem I’ve known for years (she played Lo-retta on CHEERS).

I did know Casey but not well. We traveled in the same radio circles and he always came to tapings of CHEERS when Jean guested. He was friendly, gracious, and as warm as his voice.

In many ways he was a trailblazer.

Casey began in radio just as local stations, specifically Top 40 stations , were starting to take off in a big way. At the time, the preferred style for disc jockeys was do anything to get attention. They were loud, they talked fast, they assumed hipster personas, they rang cowbells and inserted sound effects, or they talked in phony voices (known as puking). Casey did none of that. He spoke in a normal voice, never shouted, never pretended to be anyone other than who he was – he just communicated. He talked one-on-one to the listener. He never referred to them as “gang,” or “everybody,” or “cousins.” The smile in is voice was sincere.

I first heard him in the mid ‘60s on KRLA in Los Angeles. He always worked the mid-day shift. His connection with the music was not to snap his fingers and pretend he was “grooving” with every song. He told stories about the artists and the music. My only problem was the station itself. Its format was all over the place and I never felt they got the best use of Casey’s talent. Crosstown powerhouse KHJ wanted to hire him away but he stayed at KRLA. Loyalty was another of his exemplary traits.

But I always thought that Casey’s content blended with KHJ’s streamlined format would produce one of the great radio shows ever.

And I was right.

Because in 1970, Casey would collaborate with Ron Jacobs, the program director and creative mastermind of KHJ on a new project called AMERICAN TOP 40. For three hours a week Casey would countdown the Top 40 hits of the day and weave in stories, dedications, and other nuggets. The show became a huge smash, heard in just about every market in the country. And it still survives to this day (now hosted by someone named Seacrest). Historical note: These were the days long before just emailing mp3s or zip drives. Radio stations would receive three pressed vinyl albums each week that contained the full show.

So Casey blazed new trails for syndication as well.

And then he took on voice overs. At the time, everyone doing voice over commercials had huge rumbling deep pipes. They were all the Voice of God. Casey had a breathy voice. But he also had that warmth and sincerity. You believed him when he recommended a product. Within a few years of doing voice overs, Casey changed the whole game plan. Basso profondos were out, natural relaxed voices were in. And they’re still in to this day. Again, thank you, Casey.

Casey branched out into animation, notably providing the voice of Shaggy on SCOOBY-DOO.

Needless to say, Casey was quite wealthy as a result of his success. But you’d never know it. He never came off pompous, or entitled, or self-important. He was always just a regular guy. Casey will be greatly missed. In this crazy angry world, don’t you wish everybody spoke to you the way Casey Kasem did?

And now he and God can audition for the same spots.


Carol said...

My husband and I love listening to the American Top Forty shows they play every Saturday on the 70's channel on Sirius FM. He's still a joy to listen to.

Anonymous said...

Our local stations play the syndicated replays of the 70s and 80s countdowns on the weekends. What a breath of fresh air.
And my sister once won the vinyl version of the countdown. The radio station would give it away after it played.

Marc said...

A used record store I frequented at one time had tons of those AMERICAN TOP 40 sets for sale. They got them from a radio station that cleared out their library and had apparently been saving them after they played them. I'm pretty sure they weren't supposed to be resold like that. Not that it ever appeared that anyone bought them.

Stoney said...

For me, the best thing that's happened to radio in recent times is that the original AT40 shows (1970-1988)are back on the air again. Premiere Networks has been syndicating them for the past seven years. Great to hear the early 70's shows prior to 1973 when I, at age 13, started listening to Casey. I love hearing the old shows so much I catch the stream of KLFM in Bendigo, Victoria, Australia which airs it about 8 hours before any station in the Western Hemisphere does.

I wonder if ABC regrets parting ways with Casey in 1988. The Shadoe Stevens version of AT40 was terrible and lost ground to Casey's Show on Westwood One and Rick Dees' show. By 1995 ABC discontinued AT40 and Casey started legal moves to re-acquire the name. He got it back a couple years later and began a new AT40.

When he retired five years ago I remember seeing the story Dan Harris did for ABC News; Jean was the only one interviewed and Casey was seen only in archive video. Nothing at all was said about any health issues; only that he decided to hang it up.

Last year The Arab American Institute Foundation gave Casey their Kahlil Gibran "Spirit of Humanity" Award. He was not at the ceremony but there were several video tributes shown including one by Jamie Farr. Another video by AT40 co-creator Don Bustany gave the first hint that Casey' health was failing.

I believe that Casey wanted his remaining time to pass quietly and that Jean tried to honor that wish. But she may have gotten somewhat overprotective leading to the family issues that became public in the last few months.

Stephen said...

Trivia: Casey was a vegetarian and eventually persuaded Hanna-Barbera to turn Shaggy (of SCOOBY DOO) into a vegetarian, too. (They've back-tracked on that since other people took over Shaggy's voice.)

VincentS said...

I grew up listening to Casey Kasem on AMERICAN TOP 40 as well as hearing his voice in various cartoons, most notably BATMAN AND ROBIN. It's nice to know he was a class act off mic. I hope all of us who are fans honor his memory by continuing to keep our feet on the ground and to keep reaching for the stars!

rockgolf said...

