Millions of fans around the world find the name Casey Kasem synonymous with musical countdowns.
Kasem’s friendly, “crackling” voice style has taken him to the top of his profession. The man, who once dreamed of being a baseball player but ended up a radio sports announcer, is the youngest member ever inducted into the Radio Hall of Fame. He has his own star on Hollywood Boulevard’s Walk of Fame. In 1997, Billboard Magazine honored him with its first-ever Lifetime Achievement Award. Kasem was honored with the first ever Radio Icon award at the Radio Music Awards in 2003. He also received the first Lifetime Achievement Award from Clear Channel Communications, parent company of Premiere, in 2004.
Kasem has his own series of music CDs entitled, Casey Kasem Presents America’s Top Ten Through The Years, highlighting 20 top ten hits from each decade of the rock and roll era, the 1950s – 1990s.
Throughout his career, Kasem has worked as a character actor in films and television. He has voiced countless commercials and Saturday morning cartoon-show characters, including the voice of Shaggy in the evergreen Scooby Doo television and film franchise.
All this is a long way from when young Kemal Amen Kasem, son of Lebanese Druze parents, was a sportscaster for his Detroit high school’s radio club. It was a short hop to radio acting. While majoring in speech and English at Wayne State University, he landed roles in national shows like “The Lone Ranger” and “Sergeant Preston of the Yukon.” During military service in Korea, he coordinated and acted in radio drama on the Armed Forces Network.
A civilian again in 1954, Kasem became a disc jockey, moving from Detroit to Cleveland, Buffalo, Oakland and eventually Los Angeles. The easy-going vocal style that is his trademark came about as the result of a station manager in Oakland telling him to change his format from wild, improvised comedy characters – just minutes before he was to go on the air. With only moments to spare and still stuck for a new format idea, he spied a discarded magazine, Who’s Who in Pop Music, 1962, in a trash barrel at the studio. It was full of facts about recording artists – exactly what he needed. That night he began telling stories about the true lives of popular musicians – teased with lead-ins a few minutes before each story was told. This “teaser/bio” format became a familiar part of American Top 40 and a standard in the radio industry.
Away from radio, Kasem has co-hosted Jerry Lewis’ annual Labor Day Telethon for the Muscular Dystrophy Association since 1981. He has received the prestigious Founder’s Award for aiding Danny Thomas’ St. Jude’s Children’s Research Hospital. A vegetarian, he does TV spots and specials aimed at combating alcohol abuse, drunk driving and hunger, as well as a major campaign against smoking for the National Cancer Institute.
Kasem is a member of FAIR (Fairness & Accuracy in Reporting). He has spent much of his time since 1986 calling the entertainment industry’s attention to ethnic stereotyping. He has also helped promote and support workshops like the Cousins Club that brings Arabs, Jews and others together to discuss conflict resolutions. Kasem aided the Great Peace March in the U.S.A. (1986), and participated in the American-Soviet Walk to End an Arms Race Nobody Wants, held in the U.S.S.R. (1987). He returned to Moscow in 1992 to emcee a pop music concert on behalf of the Children of Chernobyl charity project.
His alma mater, Wayne State University, presented him with its Distinguished Alumni Award. He received the 1989 Martin Luther King Drum Major Award from the Southern Christian Leadership Conference and, in 1990, the NAACP’s Image Award and the Ellis Island Medal of Honor Award.
Kasem has three children by a former marriage. He is presently married to Jean, an actress who co-starred in the 1987 NBC-TV comedy series “The Tortellis.” They have one daughter.
Listen to Casey Kasem every Sunday afternoon at 3pm!