You Say It, We Play It

Casey Kasem, as most by now know, recently died. Famous for counting down (up?) the top 40 songs, his recorded and syndicated show, begun in 1970, was famous.

My experience with an identically formatted show predates Kasem’s. It was via AM radio powerhouse 77-WABC in New York. Live broadcasting, with “real” DJs who encouraged listeners with such phrases as, “We spin ‘em, you win ‘em.”

I was too young to have experienced Alan Freed, largely missed Murray the K (“Ah-vey!”) due to his transition from AM to FM and unaware of Wolfman Jack (“Bay-hey-bee!”).

Tuesday nights on ABC, disc jockey Cousin Brucie (Bruce Morrow) revealed the nation’s 40 most popular 45 rpm records over the course of probably three or four hours.

Pre-teen, early 1960s boys in the greater NYC metro area like me stayed glued to our radios to learn what was on top, what had dropped, and who had entered the Top 40.

I don’t recall Cuz identifying the countdown’s source as “Billboard” magazine. But that probably didn’t matter. As none of us knew what Billboard was, except the one advertising an Esso station or breakfast cereal.

“Top 40” soon became a derogatory term, fit only to describe “teeny-bopper,” “bumble-gum” music. A category, we were certain, that most likely applied only to girls. Or little boys. But certainly not we teenage boys.

And so I switched to WMCA and a perfectly obnoxious but very cool DJ, Frankie Crocker. People then used names like “Frankie,” without embarrassment. (And “Brucie.”)

But surreptitiously, I tuned back in to ABC for Dan Ingram’s afternoon show. He was funny and clever, in a self-deprecating way.

Once, Ingram made a tape loop of the chorus from the Beach Boys’ “Fun, Fun, Fun.” Listeners were treated to five minutes of “And she’ll have fun, fun, fun ‘til her daddy takes the T-bird away.” Over and over. An unheard of rule-breaker to the station’s tightly drawn format.

By the time I (barely) finished high school, FM radio had emerged and with it progressive rock. Together, they made listening to even the original shock jock, Don Imus on 66-WNBC, seem passé.

To quote another broadcaster, Linda Ellerbee, “And so it goes.”

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