American Top 40 is unique for a number of reasons, but the most intriguing one might be this: no other music program inspires the same sort of fan love. When Casey and his producers devised the show in 1970, they couldn’t have imagined that old installments would still be airing 40 years later. So how did it happen? My Internet pal Steve Orchard wrote about that in an unpublished piece for Goldmine a few years back, and he has graciously allowed me to post excerpts of it here, which I have edited a bit.
The two names most associated with collecting and researching the phenomena of AT40 are Indiana native Pete Battistini and Rob Durkee, who hails from Ohio. Both have penned books about AT40 while Durkee was a staff writer and chief statistician for most of the Shadoe Stevens years between April of 1989 and January of 1995. Durkee’s book American Top 40: The Countdown Of The Century (released in 2000) gives the most comprehensive story you will ever find on the show. Battistini’s book, American Top 40 With Casey Kasem (The 70s) (2004), provides exhaustive program notes on every show along with priceless replications of memos, playlists and other memorabilia connected to the program. As perhaps the only person in the country with a complete vinyl collection of the show, Battistini—along with Durkee—is mentioned in the closing credits of the shows that are also being re-aired on terrestrial stations across the country.
And how did that happen? Says Battistini, “I believe an oldies station in Minneapolis went to Premiere [Radio Networks] and requested permission to play the 70s programs. I’m fairly certain XM was playing them already, with Shannon Lynn already on board digitizing the programs. During the summer of 2007, there were 75-100 stations airing the shows.” When I asked Pete how he feels about the new attention shed on the classic shows he said, “When wondering why interest exists today for re-broadcasts of original AT40 countdowns, you only have to look at the demographics many radio stations attempt to secure. And you’ll notice it’s the same audience from 30 years ago. The advertisers are different, but the 35-60 age group was weaned on radio listening and Top 40 music. And Casey’s program is a neatly packaged, well-recognized brand—then and now.” Battistini adds that for a bulk of the baby boomer generation, Top 40 music was a staple in the lives of millions of adolescents. “Casey Kasem and his American Top 40 countdown became household names and radio icons, nationally and beyond. Casey’s program, in its heyday, was hot property for radio stations because it became a magnet for listeners and advertisers.”
Shannon Lynn is a key figure in the AT40 renaissance, as Steve noted in his article.
Shannon Lynn’s Charis Music Group is a company devoted to preserving and restoring old radio programs. He’s also the only one given any kind of approval from Premiere and Clear Channel to not only sell the original LPs, but copied CDs as well. And it’s Lynn who says he provides the shows not only to XM, but terrestrial stations as well. “When Premiere decided to re-launch AT40 to XM Radio, they discovered that their own archives was a shambles, they could not locate shows nor could they understand the tracking system for the shows, so they had no idea what they had. They knew they needed to build an inventory and backlog to get launched, and by reference from Matt Wilson and Rob Durkee, they came to me for help. We then worked out an agreement mutually beneficial to both parties. The show enjoyed such success on XM that the 70s show was launched on terrestrial radio. Thus, due to the 70s success, the 80s format soon followed.” Billing itself as “the restoration authority for AT40,” Lynn’s website sells shows. A search of eBay may also turn up some of the original vinyl shows. Ten years ago the auction site was inundated with sellers looking to make a quick buck on the original vinyl. It was a buyer’s market then, with many individual shows selling for hundreds of dollars. That’s not the case anymore, though it’s not uncommon to see some still selling for between 50 and 100 dollars.
Give Rob Durkee the last word: “Casey Kasem may well have created the equivalent of hit television shows like I Love Lucy in that American Top 40 with Casey Kasem may never go off the air.” Not until after we’re all dead, at the very least, and maybe not even then.