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Remembering Casey Kasem

By Rich Heldenfels Published: June 16, 2014

As you know, the renowned radio personality has died. I met Casey back in 1995, when he came to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame to see the DJ exhibit of which he was a part, and to reminisce about Cleveland radio. Here's the piece his visit inspired:

Radio and television are showcased in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum in Cleveland. But the list of hall inductees who came out of broadcasting is relatively short.
Aside from performers who also worked in radio such as B.B. King and Sly Stone, the hall has only two true broadcasters: Cleveland's Alan Freed, who used radio to bring black music to white listeners, and Dick Clark, whose American Bandstand was for years television's main window on rock 'n' roll.
That hardly seems enough. But broadcasters have only a narrow opening into the hall of fame, as nonperformers, which some years includes only one inductee chosen from music-company executives, songwriters, producers and others as well as broadcasters.
It's not much of a substitute to have a display that, when it's working properly, allows hall visitors to hear voices of famous DJs from around the country.
Casey Kasem, one of the DJs in that display, was thrilled to be in it. But in a chat during a visit to Cleveland a while back, Kasem was also a vivid reminder of the rich history of radio and rock 'n' roll.
He recalled paying his respects to Freed in a telephone conversation shortly before the DJ's death in 1965. And sitting in Freed's old chair at WJW-AM, where Kasem worked in 1959 and early 1960.
But Kasem remembered more. "I always knew that Cleveland was a great center for popular music, going back to the Bill Randle days," he said, citing another legendary Northeast Ohio DJ. "I heard about Bill Randle when I was in Detroit, and how important he was to breaking new acts. His counterpart in Detroit was Jack the Bell Boy -- not Tom Clay, but the original Jack the Bell Boy, Ed McKenzie. .....
"The influence of American music around the world is incredible," Kasem said. "And radio plays a major role and has from the beginning."
Indeed it has. Rock and Roll, the series running on PBS through tomorrow at 9 p.m., includes regular talk about radio.
The first episode begins with a radio playing in a car, the first comments come from pioneering DJ William "Hoss" Allen. Artists speak of getting on the radio -- and not getting on, notably when the Byrds saw Eight Miles High fall back to earth because its supposed drug references lost it radio play.
"Black radio was everything to people like me," Motown Records founder Berry Gordy Jr. has written of his company's early days. In his memoir To Be Loved he remembers being awestruck at seeing famous black DJs at a radio convention: "I spotted Jockey Jack Gibson holding court with some other biggies -- master rhymers and rappers like Eddie O'Jay from Cleveland, whose deep baritone voice sent people rushing to record stores."
Starting with just some of the names mentioned here you could have a good list of broadcasters who merit consideration for the hall. Then add New York DJs like Bruce "Cousin Brucie" Morrow and Murray "the K" Kauffman. Or Bob "Wolfman Jack" Smith, whose legend (and raspy voice) became part of the 1973 movie American Graffiti and the 1974 Guess Who song Clap for the Wolfman.
Tom Donahue, the San Francisco DJ who helped pioneer the so-called "progressive FM" format, should be on the list. From TV, you could bring in Don Cornelius, whose Soul Train has been rolling for a quarter of a century, and the impresario Ed Sullivan, whose variety show was a magnet for many rock acts.
You also may want to add names to the list, or remove some of the ones here. Either way, there are a lot of broadcasters the rock hall should be considering for its highest honor.


 

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