Robin Scott whose stage name was simply ‘M’ had a #1 hit in 1979 simply titled “Pop Musik.” One of the lyric lines in the song goes; “Listen to the countdown, They’re playin’ our song again.” The roots of the modern countdown show begin with the radio turned TV program called “Your Hit Parade” in which in house singers performed the hit songs of the day. In the prerock pop era it was common for different versions of a song to hit the popular music charts, so the program’s focus was on the songs rather the singers themselves was an important fixture. Another element of the music radio countdown was with the birth of Top 40 radio and the rising popularity of Rock and Roll radio in the 1950’s and 60’s. Back in those days it was the local radio stations that did the countdown of the most popular hits of the day and its focused on what was popular on that station alone.
Eventually someone would come up with a countdown radio program that focused on what was popular in the Country itself and not just what was popular locally. That eventually became reality in 1970, and the rest is history. I now present to you a different kind of countdown. The top 20 music radio countdowns of all time. For this list, I have picked the top 20 shows for a variety of different formats. Mostly Top 40 stations, but I also include shows focused on different genus of music including Country, Adult Contemporary, Contemporary Christian, Urban/R&B & Hip-Hop, and even Alternative Rock. Even if they prefer to Count Up or play the hits in whatever order they choose, they have made this list because of their impact on the radio landscape. Some of these shows have come and go for a season and but their impact can still be felt to this day. So as Casey Kasem himself said; “Let The Countdown Begin.”
20: Top 30 USA: This show was hosted by radio personality M.G. Kelly who was born Gary Sinclair. His stints in radio included Top 40 stations KSTP (AM) in Minneapolis/St. Paul, and by 1975 he was bound for Los Angeles where he worked for Top 40 stations KHJ, and later arch rival KTNQ. He also did gigs at Adult Contemporary powerhouse KOST and Classic Top 40 station KODJ. During the 1980’s he also hosted a radio Count “Up” show rather than a Countdown show but that is Non Sequitur. T30USA was the first Countdown (oops Count Up) show that was focused on emerging Adult Contemporary format. As the title implies the show focuses on the Top 30 Adult Contemporary songs each week. This was the first show to focus on the hits of Adult Contemporary radio. The show was syndicated by CBS Radio’s then syndicated arm “Radio Radio.” There is was a show that Radio Radio syndicated for CHR radio with another top personality that will be mentioned later although this show is not among the Top 20 Countdown programs.
M.G. Kelly eventually left CBS Radio and thus ending T30USA (although there was a non-related program with that name for Urban radio that was hosted by Donnie Simpson) and began to focus on Classic Top 40 programs starting with “Live of the 60’s” which he created and featured radio legend The Real Don Steele (who was also on LA’s legendary KHJ) as a time traveling DJ going through the 1960’s. How he did it was never explained but the show ran for eight years and is reran up to this very day. MG Kelly continues to host various Classic Top 40 shows including “American Hit List” (which you could consider a first cousin to “Live from The 60’s) in which Kelly pilots a time machine with a sarcastic but working AI computer named Kelly and mostly visiting the period of 1964-73. Other shows produced by Kelly include, “Classic Hit List,”“The Amazing 80’s,”“Back To the 70’s,” and “Your 90’s Rewind.” But his adventures in syndication began with a simple Countdown Show…oops Count Up.Top 30 USA has its place here.
19. On The Move with Tom Joyner: Long before technology allowed radio personalities to voice track their show from a market far away Tom Joyner was ready, willing and able to take an airline between two major cites to do two radio gigs. Why did he do that? Because he just could not pick up on one station and leave the other behind. He was offered gigs on two heritage Urban stations in two major markets. Mornings on KKDA-FM aka K104 in Dallas-Fort Worth, and afternoons on WGCI-FM in the Windy City of Chicago. Joyner took both gigs and would rack up a lot of frequently flyer miles and would be given the nickname Fly Jock. This caught the attention of CBS Radio (who syndicated M.G. Kelly’s Top 30 USA) and offered Joyner the chance to host a music countdown show for Urban Radio. Joyner accepted and “On The Move” was born.
