Born to Lebanese immigrants in Detroit, Michigan, Kasem had early dreams of becoming a baseball player and actor. He gave up his athletic ambitions rather quickly and began his DJ career in high school by starting his own sports radio show. While at Wayne State University, Kasem was a radio actor on the “Lone Ranger” and “Sergeant Preston of the Yukon”. His radio career continued while serving in the military in Korea, where he worked with the Armed Forces Radio Service. Upon being discharged, Kasem became a DJ in Detroit, Buffalo, Los Angeles and Cleveland. It was during this time that Kasem pioneered an industry standard: the teaser lead-in. While searching for new ways to format his show, he came upon a discarded magazine containing tidbits about recording artists. Kasem used these bits of information in his next broadcast as lead-ins to the songs he was about to play.
In 1970, Kasem launched “American Top 40”, where he combined his distinctive voice with the nation’s number one hits for the week. The very first number announced was “Mama Told Me (Not To Come)”, by Three Dog Night—his last was “Hey Ya!” by Outkast, a sign of how much music changed in his thirty four years as host. Meanwhile, Kasem lent his voice to another medium: television. He was the voice of Shaggy, Scooby-Doo’s faithful and often confused sidekick on “Scooby-Doo, Where Are You?” (ABC, 1969-74), and Robin on the popular super hero cartoon, “Super Friends” (ABC, 1973-76). Over the years, Kasem returned to both characters in various TV specials and spin-off series, including such classics as “Scooby’s All-Star Laff-A-Lympics” (ABC, 1977-78), “Challenge of the Super Friends” (ABC, 1978-9) and “Scooby-Doo and Scrappy-Doo” (ABC, 1979-82).
Kasem continued to expand his radio program over the years and eventually become an American icon. A creature of habit, Kasem spent many hours honing each radio broadcast to make sure his voice sounded just right. Only once did anything unscripted get out in public: a rare tantrum where he rattled off various expletives about U2 and made a long-distance dedication to a dog. The tape became an underground hit, but remained unknown to Kasem for years. Though not proud of the diatribe, Kasem did find it funny.
Meanwhile, Kasem’s influence with audiences waned with the introduction of the music video by MTV. Ironically, Kasem introduced music videos before MTV was ever on the air when he began hosting “America’s Top Ten” (NBC, 1980-92), a weekly series highlighting the current top ten singles on the Billboard charts. In 1992, Kasem was honored with induction into the Radio Hall of Fame. But as all good things do, Kasem’s stint as America’s favorite disc jockey came to an end when he passed the torch to a younger and more popular Ryan Seacrest. Though Kasem publicly supported the change, one couldn’t help feeling that he was being put out to pasture. But while his famed radio program ended, Kasem did sign a contract to continue “American Top 20”, a countdown of the top 20 adult contemporary hits, through the end of the decade.