“Keep your feet on the ground and keep reaching for the stars.” With those words, Casey Kasem would end his weekly radio countdown program that so much of America turned to for the latest music and folksy tidbits. Wholesome and clean but still a lot of fun would be a good description of Casey's American Top 40, as well as Casey himself and his body of work over the years.
As family-friendly as his career was, his last days alive were sadly a lot more in the other direction with his wife and kids arguing over his medical decisions and generating so much publicity that his death yesterday at the age of 82 came as no surprise. To say though that I am saddened, would be an understatement.
Outside of radio you might have known Casey Kasem as the voice of Norville "Shaggy" Rogers on Scooby-Doo. You might have caught an appearance in Hawaii Five-O, Ironside, or one of the low budget movies he had a bit part in. You might also have heard his voice on tv. He was a booth announcer at NBC for a number of years and was the voice of the title character in the animated Here Comes Peter Cottontail. He even did a television version of the countdown show he made popular on the radio. Way back before be started playing "the hits from coast to coast," Casey cut his radio teeth right here in the Bay Area. He worked for a time at KYA here in San Francisco, and then at KEWB in Oakland.
It was that radio show though that Casey was best known for. It was a fun program and I must confess that I listened for most of its very long run. For a time I worked at a radio station that carried it, and sat in the booth during my shift as it played. Back then, Casey would record the show and it would be put on old fashioned records and shipped overnight to the stations playing it. The disc jockeys (me in the case of WVJS Owensboro) would put the disk on the turntable and wait for the commercial cues. It was three hours long and I didn't have to pay attention to the whole thing, but I did. I liked it. America liked it!
Casey made a difference during his life by making people happy with feel-good values that he could always be proud of. He was also a co-host of the annual Labor Day Telethon for the Muscular Dystrophy Association for many years, active in political causes, and a big believer in positive cultural role models. He was arrested at an anti-nuclear protest back in the 80s and also spent time sleeping on the street to draw attention to homelessness.
I'll admit that I haven't always had my "feet planted firmly on the ground," but Casey was one of the folks who convinced me to "keep reaching for the stars."