Archive for the ‘Casey Kasem’ Category

REACHING FOR THE STARS

July 8, 2009

The recent news that radio icon Casey Kasem was retiring from counting down the hits brought back a lot of memories for me. Like many young music fans, long before I ever started reading “Rolling Stone” or “Billboard,” I first learned the stories behind the hits from listening to “American Top 40.”

During college, one of my friends called Casey’s office to see if he would send us a tape of himself announcing a song for the school’s annual dance marathon.  We were amazed when Casey himself got on the phone. A bunch of us crowded around the dorm phone to listen in on the conversation. Little did I know that a few years later, I would be talking to Casey myself on pretty much a daily basis.

After I moved from Pennsylvania to California, my first big job was working at Dick Clark Productions. I was soon working as a researcher on Dick’s  “Countdown America” radio show and eventually became the writer of the program. After leaving that job, it wasn’t long before I heard that Casey Kasem was looking for a writer for his “Casey’s Top 40” show. I went in for an interview and landed the gig. I was definitely the junior writer on the staff and that was okay, considering one scribe was well-known food critic and radio personality Merrill Shindler and the other was Leonard Pitts, Jr., who eventually left writing for Casey to became a columnist for the Miami Herald, where he won the Pulitzer Prize. Not bad company to be in and I learned a lot, especially from Casey himself.

When you had written a story, you faxed it to Casey and he would call back and either approve it, disapprove it or give you some ideas on how to fix it. I made a niche for myself chasing down artists for phone interviews in order to give myself the makings of the kind of story Casey wanted, which was about people triumphing over great odds by perseverance, talent and hard work, all of which could be summed up by his motto, “Keep your feet on the ground and keep reaching for the stars.”

Of course, my most successful story in Casey’s eyes wasn’t about that at all. Instead, it was a story about how a singer named Jane Child has been influenced by the culture of India, and started wearing a chain that ran from her nose ring to an earring. She had also become a vegetarian. Casey himself was a vegan, and believed that eating animal products was a mistake. He believed hunger could be wiped out around the world if we all became vegetarians, so he thought I had really hit it out of the park with my Jane Child story.

As the new guy, I was given the job of sorting through the boxes of letters we received to find ones that could be used for Casey’s famous “Long Distance Dedication” segment. It was hard to do because when I worked on the show in 1990, it was the heyday of New Kids On The Block and just about every letter ended with a request that Casey play “Hangin’ Tough” or “I’ll Be Loving You (Forever).” There wasn’t a lot of variety in the requests, but somehow we managed to find enough appropriate letters to use in the show every week. And this would be a good place to add that while Casey is famous for the tapes that have gotten out of him losing his temper, I never saw him get upset once during the year I worked on the show. I believe that’s because our producer Bert Kleinman always gave Casey the kind of stories he wanted to tell.

There was one letter we got for the “Long Distance Dedication” that never made it into the script, but I’ve saved it ever since. I think you’ll enjoy it. It’s from Lawrence, and he writes…

Dear Casey,

My family and I came down to Tennessee to live. My dad and our family thought we could have a good life in Tennesseee. My dad and mom bought a little meat shop in Manchester. Business was going great for us. We got to spend a little more time together. My mom and dad asked my brother if we would like to spend their 12th anniversary with them, and me and my brother said yes.

My mom and dad decided to spend it in Chattanooga, Tennessee. So we went and came back to find out that our place burned. We lost everything we had. The fire marshall said my dad set the fire. My dad said how could he do it when he was in Chatanooga overnight. So my dad found another job, but he would be on the road all the time.

The new business was doing great until our truck burned one night. My dad and my uncle just came off the road and pulled in our driveway. My dad and uncle came in the house. My mom had supper ready for them when they came in like she always did. My dad and my uncle weren’t in the house five minutes and all of a sudden our truck exploded sitting in our driveway. My dad tried to put the fire out. We live close to the interstate. The interestate was blocked off a mile each way. That night our business burned right in front of our faces. The reason the interestate was blocked off was because the truck had exploded on it. The fire marshall gave us the same trouble as they did when our other place burned.

After that, my mom and dad got a divorce and she moved out and got her own place. One night she went to work and about midnight, the police called her at work and told her that her place had burned to the ground. Now my mom has her own place and living fine. My dad and my brother and me are living in a good neighborhood.

So Casey, will you play “We Didn’t Start The Fire” by Billy Joel?

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