By Matt Dacey
I never met Casey Kasem, but now that I think about it, he’s probably influenced my life just as much as anybody who ever walked the face of the Earth.
For what it’s worth, American Top 40 is where I discovered music. As a little kid, my exposure to music was primarily whatever my mom was listening to on the car radio. Sure, I liked the music on the Brady Bunch and Happy Days, and watched the Monkees religiously every day after school on channel 19, but for the most part, I really didn’t know a whole lot about current, popular music. If I turned on the radio, it was to listen to Marty Brennaman and Joe Nuxhall call the Reds games on WLW.
In 1977, when I was ten, my family moved from Cincinnati to Tempe, Arizona. Needless to say, this was something of a traumatic experience. Not only was everybody and everything I knew suddenly 1800 miles away, I couldn’t even listen to Marty and Joe on the radio anymore. And while he’s a damned good baseball announcer, listening to Vin Scully call the hated Dodgers just wasn’t the same.
So, by default, I discovered pop music.
While in Tempe, I was at least aware of American Top 40, but don’t really remember listening to it there. I do remember hearing spots advertising it, but I don’t recall hearing the show itself. I’m guessing it came on at an inopportune time or something.
A year and a half later, in early 1979, just as I was getting acclimated to Tempe, and starting to feel like I fit in, I learned that my family would be moving again, this time to Albuquerque, New Mexico. It was in Albuquerque that I really discovered, and began listening in earnest,to American Top 40, on KQEO (“My kinda music, Q-92 AM!”). It aired on Sunday afternoons there, so I was generally able to catch at least the last three hours, if not the whole show, depending on whether we came straight home from church, or went out for brunch.
1979 isn’t generally recognized as a banner year in pop music, but for me, it was. That year, thanks to Casey Kasem, I discovered Van Halen (“Dance the Night Away”), Cheap Trick (“I Want You to Want Me”), and the Knack (“My Sharona”). Granted, I probably would have discovered all of that anyway, but there was something about Casey’s delivery that conveyed a sense of authority. Hearing Casey introduce those songs, and talk about those artists, seemed somehow official. In my twelve-year-old mind, Casey’s word was bond.
As I got into my teens, and made the transition from pop to a more aggressive style of music, I stopped listening to American Top 40, although I do remember tuning in one week in 1984 because I knew that Twisted Sister had cracked the Top 40 that week, and I found the thought of Casey introducing “We’re Not Gonna Take It” to be absolutely hilarious. And it was.
A couple of years after that, I found myself in college at the University of Kentucky, and happened to luck into being on campus at the same time that a group called Radio Free Lexington had launched an aggressive campaign to start a student-run radio station on campus. Those folks very kindly adopted me as the token metalhead, and after a couple years of work, WRFL was born, and they actually allowed me on the radio, albeit late at night.
I’d like to say that Casey Kasem was my role model when I began broadcasting, but I would be lying. My role model was an amazing disc jockey by the name of Frank Jackson, who was the music director at 94 Rock in Albuquerque while I was in high school. He went by Jaxon on the air, and the music he played was the next logical step for a kid who got started with Cheap Trick via Casey Kasem.
Now, thirty-five years after that summer of 1979, it’s easy for me to see how influential Casey Kasem was to me. He’s the guy who held my hand as I took my first baby steps towards loving radio. And if I hadn’t had that love of radio instilled in me at the age of twelve, I never would have walked in the door at Radio Free Lexington when I was nineteen. I probably wouldn’t have made the acquaintance of most of the people who helped me become the person I am today. Virtually every close friend I’ve made since high school is somebody I met either directly through WRFL, or through someone I met at WRFL. My experience there did more to shape who I am today than any other experience in my life.
So, in the overall scheme of things, Casey Kasem was pretty damned influential in my life, even though I never met him.
And Casey, wherever you are today, Happy Father’s Day, and thank you. I give you my word that for the rest of my life, I will always keep my feet on the ground, and I will never stop reaching for the stars.