Casey Kasem was one of the most recognizable voices in radio and television. Millions of fans around the world still find his name synonymous with musical countdowns. Today, Casey Kasem’s American Top 40 -The 80’s continues to be distributed and broadcast by Premiere Networks on more than 200 radio stations around the world.
In 2009, after 39 years as the “King of the Countdowns,” Kasem stepped down as host of American Top 20 and American Top 10, and in 2003, he retired from the helm of American Top 40 – the show he created in 1970 that became the gold standard of music programming.
Kasem’s friendly, “crackling” voice style took him to the top of his profession. The man who once dreamed of being a baseball player but ended up as a radio sports announcer instead, was the youngest member ever inducted into the Radio Hall of Fame. He has his own star on Hollywood Boulevard’s Walk of Fame. In 1997, Billboard magazine honored him with its first-ever Lifetime Achievement Award. Kasem was honored with the first ever “Radio Icon” award at the Radio Music Awards in 2003.
Throughout his career, Kasem worked as a character actor in films and television. He has voiced countless commercials and Saturday morning cartoon-show characters, including the voice of Shaggy in the evergreen Scooby Doo television and film franchise.
All this is a long way from when young Kemal Amen Kasem, son of Lebanese Druze parents, was a sportscaster for his Detroit high school’s radio club. It was a short hop to radio acting. While majoring in speech and English at Wayne State University, he landed roles in national shows like “The Lone Ranger” and “Sergeant Preston of the Yukon.” During military service in Korea, he coordinated and acted in radio drama on the Armed Forces Network.
A civilian again in 1954, Kasem became a disc jockey, moving from Detroit to Cleveland, Buffalo, Oakland and eventually Los Angeles. The easy-going vocal style that was his trademark came about as the result of a station manager in Oakland telling him to change his format from wild, improvised comedy characters – just minutes before he was to go on the air. With only moments to spare and still stuck for a new format idea, he spied a discarded magazine, Who’s Who in Pop Music, 1962, in a trash barrel at the studio. It was full of facts about recording artists – exactly what he needed. That night he began telling stories about the true lives of popular musicians – teased with lead-ins a few minutes before each story was told. This “teaser/bio” format became a familiar part of American Top 40 and a standard in the radio industry.
Away from radio, Kasem co-hosted Jerry Lewis’ annual Labor Day Telethon for the Muscular Dystrophy Association beginning in 1981. He received the prestigious Founder’s Award for aiding Danny Thomas’ St. Jude’s Children’s Research Hospital.