Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Casey Kasem: 39 years of countdowns

Casey Kasem began his weekly music countdown program on July 4, 1970. American Top-40 became one of the highest rated syndicated programs on radio...in fact, it became the highest rated. Casey and his associates also created the American Country Countdown which featured the same formula as the pop/rock counterpart. The idea of the show was to spotlight the hit singles of the previous week from #40 to #1. The countdown began at #40 and there would usually be 8 or 9 songs within an hour's time frame when you factor in song length and commercial breaks. A 40 song countdown would run at least 4 hours because of this pattern.

American Top-40 had it's share of features, too. There was the long-distance dedication which listeners would write the countdown letter's, usually of the Dear Abby variety of a former lover wanting to send a song to someone in their past; Casey always opened the segment saying "Dear Casey..." and he read the requests, using vocal dramatics at times if the letter was sad or depressing. If the dedication was read over the airwaves Casey would play the requested song. Another feature of the show as the countdown got closer to the Top-10 or to #1 was the recurring practice of the "AT40 extra" which was a song that had been a hit in the past by an artist still on the chart, typically preceding or following the current hit by the artist. Another feature was the radio station credit where Casey would name off some of the radio stations that aired the countdown. In the internet age, this feature was expanded to something like: "AT40 is heard from coast to coast and around the world on great radio stations like..." and he'd start naming off the stations. Once the countdown had reached the #2 spot, after the runner-up song was over, Casey would tease the listeners by saying something like "before we see who's #1 this week, let's hear the song that was #1 five years ago...". Also, Casey would name off the #1 songs on the other weekly charts, too, once the countdown grew closer to #1.

Casey remained the host of American Top-40 for 18 years, 1970-1988. In this time he had become a TV star as well. His weekly syndicated program, America's Top-10, would countdown the Top-10 singles of the week in a variety of music formats and play music video's, which was something new at the time. The series was in production for over 10 years. It was a half-hour show.

Casey was also a prominent voice actor for Hanna-Barbera. He gave voice to three popular cartoon characters: Robin on the various Superfriends cartoons of the '70s and '80s; Casey, in fact, voiced Robin in the late '60s cartoon series of The Adventures of Batman. Casey became the voice of Shaggy on countless Scooby-Doo projects. Lastly, Casey gave voice to Alexander Cabbot in Josie and the Pussycats. Casey, as far as I know, isn't putting an end to his voice-over career...just the countdown program.

After Casey left AT40, as it's commonly referred to, he created Casey's Top-40 which competed with AT40. Casey's program was using the chart data from Radio and Records. The AT40 data was supplied by Billboard magazine. Casey also started two more countdown programs: Casey's Countdown which counted down the Top-20 Adult-Contemporary songs of the week and Casey's Hot 20 which counted down the Top-20 Hot Adult-Contemporary songs of the week. The countdown's were 3 hours in length...a lot of features and extra songs were played to fill out a countdown that would actually be 2 hours since each show counted down 20 songs.

AT40 was taken over by Shadoe Stevens...he hosted the program from 1989 until 1995. Casey's countdown shows were higher rated than the program he had hosted for 18 years and so AT40 ended in 1995 after a 25 year run. In the meantime, Casey had put an end to his syndicated TV series. On Nick-at-Nite he became famous for the annual New Year's Eve program, The Rerun Countdown. On this show he counted down the top 25 reruns of the year determined by viewers. He presided over this program for 9 years and it kicked off at noon on New Year's Eve and because the TV shows were half an hour in length, the program ran for 12 and a half hours. The #1 rerun of the year was announced around midnight and the airing of the #1 rerun brought in the new year...the show would wrap up typically around 12:30am New Year's Day. I was a child of the '80s and a teenager in the '90s and I was hooked on Nick-at-Nite and loved watching the older TV shows and so on New Year's Eve, for me anyway, it was watching Casey's rerun countdown. Casey was no stranger to marathon's, though. He has appeared for years on the annual Jerry Lewis MDA telethon as one of the recurring co-hosts and he often provides voice-over's for a lot of the video footage that gets spotlighted.

In 1998 AT40 was re-launched and Casey was back as the host. His two other countdown programs were re-titled American Top-20 and American Top-10. The Top-10 show was a revamped edition of the Hot Adult-Contemporary Top-20 countdown, previously known as Casey's Hot 20. The AT10 show ran 2 hours. The AT20 show ran 3 hours as usual, counting down the Adult-Contemporary songs.

In 2004, Casey stepped down as host of AT40...replaced by Ryan Seacrest. Casey continued to host his other two countdown programs. A syndicated series called AT40 Flashback started airing on satellite radio in 2006 and then the show started airing on mainstream Top-40 radio stations in 2007. The program is 3 hours and it presents a vintage Top-40 episode from the '70s or the '80s. The reason it isn't 4 hours is because a lot of the original commercials are edited out. In some broadcasts of the Flashback show you'll hear Casey lead up to a commercial but then the program resumes after a brief second or two of silence. This makes the show seem to move along quicker when you cut out the commercials and station identifications. Although Casey does provide station ID's for the stations airing the Flashback show. He typically says: "you found it, AT40 Flashback..." and he names the radio station.

The weekend of July 4, 2009 proved to be a shocker...Casey, without prior warning, announced that it would be his final time counting down the songs...bringing a close to an exact run of 39 years of counting down the hits. I assume the secrecy was because he didn't want a big fuss or farewell made because he's still going to be busy with other projects and it isn't like he's retiring from working. I'm sure he'll still be providing the voice of Shaggy in whatever new Scooby-Doo program that comes along, though. In a statement he commented that he wanted to focus on a myriad of other projects but he said he loved every minute of doing the countdown program's.

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