Wednesday, April 23, 2014

American Top 40: The Countdown of the Century by Rob Durkee (2000)

If you've stumbled upon this blog, chances are you spent more than a few hours as a teenager listening to Casey Kasem host his legendary countdown show, American Top 40.  As a teenager growing up in the Houston radio market, I would listen to AT40 as often as I could, sometimes jotting down notes, sometimes recording the shows on cassette tapes, but always enjoying the format and, more importantly, Kasem's voice and delivery (I wish more DJs could backsell like Casey).  More recently, I've enjoyed the replays of classic AT40 shows on satellite radio.  Music has always transported me back to certain times and places, but when that music is coupled with Kasem's comforting, familiar voice, it all becomes so much sweeter.  I know AT40 is still on the air with the talented Ryan Seacrest as host, but it's just not the same, is it?  So while I'd like to say I'm a huge AT40 fan, it's more accurate to say that I'm a huge Kasem fan.

So while searching online for classic AT40 info, I came across mention of Rob Durkee's book, American Top 40: The Countdown of the Century.  Durkee worked as a writer and researcher for AT40 and therefore had access to all the principal AT40 players: Kasem, Don Bustany, Tom Rounds and Ron Jacobs.  It covers a lot of ground, including how the show survived despite losing money in its first three years, the controversial change in hosts in 1988, how and why the show died in 1995, and how it was reborn in 1998.   Also included is a 68-page appendix, including all specials through 1991, all year-end lists from 1970-1994, and a list of AT40 guest hosts. It's as complete an history as you're likely to find (although Durkee seems to go out of his way not to name names where controversy is involved).  Highly recommended.

The book (©2000) is currently out of print and fetching high prices online (today's prices are $385 on Amazon and $126-$199 on eBay).  I got my free "loaner" copy easy peasy through interlibrary loan (ILL) and suggest you boogie down to your local library and do the same ASAP. 

"Keep your feet on the ground and keep reaching for the stars."

P.S.  For more good AT40 stuff, go check out The Hits Just Keep On Comin' by friend o' the blog and radio expert, JB.
P.S.S. I am indeed aware of Pete Battistini's AT40 books; we'll look at those later.


  1. The main thing I took away from this book was Casey's disconnect from the music he played and the stories & trivia he passed along all those years. Doesn't lessen my love for the man, the music or the show but it was a weird feeling, like a peek behind the curtain of the Great and Powerful Oz.

    Similar feeling to finding out that the Billboard charts had been manipulated by labels in And Party Every Day. Though I still treasure and blindly trust those hallowed charts with all my musical memories, the loss of innocence, of faith in yet another institution, remains unsettling.

    And seriously, a whole chapter devoted to Casey's infamous outburst of profanity? Skipped it.

    1. Now what could be more harmless than getting a little peek behind the 'Kasem Curtain' to show that the man's human just like the rest of us?

      As a matter of fact, my YouTube viewers "swear" by it!: