Growing up, I always kind of considered Casey Kasem a part of the family.
At the height of AM radio's pop music years, and then later when FM was what all of the cool kids would listen to, Kasem was always there with his "American Top 40" and subsequent countdown shows of our favorite hits.
He had that smooth, friendly voice and always reminded us to "keep your feet on the ground and keep reaching for the stars." He had long-distance dedications and provided informational background about our favorite bands and individual artists. How did he know all of that stuff? This was before the Internet, so to get the "inside scoop" on the Rolling Stones, the Bee Gees or even Maria Muldaur was awesome.
Kasem was once considered the most familiar voice in America. He voiced the character Shaggy for 40 years on the long-running cartoon series "Scooby-Doo." He was also the voice of Robin in the Batman cartoons.
For decades, you heard Kasem on TV commercials for a plethora of companies, ranging from Chevron and Raid to Oscar Mayer and Dairy Queen. He made several TV and movie cameos, including "Hawaii Five-O," "Saved by the Bell," "Quincy, M.E.," "ALF" and "Charlie's Angels."
Even though Kasem retired five years ago, he could still be heard weekly on satellite radio. Sirius XM Channel 7 replays his old countdown shows from the 1970s on Saturdays.
He even starred in a 1971 science-fiction movie, "The Incredible Two-Headed Transplant." I went to the drive-in to see that film -- right after I got my driver's license -- simply because Kasem was in it. The movie was absolutely horrible, so ridiculous it was funny. But it was neat to "see" Kasem after only "hearing" him on the radio for so many years.
When I heard Kasem had died over the weekend, I was admittedly a little bummed. He was 82 and had suffered in recent years from advancing dementia and Parkinson's disease.
Kasem revolutionized and popularized the music countdown. Any kind of music countdown format you have watched or appreciated in the past 50 years would likely be traced to Kasem's "American Top 40."
Kasem was such an iconic figure that even during the rise of MTV and other video outlets, his countdown shows continued to flourish. The Buggles once sang about video killing the radio star(s). That didn't include Kasem, who in many respects was the Dick Clark of radio.
When he finally stepped away from the microphone in his late 70s, Kasem said, "I am happy doing what I am going to be doing, and I am happy having done what I did."
It was shortly before noon Sunday when I heard Kasem had passed. My wife and I were in the car heading to a family gathering. Ironically, we were listening to one of those satellite radio replays of his countdown show.
"I am a disc jockey, and I play records," he once said. "I play music for people to hear from 8 to 80."
I was just a little older than 8 when I first heard Kasem. Thanks to modern technology, if I'm fortunate enough to still be here when I'm 80, I can guarantee you I'll still be listening to him while I "reach for the stars, but keep my feet on the ground."