Friday, July 10, 2020

Our Salute To American Top 40 Coninues ...

I really enjoyed reading your thoughts and memories about the 50th anniversary of American Top 40 with Casey Kasem.  As a guy who has spent his entire teenage and adult life working in radio stations, the syndicated radio show that had the most impact on me personally was Casey’s AT40.  Once the show ramped up, many months after it debuted and they had a chance to dot their I’s and cross their T’s, it was the BEST OF THE BEST.    
Little did I know as a baby DJ in the 70s spinning the AT40 discs on Sunday morning at New England radio stations, that one day I would become Casey Kasem’s boss!

In the late 80s, I was the VP of Programming for the ABC Radio Networks.  ABC owned the Watermark production company, which produced Casey’s show.  Part of my responsibilities was being Executive Producer of AT40.

I have so many phenomenal memories from those years.  Here are just a few of them: 

· Over the years, AT40 used seasoned and high caliber radio talent to sub for Casey during his vacations.  The roster included Charlie Van Dyke and Wink Martindale. I had the idea of using well known AT40 artists to guest host, which wasn’t always easy to do.  You could only use pop and rock stars who could read aloud smoothly for a 4-hour countdown.  It took discipline, enthusiasm, and a will to succeed at something they had not done before. Daryl Hall and John Oates were the first artists ever to host.  It was July 30, 1988.  They did it while in L.A. for a sold-out show at the Universal Amphitheatre, which was a couple of minutes from the Watermark Studios on Cahuenga Blvd.

· During my tenure at Watermark, we made the transition to digital.  And under the supervision of our Watermark GM Rod West, we went from sending radio stations the show on four (4) vinyl discs to mailing out four (4) CDs weekly.  We saved a great deal of time editing the show once we switched to digital.

· When I arrived at AT40 the incredible support staff of writers, producers and statisticians where religiously following a policy that they would NEVER give Casey a story about an artist if they couldn’t get at least two sources to verify it.

· In every show, Casey would acknowledge some of the great radio stations that aired the show.  It would include all size stations from major market affiliates to the smallest of the small.  Because Casey was not familiar with a lot of these smaller markets, the AT40 staff would call every affiliate before Casey did a shoutout and verify how their city of license was pronounced and what their current station slogan was.  Once a radio staff learned AT40 had called and their station was going to be singled out on an upcoming broadcast, the staff was stoked.

· I’ve attached the audio of the final closing credits that Casey delivered at Watermark in 1988, before Shadoe Stevens took over the following week. 

· The AT40 logo, which changed over the years, would be seen on the discs sent to radios stations across the world every week. Knowing how much the legacy of the show meant to me, the staff had some fun and surprised me one year and had some CD boxes printed with a modified logo that had my name on it as host!!  I still have one in my archives as a souvenir from my memorable years at American Top 40.  

