Monday, June 16, 2014


Most every Casey Kasem tribute prominently features the American Top 40 host’s signature statement: Keep reaching for the stars. It’s a happy, generic sentiment. NASA must wish it had coined as effective a statement to engage the American public.

Maybe I am not such a lofty guy. For me, a truer expression to associate with Casey Kasem is “keeping reaching for the radio.”

I first discovered Kasem’s distinct voice in the fall of 1978 when I was a thirteen-year-old who had moved from an urban center in Ontario, Canada to a not-big-enough city in East Texas. I was entering tenth grade and overwhelmed by an amped up social reality: weekly high school dances, football games in large stadiums, daily updates on who was “going together”. I was too young, too confused and too gawky. I stumbled on “American Top 40” on an AM radio station out of Shreveport, Louisiana. For four hours each week, I had a date—at least, the kind I could handle. Things made sense, except for the inexplicable rise of a few tunes like Taco’s “Puttin’ on the Ritz” and, well, anything by Charlie Daniels. Casey faithfully chronicled the ups and downs, introduced new acts and filled me in on musical milestones. He even got a wee bit folksy, reading out weepy/sappy Long Distance Dedications. Through each broadcast, Casey always came off as earnest.

I needed comfort during my awkward youth and Casey’s distinct voice provided that. He did not demystify any of the perplexities of adolescence, but at least he offered a regular reprieve. I thoroughly enjoyed the weekend countdowns. Casey spoke with a calm authority. Without any histrionics, he made Donna Summer and Barbra Streisand each scoring her fourth Number One with a duet seem to be a landmark achievement. Heck, he even made it matter when a minor hit by Franke and the Knockouts moved up one notch to 38.

When other DJs took over AT 40, I stopped listening. They were imposters. And when Casey voiced other countdowns, it wasn’t the same. Casey Kasem and Billboard were the perfect combination. To this day, I still follow the Billboard charts, checking online every Thursday to track the latest musical movements.

While many people are tuning off the radio, opting for Sirius broadcasts, programmed iPods and YouTube videos, I still find that a DJ—they go by “radio personality” now, don’t they?—matters. Sometimes. I typically despise having the airwaves filled with blabber. I don’t need the rundown on the latest misstep of Justin Bieber or a Kardashian. And I don’t want to hear a five-minute back-and-forth about an RP’s (sorry, “DJ” still sounds better) shocking experience last night whereby two people failed to wash their hands after using a public bathroom. Too much talk before I’ve had enough caffeine. I usually change the station. Music, please. It is rare to come across an authoritative, interesting voice on radio. But it has happened a handful of times. And it started with Casey Kasem.

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