I wrote elsewhere that Casey Kasem was one of the biggest influences in my life. I never went into radio, or the music business, but my hobby for over 40 years has been gather as much info as I can about pop music. And it started with listening to AT40 on a low-power Buffalo station back in 1974. Back before Google there was no source better than Casey for the most obscure kind of pop music trivia. And I would listen faithfully to the full 3 hour show, skipping dinner or church depending on when the show aired, or staying up to some ridiculous hour because whichever station was carrying it that year needed air filler between midnight and 3 am.
My nom-du-web, RockGolf, is because of a pop music interactive trivia game I created, and AT40 was very much an inspiration for that.

The Bumble Bee Pendant said...

Also sorry to hear about all around good guy and baseball god Tony Gwynn's passing after a long battle with cancer.

By Ken Levine said...

I know. I'll post a tribute to Tony tomorrow. This will be a particularly difficult one to write.

Ted said...

Casey actually started his career with a fast and frantic voice, funny sound effects, and dialogue loops from Stan Freberg records. He was The Mighty Casey - evenings on KYA in San Francisco.

odJennings said...

I've seen a lot of comments making mention of the famous outtakes from his show where he gets upset about the dead dog dedication following an upbeat song and another one where he's trying to do promos for various stations and the stupidity of their slogans is driving him crazy.

Both are funny to listen to (I won't link them, but they're on youtube), but about halfway through them you realize that everything he's saying is 110% correct, and what's driving him crazy is his frustration over the fact that the quality of the product he's being asked to deliver simply isn't up to snuff.

You have to admire the guy for caring about the product.

Mike Barer said...

Just like with the passing of Dick Clark, Johnny Carson, and Walter Cronkite, another American icon is gone.

Keener 14's Allan Scott said...

Casey started his career as a voice actor at WXYZ in Detroit as part of the cast for The Lone Ranger. After his military stint, he came back to Detroit as a newsman at WJBK where eventually he wound up engineering for and then filling in for "Frantic" Ernie Durham. The rest of the history (minus the stops in New York State and Ohio) is on track and a fitting tribute. Thank you, Ken.

Victor Velasco said...

Was fortunate to have heard Casey on KEWB...a few years back at a record swap, for $3.00, I bought a DVD of a Shebang show from May '67 taped at Anaheim before an Angels game; the way Casey sells the Zippy tamales is just amazing; you're convinced that they're the greatest food stuff on the planet! RIP

George Junak said...

As Ted mentioned above, Casey was a screamer using tons of dropins when he was in San Francisco (KEWB) -- it wasn't until he got to LA at KRLA that he developed the style that he was famous for.

jcs said...

AFN Berlin, like other US armed forces radio stations, used to carry Kasem's Top 40 programme. Until 1994 when the US garrison left the city you could listen to Kasem, Dr. Demento and a few other syndicated radio shows. Thankfully a few years later NPR Berlin went on the air, however, without Casey Kasem.

McAlvie said...

Casey Kasem and the "countdown to the number one song in America" was a theme running through my teen and young adult years. It was a thread that connected music lovers of all generations. There was something about the way he spoke that made you forget he was probably in a studio somewhere. It sounded like he was sitting beside you in the car or across from you in the living room, like a favorite uncle reminiscing on a favorite subject.

I still catch reruns of AT40 on the oldies stations sometimes, and it's more than just nostalgic. It's comforting.

RG said...

Re: Tony Gwynn. It was like a punch in the gut. Who even knew he was ill? For the future, can the internet please give me at least a few days' notice before something like this is going to happen so I have time to prepare myself just a little bit. Way too young and with so much optimism and passion for the game. I imagine that even if you do not like baseball you could have listened to him and wished you could feel the game like he did. Like an art aficionado explaining the great works of art - but instead of wanting to visit the Louvre after you wanted to visit Petco Park.

Hopefully MLB does some public service announcements about the dangers of chewing tobacco -- the apparent cause of the cancer.

Anonymous said...

Do you really think Casey's air voice was his natural voice? Listen to the blooper tape and you'll hear his real voice.

VP81955 said...

"American Top 40" was a wonderful concept that came a few years too late for it to have the sort of impact it deserved. Its initial airing came in July 1970, just as the Beatles' final single, "The Long And Winding Road," was slipping off the charts. The early '70s was a rather desultory period for Top 40 radio, with inane Bobby Sherman-Partridge Family bubblegum music at one end of the spectrum and ponderous "heavy" music (e.g., "D.O.A." by Bloodrock, a poor man's Grand Funk Railroad) on the other. Had AT40 been around in 1964 and '65, when rock was at its liveliest, it would've been a gas.

RIP Casey -- BTW, are there any airchecks of his KRLA days? For those of us who knew little of his pre-AT40 career, they might make for fascinating listening.

Craig L. said...