 -- Tom Cuddy
     New York, NY 

AT40 – Thoughts on the 50th Anniversary
-- Scott Paton

Well, Kent, since you asked for some thoughts about American Top 40 on the occasion of its 50th Anniversary, here you go.  
As a fan from the very first broadcast – it aired in the MD - DC - VA region on WPGC AM & FM — and as a staffer for three years, I have a dual perspective on the show.  I, frankly, have been amazed at the amount of media coverage regarding this anniversary and, given my insider’s perspective on the show, especially at a time when it was subject to dramatic change – both in its programming and behind-the-scenes — I opted to bow out of any vocal participation in some of the events that were taking place.  This is more a time for celebration than a true story, warts-and-all, or my personal opinion about people and events that shaped the show in what certainly was its heyday.
Having said that, this is Forgotten Hits, and I’ll try to give you a snapshot of what life was like at 10700 Ventura Boulevard, North Hollywood, the home of Watermark Productions, 1976 - 1979.    (You made me do this instead of mowing my lawn! lol)
I distinctly remember hearing the premiere edition of AT40, blasting out of the loudspeaker at my local pool (The Hacienda Swim Club!) that Fourth of July weekend, 1970.  I was 12 years old that summer, between 6th and 7th Grades and, like most of us FH followers here, music was everything to me at that age.  Sure, there’d been Top Ten and year-end countdowns on local stations ... but nothing like this!  The 40 biggest hits in the nation, some of which I’d never even heard before.  And this deejay?  Casey Kasem?  Boy, did he have a gift for storytelling!  And those teases – “Coming up next … ” — sure kept you glued to the radio through the commercials as you waited for the payoff to the story behind the artist or song.
American Top 40 became destination listening for me every Sunday morning, 9 am to noon.  If my folks had plans for us outside the home on those days, I’d do my best to dawdle until the Number One hit was revealed.  If I missed it – Damn! — I’d have to call a friend to find out what song had topped the chart.
Six years, a driver’s license, beer, girls and high school graduation later, despite having earned three semesters’ credit already, I just did not want to head down Route 1 and check into my dorm at the University of Maryland.  So I hopped a plane to Los Angeles instead.  I wanted a career in the music industry.  I didn’t have a clue as to what I would do, but maybe a gig with the Beach Boys — I could sing all the parts!
My first weekend in town, the big Top 40 powerhouse station at the time, KIIS-FM, was promoting a charity softball game at Burbank High School — the jocks versus a team of celebrities.  I had nothing else to do, so I hiked the mile or two to the location and proceeded to watch cast members from “Happy Days” (including “The Fonz”), Peter Tork of the Monkees and even FH friend Freddy “Boom Boom” Cannon” take on the “Kiss” deejays.  I didn’t ask for any autographs, but there was one guy I cornered, seeking advice on a career in the music biz.  Yep, Casey Kasem.
Casey was a great guy — offered me some boilerplate suggestions and, when asked, told me his favorite current act at the time was Earth, Wind & Fire.  In a shocking reveal, he confessed that he didn’t know a majority of the songs featured on AT40 on any given week.  “How does he do the show then?” I wondered.  But the pivotal moment of that serendipitous meeting was when Casey gave me the phone number of the program’s producer.  He said she might have some further advice for me.
I could hardly wait ‘til the next day to give her a call.  I was told by the secretary that producer Nikki Wine didn’t come in on Mondays and was advised to try again on Tuesday.  It was a long 24 hours.  But I did reach her the next day, and she graciously invited me down to watch Casey’s tracking of the script on Thursday morning.  Little did I know that it would be a three-bus-transfer Odyssey to travel from Glendale all the way to North Hollywood across the north-south span of the San Fernando Valley.  I got off the last bus prematurely and was forced to run the final three miles to the studio in my dress pants and brown corduroy sport coat.
I was late, but, at 18, at least I didn’t suffer a cardiac event.  I got to see the tail end of Casey at the mic and, more importantly, I got to meet several members of the AT40 production staff — all friendly and willing to offer suggestions on finding work in Hollywood.  After a couple of hours, I departed 10700 and started my long journey back to my apartment in Glendale.
Over the next few months, I kept looking for work elsewhere, but I would occasionally follow up that visit by compiling ideas for the periodic American Top 40 specials that would air a few times per year.  One day, just wanting to gauge Nikki Wine’s reaction to my most recent submission, I gave her a call.  And the cliché that “timing is everything” couldn’t have been more apt.  The writer/assistant producer had just been let go and they needed a warm body in the chair.  Could I come in the next day?!?!  It was made clear that it would be a temporary appointment, and only until they found someone better qualified.  Despite that caveat, I was thrilled beyond words!
I was immediately put to work clipping articles on musicians from every publication imaginable and placing them in the appropriate individual folders dedicated to every act to hit the Top 40.  They were bulky for veteran artists, skimpy-to-empty for the new ones.  Quick!  Call the record company publicist for any printed materials they had — the next show’s deadline was coming!  This was the 1970s equivalent of the Internet in the AT40 production office.
