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Memories of Casey Kasem, The Voice Of Pop Radio

Soundcheck host John Schaefer reflects on the passing of a Top 40 icon.

Monday, June 16, 2014 - 05:11 PM

My plan was to be blogging about the World Cup this week, even though I'm allegedly on vacation to watch the World Cup. But I got an email this morning from David Brancaccio, the host of the Marketplace Morning Report. He wanted to share his response to Casey Kasem's death this past weekend, because David has a bone to pick with all the people who thought that Kasem's weekly music-countdown program, known for many years as America's Top 40, was too middle-of-the-road and not "cutting edge." As David told his listeners, "For those of us who grew up in the sticks -- Central Maine in my case -- radio stations didn't seem to play much soul and funk. And I dig soul and funk. So in the pre-internet age, one way I could get turned onto cool stuff was listening to Casey's show every week, which included tunes like The Isley Brothers' “Who’s That Lady” from 1973."

 

 

David then played a bit of the Isley Brothers, doing his part to pass on a little soul to another generation. This got me to thinking about Casey Kasem as I experienced him -- growing up not in the sticks but in New York City. Kasem's show did strike me as mainstream... but that's exactly why I listened to it. His show probably reached its peak of popularity in the '70s, when I was a teenager and rapidly getting into more underground music scenes. But I have never lost my love for a well-constructed pop song, and Kasem's show meant I didn't have to waste time listening to hours of Top 40 radio to hear what was really popular.

Mind you, even his show could be a trial -- we made a lot of crappy music popular in the '70s. But there'd always be something to catch your ear. Maybe it was an outsider creeping into the Top 40, as Gary Numan's "Cars" did in 1980. Or maybe it was just a good piece of pop that you rooted for, watching to see if it would climb up the charts (in which case you would congratulate yourself on your perceptive musical taste), or tumble down (causing self-righteous indignation at all the philistines out there who didn't know a thing about real music).

Actually, just writing this reminds me that listening to Casey Kasem's Top 40 was also kind of like following your favorite college football team in the weekly newspaper rankings. I've always liked the idea of linking sports and music -- the fan's passion runs just as deep in both. At least it does in my case. So the World Cup will get its turn. But for today, it's fare thee well to Casey Kasem, a radio legend, the voice of my favorite cartoon character (Shaggy from Scooby-Doo Where Are You?), and, above all, a fan.

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