Casey Kasem was one of the very first voices I ever heard on the radio. I was a very young boy when Casey first joined the staff of KEWB in San Francisco/Oakland, sister station to KFWB in LA. He was on 9p-midnight, and totally captivated my young ears. Radio in those days was truly theater of the mind. Casey had several imaginary characters to accompany him, including ‘Happy’ and ‘The Little Girl Without a Name’. ‘Happy’ was truly named as Casey always had a way of making everyone in his audience be entertained, educated, and happy.
In 1969, Casey became the voice of Shaggy on tv’s ‘Scooby Doo,’ but many didn’t know it was him. Most of the world was first introduced to Casey in 1970 when he started his national countdown show, ‘American Top 40,′ which in most markets ran on Sunday mornings. The first song played was number 40, and slowly made his way to number 1, with tons of entertaining stories, and dedications from all over the globe along the way. The ‘Fabulous 40′ countdown show I heard many years earlier on KEWB was actually on Friday nights, and started with number 1. Casey would hit # 40 just before midnight. By that time my transistor radio was firmly under my pillow. I just had to hear # 40, as it may become a bigger hit, and eventually make it to # 1 also.
I remember it well, it was a Monday in June. I was 12 years old one day, and it was my first day home from boarding school for summer break. I had a clear schedule that day, so I took it upon myself to help a substitute (and very confused) mailman that did not know the neighborhood. This adventure lasted about 2 hours encompassing many different streets and addresses. I remember him asking me specifically “Where is Lee St?” I have all these records to deliver to some guy named Casey Kasem.” I thought ‘Wow, it’s my chance to meet Casey.’
I knew he would be home as he worked nights at KEWB. When I got to his apartment door, there was a note stating ‘Please forward all mail to Casey Kasem at KRLA in Los Angeles. KRLA was actually in Pasadena, but the main point of interest to me was that all of this time, Casey had lived right next door to me, and I didn’t even know it. I found out the day he had started on KRLA. Sure enough, I tuned in to KEWB at 9pm that night, and Ron Lyons was on the air, not Casey. Ron became a fixture on SF radio for 40 years, but Casey was gone.
Many years later, in 1970, I found Casey doing ‘American Top 40′ for a national audience (not just me) one Sunday morning. Ironically, it was also on a Sunday morning, 44 years later (yesterday), I found out that his great voice had gone silent. Casey’s subtle informative approach touched everyone who heard him. All styles of music hit ‘American Top 40′, and Casey appealed to each diverse element of his audience.
Listenership is so fragmented these days, I’m not sure a show like Casey’s countdown could make it. But the show will live forever in my memories, I just wish I could have met him when I was 12. In 1989, I met Casey and told him the story of the confused mailman and his missing records from long ago. He was very nice to me, “I’m sorry I didn’t get to meet you then’.
The best way to remember Casey Kasem is to focus on his signature sign-off to ‘American Top 40′ that said it all. ‘Keep your feet on the ground, and keep reaching for the stars’. I will add a PS: Always help your mail carrier.