Within a week or so, I started conducting interviews with the stars — Stephen Bishop and Phoebe Snow were among the first.  I learned how Stephen lost his virginity, and Phoebe told me corny and profane jokes.  Couldn’t use those on the show, but boy, those conversations were fun.  Phoebe invited me to sit with her at Stephen Bishop’s L.A. premier at The Roxy music club on the Sunset Strip.  Seated next to me was Art Garfunkel!  I was sitting in high school Physics class just six months earlier.
In those freewheeling days of the music industry, there was an event almost every night.  On any given evening, I often had to choose between a major concert event in an arena or an intimate showcase in a nightspot somewhere.  My very first record company invite to a show was for a then relatively unknown Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers at the Whisky A-Go Go.  When I asked how much the ticket was at the box office, the girl in the booth smiled and said, “No charge, sweetie, you’re on the list.”  When I ordered a drink and pulled out my wallet to pay, the waitress said, “No charge, the drinks are on ABC (Records).”  What kind of heaven had I stumbled onto?!  Free Rum & Cokes!
These late nights made getting up and riding three buses to work by 9:30 or so pretty tough some mornings, but on Monday, Nikki would be working from home, and AT40 statistician Sandy Stert-Benjamin and I were charged to provide her, by phone, as much story-worthy information as possible.  Nikki was a stress case on these days and, frankly, Sandy and I were a bit relieved that she was not there in the office with us.  By the way, back then, Nikki, Sandy and I were the entire pre-production staff of American Top 40 — it was usually directed in the studio by Watermark president, Tom Rounds – known only by us as “TR” — and various members of the technical production team.  Considering that this was the biggest show in radio at the time, this was a bare bones operation personnel-wise.
I really liked everyone at Watermark … it definitely had a great collegial feel, and boy, was I immediately thrown into the deep end with the tasks I was assigned.  I wanted to enjoy it while it lasted, however briefly, but I knew this temporary job might help me land other work afterwards.  One afternoon, TR came down from the administrative offices in our split-level building, walked into my office and shut the door behind him.  This was it, I thought.  Time to pack up.  But to my surprise, he said, “Everybody really likes you here and you’re doing a good job.  I’d like to offer it to you on a permanent basis, with an increase in salary to $200 per week.”  (I know, I know.  But that was big bucks for an 18-year-old 44 years ago.  Plus I got my drinks and often my food, free, five-to-six nights a week.  I was living large!)  Needless to say, I was ecstatic, and remained so for a long time.
On Tuesday mornings, our copy meetings with Casey took place, and we’d go over that week’s script to be cut on Thursday.  For the first year or so, that was my favorite day of the week in the office.  The gathering of the four of us – Casey, Nikki, Sandy and I — was always good-natured, productive and usually fun.  Casey’s instincts as a storyteller were brilliant, and I learned so much from him about writing for “the ear.”  I’d always been a good writer throughout school, but writing for radio, where you have one pass at capturing the listener’s attention and conveying your message is a unique art unto itself.  It’s definitely something you have to learn, no matter how clever you may be with words.  And not just Casey, but all my colleagues there at AT40 contributed to my education and the career that would follow.
In the months ahead, I enjoyed some of the happiest times of my life and, in the process, got to meet and interview most of the biggest stars in music — the Bee Gees, Olivia Newton-John, Michael Jackson, the Rolling Stones, my trumpet-playing inspiration, Herb Alpert, Donna Summer and Ringo Starr were just a few of the hundreds of people with whom I sat down with for a chat.  Best of all, Brian Wilson of the Beach Boys became a good friend for many years.  Aside from his universally acknowledged genius as a songwriter and producer, he simply is a nice guy.  Vulnerable and shy, there’s no such thing as a completely conventional relationship with Brian, but on more than one occasion, his gestures of friendship meant the world to me.
If life at American Top 40 had continued on as it had, I probably would have been content to remain there for years, but things changed.  Casey Kasem’s partner and one of the four co-founders of the show, Don Bustany, had only been an occasional presence at the program’s offices the first year I was there.  He was working, full-time, as a camera coordinator for the Mary Tyler Moore show and other programs in the MTM stable.  He seemed like a pleasant enough guy.  He liked to give off the slight air of an eminence grise, the older, thus wiser presence in the room.  But that was okay, maybe he was.
But when the TV shows he was working on wrapped up production, he needed something to do.  Don started showing up at the weekly copy meetings, having the immediate and constant effect of making Casey crazy.  Where the rest of us would tailor story structure to meet our host’s generally unfailing instincts, Don would second-guess anything anyone said or wrote, literally, at times, driving Casey to a very voluble level of madness.  One of his most frequent exclamations would be, “Don, why are you trying to gaslight me!,” a reference to the Charles Boyer-Ingrid Bergman film where a husband is trying to fool his wife into thinking she was going insane.
