Personality Profile: Casey Kasem
by Tracy Johnson
You probably remember him best for American Top 40, but his roots go back to the mid-50s. Casey Kasem is one of the greatest radio personalities of all-time.
He Knew His Role
Casey never tried to be someone he was not. He injected his character into every song he played in every break. He knew why listeners tuned in (for the music) and found unique ways to put his personality in the path of that interest.
Simply put: The songs always sounded better on the air when Casey played them.
Casey started in the 1950’s. Over the years, his technique changed, but his personality and style stayed the same. Listen to this aircheck is from 1963, many years before he became famous for AT40 in the 70s and 80s. But even then, you can hear the style that defined his career.
You can hear the music-oriented content he created that would later become the basis for one of the world’s most successful radio shows.
Kasem was one of the most prepared personalities ever. Sure, he had a team of researchers and producers for American Top 40, but even in the 60s, you can hear how he did his homework to find interesting nuggets to make the songs more interesting.
Casey understood that great preparation was about finding the story in the content, not the content itself. That preparation made it possible for every break to be efficient. He never talked long. He was tight, yet had something to say.
It’s obvious that he thought about how to craft each break.
The difference between announcers and air personalities is the ability to tell stories. And once again, Kasem was a master storyteller. His stories were short, and always rooted in the music.
Listen to some of the old AT 40 shows (weekends on Sirius XM 70s and 80s channels) and you’ll hear how he practiced the art by leading you into the short tales.
The most popular feature in his show was the Long Distance Dedication. Casey dedicated a song from one listener to another and shared their story. Here’s an example from 1985.
One of the most useful techniques to steal from Kasem is how he was able to keep listeners glued to the radio to hear the end of a break about something they probably didn’t even care about.
Casey made it fun to play along with his content, enticing them by turning his short breaks into a game. Listen to how he leads you into this song intro for Duran Duran’s Union of The Snake. Try to ignore the cheesy puns and play on words. Instead, pay attention to the technique of keeping you engaged.
But here’s what made Casey so successful for so many years. He never tried to be smarter than the listener. He said:
I don’t try to outsmart my audience. I know a fair amount about music, but if I play songs they’ve never heard, I’ll have a very short-lived show indeed. I want them to know the songs, I also NEED them to know the songs, it makes the stories that much more relevant.
Even though I don’t reveal the band/song until the end, if my audience knows it’s a song they probably know, they’re more likely to tune in again & again. And THAT, is what we in radio call, ‘The End Game’.
Casey started American Top 40 in July, 1970 with just 7 radio stations and built it into an empire. His influence continues to be heard today. Ryan Seacrest once said, “All I really want is to be Casey”. And hundreds of stations program the Top 8 at 8 or Top 9 at 9, descendants of AT40.
If you were a fan in the 70s and 80s, you will hear how Casey’s style matured over the years.
He loved music, the charts and the stories he crafted about the music. He turned that style into a franchise on AT40, and made himself into a legendary performer.
Casey was once asked how he was able to sustain his long career on the radio. His response:
Basically, radio hasn’t changed over the years. Despite all the technical improvements, it still boils down to a man or a woman and a microphone, playing music, sharing stories, talking about issues – communicating with an audience.
Rest in Peace, Casey. And keep your feet on your ground and keep reaching for the stars.