I was on I-65 driving south from Chicago Sunday when I heard the news that Casey Kasem had died.
Because I’d seen recent news stories of family drama pitting Kasem’s wife against the children from his first marriage, Kasem’s death came as no surprise. Shortly before I left town for a conference in Indianapolis, a judge granted Kasem’s daughter’s request to stop administration of food and medication.
Here’s an irony: when the news broke Sunday, my car radio was tuned to a rebroadcast of one of Kasem’s 1970s “American Top 40” episodes on Sirius.
One of the strongest memories of my teenage years is listening to Casey Kasem’s show every Sunday afternoon on WKEE radio out of Huntington, West Virginia. Every week I sat at our kitchen table, studying the weekly grocery flyer and planning out our family’s meals and shopping list. This was my job. My mom was in nursing school full time, and we all pulled together to keep our family functioning as normally as possible. After I finished planning the most cost-effective, delicious menus I could think of using that week’s specials, Mom then took my list to do the actual grocery shopping, and one of my sisters cooked the meals every night.
Since getting my new vehicle (along with satellite radio) last fall, I’ve listened to “American Top 40” on the 70s on 7 channel whenever it’s on. Kasem’s warm, raspy baritone instantly transports me back to those Sunday afternoons at the kitchen table. My ritual of listening to the radio with my can of Diet Sprite made meal planning an enjoyable task.
In the pre-iTunes, pre-YouTube days, Kasem’s show was my guide to popular music, but it was also SO much more. The long-distance dedications reinforced my conviction that nothing is more powerful than love. And Kasem’s sign-off each week was both practical and inspirational. As a teen facing the confusion of my “future,” I took his message to heart because it seemed to reconcile two of my most important, yet highly incompatible desires: to at once play it safe and pursue ambitions so unrealistic that even dreaming about them felt ridiculous.
“We’ll be back next week,” he’d promise. “Until then, keep your feet on the ground and keep reaching for the stars.”