A well-written obituary released for the LA Times Sunday edition this June 15 celebrated the radio host’s life and recent headlines which reflected a distressed family. His daughters wanted to see him, while his most recent wife kept him under wraps as he suffered from Parkinson's disease. The court ordered nutrition be stopped and so that his life and suffering would not be prolonged just last week. And now, the world reflects on the passing of the "American Top 40" radio star. .
Ultimately, Kasem's is an LA story. He moved to Los Angeles in the 60s from Detroit to work for KRLA, and it's here that he founded his popular and positive programming. As a voice artist, he consistently worked as Scooby Doo's Shaggy for 40 years, in addition to many other commercials and cartoons.
You wouldn't know it by just listening, but the AT40 DJ was Lebanese, and yet still as American as apple pie. He served as DJ for Armed Forces Radio in Korea. His uplifting tales and long distance dedications were America's heartbeat. His spinoff shows included “Kasey's Countdown,” “American Top 20,” and “American Top 10.”
His soothing voice matched the hits of the 70s, soft and sweet. He even had a short-lived 1960s teen dance show on KTLA called "Shebang." Think of "Hairspray" or early KROQ DJ Richard Blade hosting eighties dance and video shows on KTLA. He and Kasem were in the same league, with Blade eventually taking over Kasem's "American Top 20."
By the mid-70s, LA was splitting. The rise of KROQ as a sustainable radio station created an alternative underworld not represented on Kasem's show. The underworld wanted to hear every moody sound that England gave it, as well as their own local punk bands. DJ Rodney Bingheimer brought English sounds, leading to the eventual hiring of Richard Blade. Thus KROQ emphasized the June gloom side of Los Angeles, bringing the fresh sounds of foggy Britain to the forefront of its 80% new music format. Bands from Manchester's Factory Records and Liverpool's second Mersey Beat worked their way into John Hughes teen films and soon onto Billboard's charts. The gap never closed.
Eventually, many of those early KROQ bands moved on to Kasem's shows, giving way to many an argument of who heard of bands like Tears for Fears, The Police, U2, REM, The Smiths, Duran Duran, New Order, Simple Minds, and Depeche Mode first. The positive Kasem often sounded at odds with the gangsta rap and grunge hits of the 90s, yet listeners still tuned in even though that gap never quite closed again as the years went on.
Kasem had his own flip side in which he championed Arab-american causes and petitioned for positive portrayals of Arab-Americans in films. He brought attention to the homeless by spending a night on skid row. He kept to a vegan diet. He was notoriously hard on his staff. And when he made mistake, he swore like a sailor. He was a real person under that AT40 exterior.
Ryan Seacrest took over the AT40 10 years ago as Kasem's health began to fail. Seacrest also took over for Rick Dees on KIIS-FM, establishing himself as a beloved local Los Angeles celebrity. This article signs off as Kasem did at the end of every show, "Keep your feet on the ground and keep reaching for the stars!"