Everybody Listens to Casey

I dig the vintage American Top 40 shows that run across the country every weekend. Magic 98 carries them; so does the Sirius/XM 70s channel. The first hour of the show is often hilariously obscure, juxtaposing rock thrashers, wimp-pop weepers, R&B stompers, and novelty records, few of which are ever on the radio anymore. But the remainder of each show, where the bigger hits live, is also a strong reminder of the incredible variety of 70s radio music.

The rebroadcast shows are edited. When you hear two AT40 jingles back to back, that’s where you would have heard a commercial break back in the day—there were lots more breaks per hour than we typically take today. Casey will tease an upcoming feature or extra, but you don’t always hear it.  The survey songs themselves are frequently edited, too. I’m not talking just about the standard 45RPM edits, although this show is often the only place you’re going to hear them anymore—I’m talking about entire verses hacked off to save time, sometimes gracefully and sometimes not. I suspect that this is occasionally done to fit the rebroadcast time window, but Casey and company cut them to fit the original shows as well. Their rationale apparently was that the songs were being heard repeatedly everywhere on the dial, so it didn’t matter if AT40 listeners didn’t hear complete versions every time.

I’ve long wondered whether some parts of the countdowns have been recreated—that is, if Casey’s bits have been digitally pulled off and then remixed with the music. That’s because the rebroadcast countdowns you hear from 1970 and 1971 seem to be in stereo, even though the show didn’t start airing regularly in stereo until 1972. After listening this past weekend, however, I’m almost completely sure that there’s stripping and remixing going on. The show I heard featured Firefall’s “Cinderella,” which includes the line “And I said, goddamn girl, can’t you see.” The radio version of the single heard in the 70s blanked out the “god” part—“And I said, [beat] damn girl, can’t you see.” But on the Casey rebroadcast, “Cinderella” appeared in its full goddamn glory. I’d bet my house that it didn’t air that way originally; earlier in the show, Casey aired the “funky kicks” version of Steve Miller’s “Jet Airliner.” The same countdown also featured the album version of Leo Sayer’s “When I Need You” instead of the single—and I just don’t believe that would have happened on the original show.

I’ve also noticed that the audio processing of the old AT40 shows can change from week to week. Some of the mid 70s countdowns sound incredibly hot to me—lots of sibilance on the high end and punch on the bottom—compared to others from earlier and later in the decade. It seems odd that if the show is being digitally reprocessed in other ways, they wouldn’t reprocess it to smooth out the differences, and maybe they do. I’m not much of an audiophile, and I may not be hearing what I think I’m hearing.

If you can’t recall a rebroadcast countdown from late 1978 or 1979, it might be because the show went from three hours to four starting in October 1978. This was due to the increasing length of the average pop single, although this was also the era when Casey started doing long-distance dedications, and each week’s show began with the previous week’s top three records. I guess it would be possible to cut the four-hour shows to fit the three-hour window, but I can’t recall having heard one.

One of the most best parts of the countdown to me is when Casey name-checks the stations carrying or adding the show. You’ll hear a lot of great call letters from major-market stations, stations that have long since abandoned music for talk or sports. Their brief, ghostly reappearance as music stations is a reminder that once, everybody listened to Casey Kasem.

“When I Need You” (single version)/Leo Sayer (buy it here, on a three-disc box set called Singles A’s and B’s, although 61 songs is almost certainly more Leo Sayer than you need. It’s probably one less than you’d expect, though.)

7 thoughts on “Everybody Listens to Casey

  1. I, too, have always wondered just how different the XM versions of these countdowns are from what was originally aired. Thanks for shedding light on some of the changes.

    I have heard four-hour countdowns cut down to three. I remember hearing the very first four-hour countdown (in three-hour XM form) because I remember Casey talking about it.
    I’m pretty sure I’ve also blogged one or two 1979 countdowns, though it’s true that we don’t seem to get those as often as other years.

    I have, on at least one occasion, heard a countdown with a song cut entirely out of it. Not an extra, but an actual song on the Top 40 that wasn’t there on the rebroadcast.
    My wife and I went back several times (we had it in memory) to be sure we hadn’t missed it.

    I also love the call letters. I’ve heard one or two shows, too, where Casey — instead of name-dropping the stations — played their jingles. That was pretty damn cool; I wish he’d kept doing it.

  2. Our local oldies station usually adds “AT 40 Extras” to the countdowns to pad them out, songs that were on the Hot 100 that week but hadn’t crashed the Top 40 yet. Boy, there must have been an awful lot of Clearasil and Starburst commercials on those mid-70s shows.

  3. Chuck

    I think the AT 40 Extras are actually included with the rebroadcasts, as Casey’s son introduces them and backs them out to the countdown; we have them in our market, too, though not always every week (I think this past week from 1974, there weren’t any).

    Re: Leo Sayer’s “When I Need You.” I have the original AT40 set from a week or two later on vinyl, and it’s the single version (the one with the sax in the middle, which I actually prefer) rather than the version that was on last week’s show. So you may be right on the remixing question. I, too, was caught off-guard by the “goddamn” in “Cinderella,” although Pete Battastini’s AT40 book says the first several weeks of the Eagles’ “Life in the Fast Lane” (which would be hitting the Top 40 within a month) also accidentally contained the “goddamn.” It wasn’t censored out until about halfway through its chart run.

  4. Walter

    The shows are made from the original master tapes (and in some cases from the original vinyl shows-I’ve actually loaned a couple of my personal copies out for that purpose). The shows you hear now have been “remastered” by Shannon Lynn (as heard at the end of each episode). What that entails is taking the original tape/vinyl shows and cleaning them up. Sometimes you’ll notice a difference in pitch of sound of a song that Casey’s talking over. That’s because the quality of the original may be poor and they substitute a clean version of the song in its place-but obviously they can’t edit the part Casey talks over.

    Interestingly I heard two different broadcasts of the 77 “Cinderella” show and heard one show say God and the other didn’t, so it may have been an edit from the station.

    The AT40 extras are for those stations that need to pad the time to fill the hour. Interestingly many of them are parts cut from the original (there may be fewer commerical breaks now than in the old days, but those breaks go way longer than they used-in the original broadcasts the breaks were only two minutes). Ed McMann used to intro the non-Casey extras, then, while Casey was still employed by Premiere, his son Mike did the extras. Since Casey’s retirement last year that responsibility has been taken over by Larry Morgan.

  5. Yah Shure

    The mostest bestest “oh, wow!”-est part was when Casey name-checked *your* station while you were board-opping the show.

  6. porky

    Our local “boomer” station here in Central IL just started airing these and it’s a highlight of my week (sad, I know). I always try to catch the bottom up to around the mid teen’s and lose interest as they play all the S. Miller, Eagles, Elton, Fleetwood Mac stuff you’ve been hammered with since the 70’s. It is neat to hear AOR stuff juxtaposed with smoother stuff for a true back in the day experience.

    I too noticed the K-tel-esque edits and also wondered if those were just the single versions, the ones they don’t play anymore on classic rock.

    One song in particular knocked me for a loop, “To the Door of the Sun (Alle Porte Del Sole)” an Al Martino #15 hit from 1975. I remembered it and surely must have heard it back then. It just took Casey to drag it out of my memory bank.

  7. bean

    I sure would love it if they would remaster some 1978 and 1979 shows! Even if the terrestrial stations don’t want them due to time restraints, they could still use them on the satellite. For a few years I think the 80s channel on XM and/or Sirius were airing the AT40 shows from that decade too but I haven’t heard those in a while.

    Great topic, Jim. I gave your blog a shout-out on my Twitter too and hope it brought some more eyeballs to your excellent work.

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