Person of the Week: Casey Kasem

ByABC News
August 30, 2004, 2:37 PM

Jan. 2 -- 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.