(Pictured: Casey at the mike, 1998.)
(Note to Patrons: there’s an argument for not posting here today, given the miserable state of affairs in our country at the moment. There is an equally compelling argument that we need something to take our minds off said state, so here we go.)
In 1964, at KRLA in Los Angeles, Casey Kasem got a letter from a 12-year-old girl describing her experience hugging her favorite Beatle. Casey read it on the air and later turned it into “Letter From Elaina,” which reached #101 in Billboard. Listener letters and dedications became a regular feature of his radio and local TV shows after that, often under the title “Letters from the Sweetheart Tree.”
Casey did American Top 40 for eight years before resurrecting the dedications idea. On August 26, 1978, he played Neil Diamond’s “Desiree,” from a lonely soldier to Desiree, a woman he loved in Germany. When AT40 went from three hours to four, LDDs became a regular feature, which continued even after he surrendered the microphone to Shadoe Stevens in 1988.
The dedications, while generally popular with the audience, were not universally beloved, but Casey’s vote was the only one that mattered. In 1997 he told a reporter, “It brings closure to so many people who have lost relatives, and they write to me saying, ‘I wish I could have said “I loved you.” I wish I could have learned more about my father or mother. I wish I had talked to them; I would like to say goodbye.’ . . . Of all the things that I do on the show, that may be the most important one outside of playing the music.”
Former AT40 staffer Scott Paton told me recently that as soon as LDDs became a thing, hoax dedications began to flow in. Scott says that most of the fakes were easy to spot, but some required “a more nuanced bullshit detector.” At least one confirmed fake dedication got on the air, and there were probably others.
After Casey left AT40, he launched Casey’s Top 40. He kept doing dedications, although he couldn’t call them LDDs because that name stayed with the original show. Not long ago, I got an e-mail from Brian Carroll, who was a writer and researcher on the new show, circa 1990. Part of his job was to read listener letters for potential dedications. Here’s one he found. I have edited it some, and I adjusted the paragraph breaks for clarity.
My family and I came down to Tennessee to live. . . . My dad and mom bought a little meat shop in Manchester, Tennessee. Business was going great for us. . . . My mom and dad asked me and my brother if we would like to spend their 12th anniversary with them. Me and my brother said yes. My mom and dad decided to spend it in Chattanooga, Tennessee. So we went and came back to find out that our place burned down. We lost everything we had. The fire marshal said my dad set the fire in our own place. My dad said, how could he do it when he was in Chattanooga overnight?
So my dad found another job, but he would be on the road all the time. The new business was doing great until our truck burned one night. One night, my dad and uncle just came off the road and pulled in our driveway. . . . My dad and my uncle weren’t in the house five minutes and all of a sudden, our truck exploded sitting in our driveway. My dad tried to put the fire out. . . . The fire marshal gave us the same trouble as they did when our other place burned.
After that, my mom and dad got a divorce and she moved out and she got her a place. One night she went to work and about midnight the police called her at work and told her that her place had burned to the ground. Now my mom has her own place and is living fine. My dad and my brother and me are living in a good neighborhood. So Casey, will you play “We Didn’t Start The Fire” by Billy Joel?
Maybe it’s real and maybe it isn’t. And no, they didn’t use it on the show.
Brian also worked for Dick Clark Productions, including some time as a researcher and writer on the show Countdown America, and as a researcher for Fred Bronson, author of The Billboard Book of Number One Hits, and he has many other credits. I’m glad he found his way to this lightly traveled corner of the Internets. As Casey himself might have said, “There’s your letter, Brian. Thanks for writing in.”