I promised another in my endless series of nostalgic ramblings and here it is- another tribute to a lost art form, lost in the new and better technology.
This past week, we learned of the death of Casey Kasem, radio personality best known for his “American Top 40” weekly radio show. Each week, Kasem would run down the top 40 songs from the Billboard Magazine charts and make comments or tell stories about the artists who performed them. I read this past week that he really didn’t like the style of music he was popularizing and I always suspected that as he always seemed just a bit detached from the songs he was playing. But, one way or the other, it was fun to listen to that show. I associate it with Sunday mornings during my summer vacation in 1974 when I worked in a delicatessen washing dishes and doing other related work by myself in the kitchen with only my radio to keep me company. Thanks for the memories, Casey and especially thanks for the original theme song to American Top 40 which I can never get out of my mind. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6WAgZKHJtjg
But, the art form I want to reminisce about is not American Top 40, per se. Rather I want to reminisce about the entire phenomenon of Top 40 radio on a local AM station. Who even listens to AM radio anymore for music (or maybe for anything)? But, when we were growing up in the 60s and early 70s, that is what you did. You listened to the local AM top 40 music station.
In Boston, there were two – or perhaps more- but the one that I and most of my friends listened to during those first years of music awareness was WRKO 680 or as it was called in the endless jingles you heard at least 20 times an hour: 68 RKO, Boston (you can find the melody such as it was on the Internet). The station was my constant companion when at home in the morning or after doing homework (or during) or on weekends or whenever we needed to hear what the latest song to hit the charts was. And we really cared. We cared what the #1 song was. We cared about the latest hit from Three Dog Night or Creedence Clearwater Revival or any of the other favorites. We cared when a song we liked was suddenly dropped from the play list because it wasn’t selling. We cared when a song with suggestive lyrics would suddenly show up and we would all laugh at school the next day: “Have you heard…”?
I know young people still listen to music today and that’s great. And, I know there are still some FM stations which you can get around the country on Satellite Radio or on the Internet and they influence the music industry and inspire loyalty. But, it’s not quite like it was then when you just wouldn’t listen to another station or care about anything else on the radio (except of course Red Sox baseball) and you knew the DJs- or “personalities”- by their distinctive style and the inside jokes.
I miss those days and often go back to websites which contain “airchecks”- brief recordings of WRKO and other stations. But, they don’t satisfy my urge for nostalgia, especially since I recorded many hours of WRKO on our reel to reel tape recorder when I was a teenager. However, I threw out the tapes when our tape recorder broke and we switched to cassettes. It never occurred to me that I might be able some day to transfer them to another medium. What a loss. I can’t blame my mother for throwing them out like she threw out my baseball cards. This one was my fault. I wish I had them back.
I’d be glad if anyone with similar memories would respond to this posting with your own memories of the Top 40 station from your city. It’s part of my youth and I know it’s a part I share with many others. It’s all different today and that’s OK. I like being able to have my own playlist on my iPhone which connects to the bluetooth in my car and insures that I don’t have to listen to something I don’t like. But, that was part of the charm of Top 40 radio. You didn’t like everything you heard but it didn’t matter. It was what you were supposed to be doing.