“On The Move” featured the top 25 hits on the R&B chart every week and even won Syndicated Radio program of the year in the Urban category by Billboard Magazine. On The Move ran from about 1987 until 1994 when he signed a deal to host a daily syndicated morning show with a rival syndicator and thus leaving his Fly Jock days and Countdown behind. Still Joyner going above and beyond the call in the radio world made him one of the most respected personalities in radio and in the African American Community. Truly a success story. “On The Move” only lasted for about six years, but it’s a great testimony to Joyner, who is indeed the “Hardest Working Man In Radio.” His countdown show truly does belong in the Top 20.
18. Fox Kids Countdown (including Fox Family Countdown and Fox All Access): During the height of popularity of the Fox Kids lineup, FOX Broadcasting Company decided that a weekly radio countdown program would give them synergy not only on TV but on radio too. They enlisted radio personality Chris Leary and would become a national personality in his own right. Since Fox Kids did not run on the boob tube on Sundays, this program was scheduled to run on Sunday Mornings on local Top 40 radio stations that normally did appeal to their audience but were not really the target audience (money wise) most of the time. Their chart is based on the requests of their listeners who were part of the Fox Kids Club in their listening area. In addition to the hits which where a mix of broad pop and tween hits, the showwould also feature guests who were characters on Fox Kids Shows like Eek The Cat, The Warner Siblings from “Animaniacs,” Zack and Ivy from Where On Earth is Carman San Diego,” and certain Power Rangers just to name a few.
When Fox Kids parent company at the time News Corp acquired Family Channel from Pat Robertson, the show became the Fox Family Countdown and focused more on the cable channel, and when News Corp sold off Family Channel to Disney coupled with the end of the Fox Kids lineup, Fox Broadcasting held on to the countdown and evolved it into a countdown for adults called Fox All Access while all along keeping Chris Leary as the host. Fox All Access would now focus on the prime-time lineup of Fox (shows like 24, Prison Break, American Idol, The Simpsons, King of The Hill etc.) along with its famous NFL Football Coverage which it got a piece of in 1994. While it did well with all the changes over the years, Fox Broadcasting decided to retire the show after 18 years. Leary has kept a low profile since the end of Fox’s radio program but because of its longevity and persistence to continue against the odds, Fox Kids Countdown “is cool” (borrowing a campaign slogan from 1995) at Number 18.
17. The (Jeff) Foxworthy Countdown: If you think that a music radio countdown show should be hosted by a man who is good at cracking remarks about white people trying to get by…” You Might Be a Redneck.” Anyway, in April 1999, Jeff Foxworthy hosted his name sake countdown featuring the top hits on Country Music radio according to Mediabase. In 2001, Foxworthy was recognized as Broadcast Music Personality of the Year by the Country Music Association (CMA). After ten years however Foxworthy decided to end his weekly countdown and move on to other projects. His final countdown featured the top Country songs of 2009. Foxworthy continues to tour as a standup comedian. Got any more “You Might Be a Redneck” jokes?
16: 20: The Countdown Magazine: Hosted by Brother Jon Rivers who worked at legendary Top 40 radio stations WAPE in Jacksonville, WMPS in Memphis and KNUS-FM Dallas-Fort Worth. In the early 1970’s he hosted a half hour show for Top 40 radio stations called “Powerline” which played the hits of the day while Brother Jon read inspirational stories that presented the Gospel of Jesus Christ in a way that was not possible or never thought of before. It was produced by the Southern Baptist Convention and it became the most popular show among its radio shows that it produced. The stories on Powerline not only reached out to its listeners but to Brother Jon who became a Christian himself.
Talking about self-evangelism. Brother Jon would continue to host Powerline, but by 1984 he would start a music radio countdown show that would focus on the current adult hits (money demo you know) in Contemporary Christian Music. In fact, around the time Powerline started Contemporary Christian Music as we know it today was just a few years old.By the late 1970’s trade papers specializing in CCM began to track the airplay, and Brother Jon wanted a piece of that action and thus20: The Countdown Magazine was born. To date, this show has been the longest running Christian Music countdown. Along with Brother Jon’s voice and passion for Christian Music, the long running feature on 20 is the Artist Spotlight in which the artist of the week is featured in a recorded interview for the show.
