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.)