If you remember Bill Clinton trying to get his interrogator during the Monica Lewinsky depositions to define what “is” is, that’s what AT40’s Tuesday copy meetings became — every week and in spades.  Don made us all nuts, but especially producer Nikki Wine, as he tried to usurp her authority and, essentially, re-assume control of the program as he had had in its early days.  Bustany was an intelligent man, but he was not a great writer, at least not for the type of broadcast that AT40 had become.  A year in, I was confident enough to challenge his ideas when I felt that his storytelling instincts were way off the mark.  That statement sounds more brash or bold than it really was — any commentary on my part remained diplomatic and collaborative in nature.
Going through the files of stories from AT40’s earlier days, I would come across copy that Bustany had written that were so bizarre or off-point that, little wise-ass that I was, I would occasionally put one in front of him when he was needlessly belittling others’ work or causing Casey to question himself.  One Sunday afternoon, I dropped by my office to use the long-distance WATTS telephone line to call home.  Don was deep in the file cabinets in my office, purging all his early stories from record — my wastebasket was overflowing.  He admonished me not to reveal what I’d seen to anyone else.  I can only imagine that, in the early days of AT40, the oversight of TR, Casey himself and whomever else may have been in the studio re-tooled those stories on the spot because so many of them were simply terrible.
Without insight into people’s backgrounds or DNA, who knows why people turn out the way they do?  But Don Bustany had a need to be in charge, and anything under his watch had to have his fingerprints on it.  His style of management was heavy on condescension and dismissiveness and, sadly, it stopped being fun at American Top 40.  Some of those legendary, outtake rants of Casey Kasem that have circulated for years – perhaps all of them — resulted from Don second-guessing Casey in the studio or having insisted on putting something weird in the script to begin with.  Still, Don was Casey’s friend and partner, and it precluded asking Casey to get Bustany to step back or for Tom Rounds to intercede in his grab for control.
In the meantime, there were other fundamental changes going on with American Top 40.  Hit singles were getting longer — too long to fit 40 of them in three hours without edits.  But expanding the program to four hours not only made it untenable for many affiliate stations’ schedules, it was too much for most listeners’ attention spans.  And then there was the addition of the Long Distance Dedications.  I know, many people regard these often sappy listeners’ letters to Casey regarding a lost love, dead pet or some other heart-rending event a classic hallmark of AT40, but I hated them.  Sitting through the selection process at the now already torturous copy meetings was almost too much to bear.  And so many of those letters were clearly engineered fakes by people trying to “get one past Casey.”  I’d go nuts when colleagues would get so enthusiastic about a clever, but bogus entry.
By late-1978, we had expanded the staff to add an all-around utility guy, Matt Wilson, and another writer, Merrill Schindler.  And while they acknowledged the madness that prevailed at AT40, I think they were better suited to handle it and tolerate Don Bustany because they had joined in the midst of the maelstrom.  They didn’t have the happy, efficient environment of yesteryear to illuminate the stark contrast of the present day.  Producer Nikki Wine had a complete mental and mood meltdown and, in her own way, had become as big a source of gloom as her nemesis Bustany.  By spring of 1979, she was gone, as was statistician Sandy Stert-Benjamin.  And the clock was ticking for me, too.
The capper for me was when – due to the need for additional company office space — the American Top 40 writing staff was moved down the street to a room in a dive motel.  I was now jammed in a single open space with four other people, making the conducting of interviews or writing virtually impossible, especially after having had the privacy of my own office the prior two and-a-half years.  And the condescending oversight of a new “boss” that I believed had diminished the program finally caused me to snap.  One day, after lunch, I walked over to Don Bustany and said, “I quit!”  And in true sitcom fashion, he bellowed, “You can’t quit, I fire you!”  One last time, Don had to have control of the scenario.
Of course, as I had imagined years before, a stint at American Top 40 helped me land other gigs in radio, with Dick Clark and all the major radio networks.  The crafting of compelling copy that I learned from Casey, the studio production techniques from Tom “TR” Rounds, and the art of conducting interviews that even the subjects themselves enjoy were all things I learned while on the job at Watermark.  Less enjoyable, but equally valuable, I learned about the personal dynamics, politics and power plays that, sadly, seem to characterize almost every office with multiple employees.  It’s probably why I’ve worked independently for so many years.
It may have been an amalgam of the good, the bad and the ugly, but I wouldn’t trade my experience at AT40 for anything, nor those aforementioned lessons.  I mourn the losses of Casey, TR, Nikki and Matt Wilson, and I’m even sorry that Don is no longer among us.  I just wouldn’t want to hang around him!  In the past week, I’ve been in touch with three people I knew from those days, including Sandy, and I cherish those friendships.
American Top 40 certainly earned a prominent place in both radio and popular culture history, and I’m proud to have made a small contribution to its legacy.