One of my oddest "brushes with fame" was when Casey Kasem yelled at me (no profanity) on live television. It was back when the PBS station in Los Angeles raised money by doing a televised auction of donated goods, and Kasem was doing a segment where he was the live auctioneer facing a phone bank of people getting calls from bidders at home. Volunteer Me was in that phone bank and I was handling a call with a bad connection - bad enough that I and the bidder had to go back and forth with my hand over my other ear before I could stand up and yell out his bid. Of course, I was not keeping up with what Casey was calling out, so I kept yelling out bids that were one or TWO bids behind. He lost patience with it before I did, and, pointing at me, yelled "SIT DOWN AND SHUT UP!", live on Channel 28. There were many giggles, and I was definitely embarrassed. A half-hour later, I was backstage awaiting assignment to a different phonebank and Jean Kasem, Casey's wife and the actress who played tall, buxom blondes who were usually smarter than they looked (she was almost a head taller than Casey, and taller than ME), approached me and apologized for her husband's rudeness. Classy lady - when the news came out about Kasem's family fighting over his treatment, I saw that they were still married after all these years and thought "well, she must be right".

Also, during my short-lived radio career, I was surprised how Casey's American Top 40 show was distributed - on 12-inch records, a half-hour of show per side and putting the local commercial breaks between tracks that the station operator had to cue up like a regular song. They recorded far enough in advance to have the records pressed and mailed to the 200+ radio stations airing the show. (I recall that they also required that they be sent back after broadcast, so collectors copies were rare and totally unauthorized)

Liggie said...

As a kid in the late '70s and early '80s, I would wake up early Saturday mornings to listen to Kasey's "American Top 40". Was AT40 the last syndicated radio show to earn a huge national audience?

I hope the mess around his last months doesn't diminish his legacy.

Mike Schryver said...

"Tony Gwynn. It was like a punch in the gut. Who even knew he was ill?"

I'd heard some announcers in games over the past week saying things like how much they looked forward to seeing Tony soon, so I figured something bad was going on. So sorry to hear it.

Back on topic, I was a teenager in the '70s, so Casey Kasem was a big part of my radio listening. I didn't know they were replaying the old shows - I'll have to listen sometime.

Pamela Jaye said...

I remember reading in Rob Durkee's book (forget the name) that Casey used to do something called Wild Tracks? and then one day or night his boss came in, told him to stop and he was showless. Luckily found some book/magazine about pop music with tons of facts/trivia stuffed in a corner/trashcan, and voila! no longer showless.

I listened to AT40 once I finally found it, which was September 1974 (You're Having My Baby/I Shot the Sheriff) and for years after, I thought I was the only one writing in notebooks - in fact, even being online from 1993 to 2012, I never figured out I was not... till 2012. Now I know.

RIP Casey. Thanks Ken.

Pamela Jaye said...

Oh, and my brother bought me a set of one week of AT 40 about 3 years ago. Apparently only the man who remasters them is allowed to sell them. Shannon Lynn. Google CharisMusicGroup.

My brother picked a really good week in 79.

(and thanks to the com enters for much info and stories. I missed Dan Harris , but Person of the Week is still up in text form from 2006.)

Anonymous said...

There is a great channel on that plays old American Top 40 shows. Go to the site, click explore, music and WBME. I go there all the time when I need my fix of Casey Kasem!

David Kaye said...

HIPSTER Casey? Well, maybe. Here's a link to an aircheck on KEWB before he was told to knock off his character voices and wild tracks. On this brief aircheck he has none of that, but you could hear his fast-talking hipster style.,_1962.html

Also, the Bay Area Radio Archives has a 30 minute aircheck of Casey Kasem ("Casey At The Mike" from October 2, 1962, where his more familar trivia snippets are in evidence.

--David Kaye,

Pamela Jaye said...

Thanks David!
after some Googling I found the second one at

The first one... was it supposed to play or just be something readable (which is all I got)?

John Glenn Taylor said...

There are several Casey airchecks at, including a few from KRLA. However, to listen to them you will need to buy a one year subscription for $20.

John Mehno column said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Scott said...

Hi Ken,

So sorry about Tony, and thank you for your acknowledgment of Casey.

I was a writer/producer for AT 40 from '76 to '79. In fact, I landed that postition due, in no small part, to Casey's graciousness in inviting me to the show's studio when I approached him at a charity softball game with KIIS-FM jocks that took place my very first weekend in Los Angeles.

Casey didn't really write his own material or even follow pop music per se, but I can honestly say that his sensibilities with regard to storytelling --including aspects of integrity, emotion and relatability were adhered to zealously by the staff, and have informed all my work since then.

Also, other people are mentioned as co-creators of AT40, but as someone who was there for some of the shows best years, I can say that, next to Casey, Tom Rounds was the second-most important person in the success of the show. A former jock himself, aside from directing Casey's weekly tapings of the show, as president of parent company Watermark, his clever marketing had everything to do with making AT40 ubiquitous nationwide and 'round the world.

Tom (my dear friend, TR) died exactly two weeks prior to Casey's passing. Casey taught me consummate storytelling; TR taught me how to produce those stories for mass consumption. I will be forever grateful to them both.


Scott Paton