Person of the Week: Casey Kasem

ByABC News

Jan. 2, 2004 -- His face may not be as recognizable, but there's no mistaking his voice. This weekend, after 34 years on the radio airwaves, Casey Kasem will make his final countdown for American Top 40.

Kasem's last show as host of American Top 40 will run on Saturday and Sunday. Since 1970, his voice, countdown formats and dedications have been his trademarks for hundreds of radio stations and millions of listeners.

"When someone says, 'What do you do for a living?,' well, [I say] I'm not a radio personality," Kasem told ABCNEWS. "I am a disc jockey, and I play records. I play music for people to hear from 8 to 80."

The Dick Clark of Radio

Kasem's pioneering influence on radio is comparable to Dick Clark's on TV and pop music.

He originated today's music countdown format, which includes, in addition to the songs, biographical details and tidbits about the artists. That format began somewhat by accident when Kasem was a DJ in Oakland, Calif., in 1962 and the station manager wanted him to change his format from improvised, wild-track comedy characters and sketches that were the staple on radio at the time.

"Wedged in the door of the studio was a big trash barrel, and on top of all of it was Who's Who in Pop Music," Kasem said. "I looked at those little thumb nail sketches, and I was on my way to do what I am doing today, counting them down."

Kasem didn't always want to be a disc jockey. Born Kemal Amin Kasem in Detroit to Lebanese immigrant parents, he originally wanted to be a baseball player and an actor. But Kasem seemed to gravitate toward radio, starting his own radio sports show in high school.

While majoring in speech education at Wayne State University in Detroit, he landed acting roles on national radio shows such as The Lone Ranger and Sergeant Preston of the Yukon. While serving in the military in Korea, he acted in radio drama for the Armed Services Network.

Working ‘Retirement’

After his military service ended, Kasem became a full-time disc jockey and worked in stations in Detroit, Cleveland, Buffalo, N.Y., Oakland and ultimately, Los Angeles. Besides his countdown format, listeners have known Kasem for his trademark phrase, "Keep your feet on the ground and keep reaching for the stars," and his long-distance dedications. And Kasem says he has always has taken his dedications very seriously.

"You are a bit of a voyeur. You are hearing something that someone else is experiencing," Kasem said. "When I do the letters, sometimes it takes me three, four, five times to read them until we get it exactly right. Every letter has its own feel, and none of them are just by rote."

Kasem, 71, will not be retiring entirely. He will continue to be the voice of Shaggy, Scooby-Doo's sidekick, a job he has had since the TV cartoon began in 1969. As DJ and American Idol host Ryan Seacrest, 28, takes over American Top 40, Kasem will also be the host of American Top 20 for Premiere Radio Networks.

"Rather than feeling sad about leaving American Top 40, I feel that there is a challenge ahead of me," Kasem said. "I am happy doing what I am going to be doing, and I am happy having done what I did."

It sounds like Kasem is continuing to keep his feet on the ground and reach for the stars.

And so Casey Kasem is World News Tonight's Person of the Week.

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