July 5, 2009— -- The news came as a shock to Casey Kasem's fans.
"We began the weekend of July 4, 1970, and after 39 years this will be our final countdown," Kasem said matter-of-factly on his "American Top 20" radio show over the weekend.
And so, with no hoopla and hardly any advance notice, the 77-year-old broadcasting legend counted down the hits one last time, quietly pulling the plug on a weekly ritual for his legion of loyal listeners.
It is, in many ways, the end of an era
Kasem was the last of the big-time DJs, a legacy that includes Alan Freed and Wolfman Jack, personalities who brought music to Americans when radio was king.
"Casey Kasem ... Dick Clark ... I really felt like these guys were a part of my family. You get this connection when you're listening to them or when you're watching them," said Ryan Seacrest, who took the mic as host of Kasem's signature "American Top 40" show five years ago. Kasem continued to host two spinoffs, "American Top 20" and "American Top 10."
Kasem pioneered the countdown format on radio. He always included biographical details, little tidbits mainly, about the musicians. And there were those long-distance dedications, thousands of them, through the years.
Kasem also has voiced over countless commercials and given life to so many cartoon characters, most famously as the voice of Scooby-Doo's faithful sidekick, Shaggy.
But it was his work as the king of countdowns that brought him a star, in 1981, on Hollywood's Walk of Fame and entry, in 1992, into the Radio Hall of Fame.
Jeannie Kasem said her husband ended "American Top 20" and "American Top 10," both of which counted down adult contemporary music hits, because he wanted time to pursue other projects, including possibly writing a memoir.
Radical changes in the radio business also were a factor, associates said. Adult contemporary music charts no longer change much from week to week, in part because stations that play such music have adopted smaller and smaller playlists. That brought a degree of monotony to Kasem's countdowns in recent years.
"I think it was probably a gradual process. Charts are changing, stations are changing, the networks are changing, radio itself is changing, and I think, you know, the pendulum swings back and forth," Jeannie Kasem said." You just have to be willing to jump ship and try something new."
Kasem's voice will not disappear from the airwaves entirely. Weekly rebroadcasts of his Top 40 programs from the 1970s and 1980s will air on more than 200 stations.
Kasem let the world know he was getting out of the countdown business through a brief, mostly overlooked, news release a few days ago.
"Hosting various versions of my countdown program has kept me extremely busy, and I loved every minute of it. However, this decision will free up time I need to focus on myriad other projects," he said in the release. "The 70's and 80's versions of "American Top 40" have experienced phenomenal station and audience growth over the last year and I'm sure they will continue to be successful."
He has declined requests for interviews about his decision.
"He's never been big on goodbyes or hellos," his wife explained in an interview in their home in Holmby Hills, Calif. "He lets his work speak for himself."
Kasem's first No. 1 was "Mama Told Me Not to Come" by Three Dog Night. His last: "Second Chance," by Shinedown.
The music changed, but Kasem never did.
"I'm Casey Kasem," he said in his final sign-off. "Now, one more time, the words I've ended my show with since 1970: Keep your feet on the ground and keep reaching for the stars."