The King of Countdowns is Gone: Casey Kasem, Dead at 82

April 9, 2020

I am heartbroken. One of my biggest radio idols has passed away. Casey Kasem died earlier today. He was 82.

When I was 9 years old, I discovered American Top 40 while visiting my grandparents in North Dakota. I was riding my bike, tuning the dial on my red and white Arvin Bike Radio when I came across something I’d never heard before: a DJ counting down the Top 40 songs from #40 to #1. The station airing this amazing program was KNOX-AM 1310 in Grand Forks. Even though I was only 9, I already knew the difference between local disc jockeys and nationally syndicated programs. After I got back home to Minnesota, I anxiously scanned the dial for Casey’s voice but couldn’t find it anywhere. Our local station KDWB-AM 630 did not pick up American Top 40 until the first week of January, 1974. Finally, I caught a segment of the broadcast on KOIL-AM 1290 out of Omaha. The KOIL signal was tough to hear since it received interference from stations on the same frequency in Peoria, Illinois and Dayton, Ohio. Still, I was able to catch enough to identify each song and it’s number in the countdown.

From that moment, I was hooked. Each Sunday night, I was glued to my radio from 7-10. Make that 7-11 after the show expanded to 4 hours in October, 1978. I had a dedicated Spiral notebook in which I would write each song, artist, chart position, and change from last week’s chart position. Later, I began recording and saving the shows. My weekly allowance didn’t provide for enough blank tapes to record every show, but I managed to save quite a few. I still have them, including several which I originally archived onto 8-track tapes! The biggest American Top 40 event was the annual Top 100 of the year. It aired in 2 parts over Christmas and New Year’s weekends.

When I started at my first radio job in 1983, I was thrilled to learn we were an AT 40 affiliate station! It was then that I discovered the show was sent to stations on vinyl records. I also learned from the cue sheets that the American Top 40 theme music was actually called the “Shuckatoom Theme.” Since the following weekend’s show usually arrived at the station by Thursday, I now knew what the #1 song was 2 days before anyone else. I thought having access to this “inside information” was VERY cool!

Although I never had the chance to meet Casey Kasem, I feel as if I knew him. I guess that’s what happens when you spend 3-4 hours each week with someone for over 20 years. He was one of my earliest and biggest on-air influences. With the possible exception of John Records Landecker from WLS/Chicago, this man inspired me more than any other to pursue a career as a radio broadcaster. Although American Top 40 lives on with Ryan Seacrest, there will never be another voice, another host, another talent like Casey Kasem. Thanks for the memories and for all you’ve contributed to radio over the years.

And the countdown continues…