Here are a couple of photos.  (The redhead in the photo with me is statistician Sandy Stert-Benjamin.)

Thanks, Scott … glad you “bent the rules” a little bit to run your copy in Forgotten Hits!!!  (See folks, THIS is the kind of insight and interview material we can offer in the future as Scott goes thru his archives … man, I can’t WAIT to welcome you aboard!!!)
SO cool to be able to share some hands-on insight to this radio phenomena through guys like Tom Cuddy and Scott Paton who were instrumental in bringing us this show every week ... and were there right in the thick of it!  (kk)  

A friend of mine and the late Clark Weber weighed in on AT40 from a different perspective:  as a military flier.
Clark Besch
I read this last night.
American Top 40 and Casey Kasem were BIG on AFRTS (Armed Forces Radio & Television Service). I worked a bit with the station on the Midway and a bit with the station on Subic Bay, Philippines. When they saw that I was listening to or distracted by American Top 40, they made the comment that if there is a glitch in the broadcast they will hear about it 10.000 times over and it will be immediate. Their comment was that only a glitch in a Paul Harvey transmission could generate as much or more immediate traffic. And they probably played each weekly episode five or six times during "easy listening hours" of 7:00 AM to 11:00 PM and it was always somewhere in the middle of the night. The Midway's system was three audio channels and two video channels. Subic Bay was two audio and two video channels then we also got Clark AB's system of 2 & 2 as well as Philippine TV which was 50/50 in English.
I loved listening to American Top 40 and knew the AM frequencies as well as some HF frequencies it was aired on. When airborne at the right times I would often tune the AM / ADF radio or try and hijack an HF radio for the transmission.
I agree, like the great DJs of the 1960s Casey talked WITH his audience, not AT his audience. Seldom, if ever, did I feel alienated or maligned by an American Top 40 broadcast. Sometimes I grunted at the #23 hit or the #1 hit simply because I did not like it. However, I loved the variety, based on sales and play.
There was another DJ, a Jewish Rabbi, from about 1975-1990 that was just fun to listen to as well.
Thanks, this one had me sitting on the couch just remembering good times,

I found Gary Theroux's comments about correcting Casey Kasem on that ELO mistake interesting.  The fact that he got so upset with the mistake makes me wonder about something ... 
I befriended the original statistician for AT40, Ben Marichal, back in the 70's.  Back then, HE had tons of Billboards just like Joel Whitburn and he had planned to do what Joel did and does today with compiling the Billboard charts, but Joel "won out." 
I wonder if he was ousted by Casey's staff after a few mistakes like the ELO one?  Ben emailed just five years ago and said that he had already written part of a book about AT40.  He said he had 1968-1972 done already.  Wish I could read THAT part if it is out there somewhere.
Wondering if Gary or Scott Paton or Paul Haney has ever ran into Ben.  We were pretty good friends thru the 80's when I lost touch. He emailed out of the blue in 2015. 
Clark Besch

>>>And we're just one tune away from the singer with the $10,000 gold hubcaps on his car!   (from Casey Kasem’s first American Top 40 Broadcast)

One of Casey's first " TEASES " on the first show.
I got this right from the horse’s mouth … Mark Lindsay. 
The singer with way too much money to spend was Mark Lindsay, lead singer for Paul Revere & Raiders, who had a solo hit, "SILVER BIRD," on the first American Top 40 Chart.

