Celebrate Youth

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(Pictured: Rick Springfield, 1985.)

What do you do after a dream comes true?

Think a moment before you answer. Achieving the dream is never an end in itself. It can lead to consequences you never imagined as part of the dream, and you’ll have to deal with them. Also, you’ll have to live in the world the dream created, for good or ill. Now that I’m old, and I’ve experienced both dreams coming true and the crash that can happen afterward, I have learned to be careful what I dream of.

But when you’re young, and one of your oldest dreams comes true, you don’t worry about the consequences.

The American Top 40 show from May 11, 1985, represents that moment exactly. I was the 25-year-old program director of a Top 40 station in a college town. The year 1985 was one of the most solid musical years of the 1980s, so my station sounded hot and hip. My boss was committed to doing good radio, and part of his philosophy was to let the people he hired do their jobs without micromanaging them. In 1985, as spring shaded toward summer, I was living the radio dream I had nurtured since I was in fifth grade.

The show is pretty solid from #40 (“Would I Lie to You” by Eurythmics) to #1 (“Crazy for You” by Madonna). Even the songs I couldn’t remember right away turned out to be familiar: “Celebrate Youth” by Rick Springfield, “When My Baby Comes Home” by Luther Vandross, “Some Things Are Better Left Unsaid” by Hall and Oates. Some of them, thanks to their longevity since 1985, were as familiar as the weather: “Heaven” by Bryan Adams and “Walking on Sunshine” by Katrina and the Waves were back to back at #25 and #24; other ultra-familiar hits included “The Search Is Over” by Survivor, “I’m on Fire” by Bruce Springsteen, “Rhythm of the Night” by DeBarge, and “Everybody Wants to Rule the World” by Tears for Fears. Back then, on beautiful spring days, I liked to go for a ride on my lunch hour, cruising into the country blasting the the station on my car radio. Certain songs on the 5/11/85 show were perfect for that: Chicago’s “Along Comes a Woman,” Glenn Frey’s “Smugglers Blues,” “Fresh” by Kool and the Gang, and Don Henley’s “All She Wants to Do Is Dance.”

This show comes from the height of Casey’s “announcer-y” period, where he sometimes doesn’t speak to the people as much as he speaks at them. He’s pretty personable on the show, however, if a bit repetitive. The answer to a question about the country act with the most #1 hits, Conway Twitty, gets repeated three times in the span of 30 seconds, and another trivia feature about the biggest #1 hit of the 50s, 60s, and 70s is delivered in a similarly repetitious manner. Casey has a tic in this period that drives me wild: Over a song intro he’ll say something like, “Patti Labelle, formerly of the group Labelle, has her first solo hit with ‘New Attitude.’ Patti Labelle.” It’s not necessary to give the artist’s name twice (or in this case, three times) in four seconds. We got it the first time.

The show also features the usual time-fillers: before introducing Alison Moyet’s “Invisible,” Casey talks about the concept of invisibility and name-checks H. G. Wells and Claude Rains; he uses a collection of trivial facts about the sun to introduce Katrina and the Waves. They’re harmless, but they’re also irrelevant. I have said dozens of times over the years that the AT40 shows in this era don’t need to be four hours long as much as they need to be 3 1/2. Long Distance Dedications are read at a painfully show pace. And the show uses less-familiar full-length album versions of certain songs rather than radio versions, all in the name of filling time.

But back to the note on which this post began. I was living the dream in the spring of 1985, making $230 a week and rockin’ the hell out of my town on the radio. But that dream did not prove to be sustainable. Time passes and things happen with no regard for dreams. And 18 months later, I’d be eager to quit that job and move on to the next one. And it wouldn’t be long before my full-time radio career—the only thing I had dreamed of since I was 11 years old—would be closer to its end than to the beginning.

4 thoughts on “Celebrate Youth

  1. 1984 and 1985 were great years on Top 40 radio. It really did seem as if working on a Top 40 station was like reaching the promised land. However, in the mid-1980s, radio stations were changing hands rapidly following a front page Wall Street Journal article proclaiming “Radio is Hot.” With changing ownership comes changing personel, and the infusion of many people from outside of the radio industry. Some of the people were a great fit for radio, many others were not. I guess nothing lasts forever and that was certainly the case for Top 40 “glory days” in 1984 and 1985.

  2. mackdaddyg

    “Casey has a tic in this period that drives me wild”

    I never thought about it until now….did Casey write his material for these shows? If not, I wonder if the producers (or whoever prepared it) created his script based on how radio sounded at that particular time.

    1. mackdaddyg: Casey had writers. And the producers were absolutely trying to fit in with the then-current sound of radio. AT40’s challenge was always justifying its existence. Sure, it filled a space on Sunday morning…but with an increasingly aging jock playing 40 records when your station only played 28. Those other 12 were often songs your station had already burned to a crisp or would never actually add to the playlist.

      Bill Drake hated countdowns. His rationale: “Why should I take two hours to play the 20 worst songs on the Boss 30 and then blow off the ten best all at once?” It survived at KHJ only because Ron Jacobs was able to convince Drake that the “event” vibe of the Wednesday night “unveiling of the new Boss 30” outweighed the drawbacks.

  3. James Hunter

    Rick Springfield is appearing in the park across the street from my apartment in a free July 3rd concert. Try to keep jealousy at a minimum.

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