More recently Brother Jon allowed his wife Sherry Rivers to contribute to the program by highlighting current Christian Music News.20: The Countdown Magazine had to overcome an advertising crisis and was asking for funds from its fans, but eventually picked up Interstate Batteries as a current sponsor. 20 can be streamed online via its website and with iphone and Android apps, and is still heard on the American Forces Radio Network. Brother Jon keeps himself busy not just with 20 but his voice over work, along with a revived version of “Powerline” that is now produced and distributed by Tom Kent Radio Networks.
15. Scott Shannon’s Rockin America The Top 30 Countdown: Scott Shannon was the man who took a suburban New York Radio radio station that was broadcasting Beautiful Music and Jazz into a New York Metroplex Top 40 powerhouse. That station became WHTZ aka Z100. Norm Pattiz of the original Westwood One Radio Networks quickly recognized this and signed Shannon to do a weekly Top 30 countdown that first complied its own playlist but would switch to the CHR survey of trade paper Radio & Records once WW1 acquired the publication. Jingle company JAM Creative Productions out of Dallas, Texas created the jingles for the program and incorporated Tommy Walker’s short fanfare “Charge” as the ‘RockinAmerica’ motif heard throughout the show.
Shannon continued to do the program during his brief stint in Los Angeles programing Rock Leaning Top 40 station KQLZ aka “Pirate Radio” and returning to New York City to program rival station WPLJ and in the process moving his countdown program to that respected station. By the middle of 1990, Shannon’s countdown went through another makeover. Combining the R&R Top 40 survey with requests of listeners to compile its weekly survey. It also changed its name to “The All Request Top 30 Countdown.” In March of 1992, Shannon left Westwood One and his countdown program came to an end. Today’s Shannon does mornings at heritage Classic Top 40 station WCBS-FM and currently hosts the syndicated “America’s Greatest Hits” for United Stations Radio Networks, and is still the voice of Sean Hannity’s radio political talk show.
14. Out Of Order: You have Countdowns, and Countups but until the early 1990’s you did not have a show that featured the top 20 hits played out of order…until “Out Of Order.” Order featured the top 20 Alternative Rock songs of the week and while they might start with the #15 and transition to the #9 song, they still save the cream of the crop aka #1 for the very end of the show. The show was first hosted by longtime KROQ radio personality Jed The Fish in Los Angeles.
After he left to do a weekly program at crosstown public radio Adult Rock station KCSN, Ted Styker(who currently does afternoons on KROQ) took over as host of Out Of Order. While certain features of the program have changed the ideal of playing the top Alternative Rock songs out of order has not changed. Because it does highlight the 20 songs of the week, it does count as a Countdown Show…even if it wants to Count Up or Countdown or go all around…it’s a Countdown show or takes the template and twists it like a pretzel. Hey it truly works for this show, and still going strong.
13. The Countdown with Walt “Baby” Love (including “The Urban AC Countdown”): The Countdown was not only the longest running countdown show in the R&B/Hip-Hop/Urban format, it’s the longest running radio program in that music format alone. “The Countdown” ran for 29 straight years.However, prior to hosting The Countdown Walt “Baby” Love (born Walter L. Shaw Jr.) did radio gigs on many Mainstream Top 40 radio stations of the day and becoming the first African American Radio talent on white dominated stations.
Those stations include CKLW-AM in Windsor-Detriot; WNBC, WOR-FM/99X in New York City (he also worked for the market’s leading Urban station WBLS-FM); KHJ, KMPC, KFI in Los Angeles; and also, was the first African American jock on then Top 40 station KILT in Houston, TX after a stint on crosstown Gospel KYOK. In August 1982, Walt began his countdown program for Urban Contemporary radio station simply titled “The Countdown” which features the most popular songs played on Urban radio according to the trade paper Radio & Records. At the same time, Walt himself was Urban Radio & Music Editor for R&R so it would be fitting to use their chart data. He would hold that job for 21 years.Competing trade Billboard did award The Countdown five times over the years as best R&B/Hip-Hop syndicated radio show. When the Urban AC format emerged, Walt also hosted a version for those respected stations officially called “The Urban AC Countdown” but ran under the title “The Countdown.”