You wrote that AT40 was distributed as one hour per disc and that the DJ had to flip the record during the commercial break.  That is not true.
The half hours were split over the three (later four) hours.  The shows
were shipped as follows: 
1A/2B 1B/3A 2A/3B
1A/4B 1B/3A 2A/3B 2B/4A
You can see my collection here:
I stopped collecting in 1980.  The last LP set was the one that covered
the death of John Lennon (12/13/80).  But, the initial set that the stations received was cut before John was shot.  After news of the shooting broke, they shipped out a new 1A/4B for the stations to air.  I have both discs in my collection. 
John's song, "(Just Like) Starting Over" was #4 that week, so disc 4B was
the one that needed replacement.
As for Billboard, I had a subscription over many years.  Yes, it was expensive … so I knew of its existence.
Mike Brown
Billboard was MEGA-expensive … so I think I only kept a subscription for a couple of years.  (When 80% of the reason you want the magazine is only for the Top 100 and Top 200 Charts, it just became cost prohibitive.)
It sounds like each disc WAS essentially still a half hour (of programming) per side … looks like the way you’ve got it described, they could “stack” the discs on a spindle to drop and play in order … but I’d be REALLY surprised if ANYBODY did that in a studio enviornment (other than perhaps a collector at  home.)
How well do the charts hold up all these many years later?
As has been pointed out here numerous times before (more so by our readers and fellow chart-a-holics) these charts were merely a photograph capture of time … popularity at that moment.  SO many of these tunes barely registered with most of us … but there are probably AT LEAST another half dozen or so per chart that ARE etched in our memories … and THOSE are the ones we wish radio would recognize and remember from time to time.  Not in heavy rotation … they don’t merit that … but as the some of those affectionately revered “Wow! Songs” we refer to so often.
Two Billboard hits that IMMEDIATELY come to mind that I discovered on Casey Kasem’s show because they weren’t played here in Chicago were “Holdin’ On To Yesterday” by Ambrosia and “Everybody’s Got To Learn Sometime” by Korgis … I went out and ordered them as soon as I heard them (because you couldn’t buy ‘em here either!!!)  kk

More from Clark Besch …

Here's how the show was plugged in Ron Jacobs’ home state of Hawaii this week in 1970 in the Honolulu newspaper. 
Ron was also behind those cool "Cruisin'" radio recreations at that very time on Increase records.

Another early newspaper ad from Albuquerque’s KQEO in October, 1970.

And this very week in Billboard, July 11, 1970, AT40 was being promoted heavily at the Billboard Radio Forum. Tom Rounds mans the booth below:

Billboard ran the AT40 story in the issue as FRONT PAGE news:

The VERY All-American Uncle Sam type AT40 logo graced the back full size 11x17 page.

Meanwhile, the Ides get the full page ad, too!

And here's what the AT40 jingle long version is like in stereo as well as the way it sounded off KEYN-FM in early 1971 as recorded off our FM tuner in Dodge City. Back then, tuners would switch to mono when signals got weak, so we often heard it going back and forth between stereo and mono.  You'll hear the way KEYN segued from the cool hour long religious pop show "Powerline," hosted by John Borders, into the AT 40 show at 9 AM Sunday mornings as well as the KEYN outro where they let the jingle run on and then attached the special Casey promo for OUR wonderful Wichita giant.  What a great time, great show and GREAT station this was then.  PLUS, one of their DJs was named "DAVE BIONDI"!!!  Amazing.  I ran across him on a chat board back around 2000.

And here are a couple of nice surveys from friend and FH'er Tony Waitekus.

Clark Besch