Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Casey Kasem, the creator and voice of the long-running radio show "American Top 40" has died... another mentor of a generation of radio jocks who changed the way we listened to music. 

People ask me why I wanted to go into radio way back when. Perhaps it was the idea of living like Dr. Johnny Fever or any one of the other crazy folks from WKRP in Cinncinatti.

But most likely it was deeper than that. Guys like Casey Kasem reached into our everyday lives and taught us so much.

The man who taught American kids to count to 40... Backwards. 

Every Sunday morning at 10:00 my local station would play the four hour countdown of the most popular hits on American charts that week. "Counting down the hits from coast to coast". Beyond playing the music, he always weaved a bit of a story between the songs. Never was it some tidbit about which musician was sleeping with whom - he was more gentle and classy than that - but more of an informational feeling. 

I'll never forget the day he taught me (ahem, and of course anyone else listening... but it felt like he was talking to me) about some Police lyrics. In the song "Wrapped Around Your Finger", there is a phrase which was always confusing; 'You consider me the young apprentice, caught between the Scylla and Charybdis'. That sunny Sunday morning Casey explained that was a "fancy-schmancy" way of saying "between a rock and a hard place". Of course he gave me more of the story; something to do with Greeky mythology and a narrow passage of sea if I remember correctly.

I also enjoyed the “long-distance dedications,”, even if it was just to put a smile on my face while hearing this soppy stuff. In this schmaltzy segment Casey would read a tearjerker letter from a sad, lovelorn soul hoping to reconnect with another person far away by dedicating a favorite song. Lovesick stuff generally, but as a former boss of mine would say, "It is certainly shit, but it is good radio shit".

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His distinctive voice, the feeling that he was taking just to us, the smile that came through the microphone... years before I knew what he looked like, in my mind's eye, he was beautiful. He had me at number 40.

Now that I look back I realize that it wasn't so much the music which kept me listening; it was Casey. It was the comforting velvet warmth in his voice, and genuine interest in the charts and pop music he played which made me a life-long fan.

Radio was better for having known you, Casey. Keep reaching for those stars.

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