Monday, June 16, 2014

6.16.14 Hero of the Day: Casey Kasem

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Name: Kemal Amin "Casey" Kasem
Age: was 82
Occupation: radio and TV personality
Last Seen: going above the stars
Awarded For: being one of radio's true greats

Yesterday, on Father's Day, the world said goodbye to one of of its finest voices.

Casey Kasem, the man who gave us Shaggy Rogers, Robin the Boy Wonder, announcements of NBC shows in the late 70s, American Top 40 and yes, some ponderously great bloopers has officially left the earth. The jock's death ended amidst of a giant family feud between his first three children and his now-widow, Jean over his care. Kasem had been battling a form of dementia which left him in a vegetative state. Recently, a judge ordered the family to adhere to Kasem's living will that if he were to no longer function independently, to simply pull the plug.

Born in Detroit, Kasem grew up in the Flint area where his parents ran a small supermarket. His loves included baseball and radio. After graduating Wayne State University in the 1950's, Kasem started working in radio and by the late 50's was working at Detroit's WJBK-TV and radio. There, he played "Milky the Clown" at 6:30 with the show ending at 6:59 and by 7:05, he'd be on the air at WJBK radio playing the hits of the day with his face wet from taking off the makeup.

But Casey wasn't a clown for long. He moved to a few other markets such as Cleveland and Buffalo before moving to Los Angeles. There, he worked at KRLA and even hosted a dance show called Shebang. There, he also read some of his first Long Distance Dedications, which became his hallmark.

In the late 60's, Casey started getting national attention thanks to his appearances in low-budget movies and Saturday morning cartoon shows such as Batman where he did the voice of Robin and yes, Shaggy from Scooby-Doo, Where Are You? But in 1970, he teamed up with some folks such as Don Bustany and Tom Rounds - who passed away recently - to start a nationally-syndicated radio program called American Top 40. When AT40 began, it only had seven affiliates and it couldn't air in Los Angeles because of Casey having a non-compete in his contract.

However, Casey's fortune changed. AT40 eventually added tons of new affiliates and became a ratings and financial hit. Youngsters would wake up Saturday to watch Casey on Scooby-Doo and do the same thing Sunday for AT40. He would do both for the next four decades on and off.

In 1988, he left AT40 and ABC due to a contract dispute and went to Westwood One to do a new show, Casey's Top 40AT40 went to Shadoe Stevens, who added his own gusto to the popular show. However, some stations found that people loved Casey better, and the original AT40 was canceled in 1995.

In 1997, Casey and AMFM Radio Networks - now Clear Channel - bought the show back from ABC and relaunched the show. Casey hosted this new version - alongside his AC versions of the show - until 2004 when he handed hosting duties over to Ryan Seacrest. In 2009, he retired from radio altogether with Shinedown's "Second Chance" as his final #1. His first: "Mama Told Me Not to Come" by pop rockers Three Dog Night.

Since his 2009 retirement, Casey kept a low profile. But it was announced that he had been suffering from Parkinson's Disease at first, but it was really Lewy Body Syndrome, a type of dementia.

With the family drama going on, I kept Mr. Kasem in my thoughts. I knew that the end was near, and it came. He died yesterday morning with family by his side at a hospital in Gig Harbor, WA. Tributes came from all over, including from Ryan Seacrest, who took over AT40 in 2004.

In the world of radio, there can never be another Casey Kasem. He told us to "keep your feet on the ground and keep reaching for the stars".

Now, he is one of the stars.  


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