Thursday, July 1, 2010

American Top 40 charts for 40 years

Hard to believe it was 40 years ago that Casey Kasem first told us to "keep reaching for the stars" at the end of his American Top 40 Radio Show. But it was. He took such a simple concept and yet made a successful national radio show out of doing nationally what top 40 radio stations had been doing locally for years. Just counting down (or should we say up) the hits week after week, and giving us faithful listeners an education about some of the songs and artists on the charts.

This very weekend (July 4th) marks the 40 year anniversary. The show still exists, although barely a shadow of its former self, and hosted by Ryan Seacrest. (Then again, that could be said about many radio and TV shows!)

To give you an idea of how far back AT 40 goes, the entire show for the coming week was actually mailed through the Post Office to each radio station. On vinyl records. With grooves between the segments of the show. Once a segment ended and the tech who was operating the radio station went into commercial, he or she (and it was mostly "he" back then) would simply cue up the next track on the album to be ready for the next segment of the show. It was the same as if he/she was getting the next song ready for airplay.

I remember it well. It was part of my responsibilities while running the board of a Chicago radio station on Sunday mornings, when Casey would "count 'em down" right after the religious and public affairs programming the station was required to air. Yes, in those days, radio stations had FCC requirements to run a certain amount of news, public affairs, and religious programming hours in order to have their broadcast license renewed. Many radio stations would cluster public affairs interviews and religious programming during the Sunday morning 4 AM to 10 AM (or less) time frame, when the audience was likely at its lowest available point.

Yet, I remember answering the station's phone line during the show, and people asking if they could talk to "Crazy Kasem" and variations, as if he was really in the studio playing the national hits. Never mind that he would have "a letter here from Joe in Tallahassee who wants to know......".

Of course, not all of the national hits were big in Chicago. The best example was in 1976 when the Miracles' "Love Machine" was in the national top 3, even "making it all the way to number one!" on American Top 40.....while Chicago stations were barely playing it.

Here's hoping that long-time radio listeners will "keep your feet on the ground, and keep reaching for the stars" in honor of American Top 40, after 40 years.

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