No, Casey Kasem is not dead. But he is doing his final American radio countdown show this weekend.
“Hosting various versions of my countdown program has kept me extremely busy, and I loved every minute of it,” Kasem, 77, said in a statement. “However, this decision will free up time I need to focus on myriad other projects.”
Though he passed the reins of the offical AT40 to former Dunwoody man Ryan Seacrest in 2004 (heard locally on Star 94), Kasem has been doing special spinoff shows for soft rock stations. In Atlanta, he was last heard on Peach 94.9, which became the country station the Bull in late 2006.
But there is a symbolism for him ending his show on July 4. He was the voice that personified American music pop culture through much of the 70s and 80s. His weekly departing line, “Keep your feet on the ground and keep reaching for the stars” resonates to this day for anybody in my generation. That avuncular voice, which lives on as Shaggy in Scooby Doo cartoons, is often imitated and still heard on Sirius XM satellite radio’s 70s and 80s stations, where they replay his countdown shows.
He was part of the reason I became addicted to Billboard magazine charts in the early 1980s. Like a lot of radio geeks, I kept three-ring binders of chart information. (And yes, I still have them.)
In New York, as a kid, I’d listen to him on 660/WNBC-AM (and later, Z100) on Sunday mornings, from 1982 until 1987, I’d studiously jot down the top 40 as he counted the songs from 40 to 1. Toto. Journey. Huey Lewis, Prince. I heard songs by dozens of acts for the first time on his show. I got to catch songs that weren’t played much on the stations I listened to at the time. I’d sometimes take a cassette tape and tape songs I liked as well. If I really liked the song, I’d buy the 45 and record the higher-quality sound over the radio version, keeping Casey’s intro intact.
Sure, he was cheeseball in so many ways. His long distance dedications. The way he would say a famous person’s quote, then actually end it by saying, “end of quote.” Those trivia contests where you had to send in your answers — by postcard.
But to me, he was the man, the conduit for my love of music and music charts.
I even got to meet Kasem briefly at a media convention in Los Angeles in 1993. I got a picture taken with him. That’s one of my most treasured memories, scarily enough. I then purchased at a silent auction autographed vinyl record versions of old AT40 countdown shows.
Here is a couple of Youtube videos of his short-lived TV syndicated AT10 I used to watch, too. The first video aired in May, 2003 and Casey actually notes that “Thriller” was No. 1. And he featured one of my favorite songs of all time, Duran Duran’s “Rio.”
This 1983 edition of AT10 below notes that George Clinton was No. 1 on the soul chart and you can see Michael Jackson had “Billie Jean” and “Beat It’ in the top 10 as well.