In June 1997, Walt became an ordained minister at the First House of Prayer in Chicago and later served as a Deacon and Elder in the First African Methodist Church in LA. He would earn a Master of Arts Degree in Theology from Fuller Theological Seminary in 2005. His Christian service would also inspire him to do a radio program showcasing African American Gospel music called “Gospel Traxx” which Walt did not make into a countdown show. With the musical trends in Urban/Hip-Hop going against Walt beliefs and in spite of trying to keep The Countdown family friendly, Walt decided to end The Countdown and focus more on his Gospel music show.
12. iheart Country Top 30 with Bobby Bones: What Ryan Seacrest is to Top 40 and Hot Adult Contemporary pop music stations, Bobby Bones has become to Country Music radio in the 21st Century…at least in the iheart radio fold. Bones was born Bobby Estellin April, 1980 in Hot Springs, Arkansas to then teenage parents. He would live a poor and humble life. He saw radio as a ticket out of poverty. He did college radio at Henderson State University and earned his first radio gig at local Top 40 station KLAZ. He soon moved to Little Rock, AK and worked atKQAR (Q100) and later competing station KLAL (Alice 107.7) which eventually drove Q100 out of the format.
Bones first radio contract would earn him $17,000. Bones later moved to Austin, TX and was hired at heritage Top 40 KHFI which recently adopted Clear Channel’s/iheartmoniker KISSFM first to do evenings and eventually mornings on the same station. Bones became the top rated show in the Austin market and was regionally syndicated. iheart wanted to take Bobby Bones nationally but with the success of John Jay & Rich on the west coast and Elvis Duran on the east coast, iheart took a different approach and took him to their powerhouse country station in Nashville;Big98 WISIX. With Country Music adopting a shade of Hip-Hop and other current Pop elements, making the transition to Countrywas easy. For starters, he grew up around it and it did have an influence on his life.
He just does not dress like a cowboy or wear big belt buckles. With the popularity of his daily nationally syndicated Country Music show,iheart also created a weekend Country Music countdown program to complement his daily show. With the loss of Jeff Foxworthy and even Ben & Brian (who did mornings at Washington’s DC WMZQ and hosted a national countdown for iheart),iheart needed a countdown show that would appeal to its major market Country Music stations and compete with Cumulus’s Country countdown programs which have a lot of program heritage backing them up. Bones is defiantly one guy that can challenge that heritage hands down. There is Crook & Chase but they are not really a Major Market draw, but I will talk about them morewhen I get to them.
11. Hollywood Hamilton’s Weekend/Remix Top 30 (including Weekend Top 30 with DJ Pup Dawg Rhythmic Version): Sean ‘Hollywood’ Hamilton was born and raised in Las Vegas, Nevada to parents who were both in show biz. His father Al was a comedian and business man in the role of entertainment director at major hotels and casinos. His mother was a vocalist for Jazz and Big Band instrumental greats including Harry James, Sam Donahue and Buddy Rich. Hamilton got his nickname from a Las Vegas showgirl when he was nine years old and when she saw him all dressed up in suit and bow tie.
Somehow that showgirl though of the boy as Little Hollywood. In spite of getting caught broadcasting a Pirate Radio station by the FCC (his parents never knew about this until he was caught), Hamilton did land his first real radio gig in Reno, NV. The movie “Pump Up The Volume” starting Christian Slater was inspired by Hamilton’s Pirate Radio phase. Hamilton started small but was able to hit it big by landing radio gigs at Z100 New York and KIIS-FM in Los Angeles. In the late 1990’s Hamilton got into the radio countdowns. His first countdown show was for upstart syndicator AMFM Radio Networks and was called the Rhythm Countdown. He left AMFM and signed a new distribution deal and The Weekend Top 30 was born and would become a major player in the Top 40 countdown game as well as its rhythmic counterpart.In reality Hamilton is the one music radio countdown personality that truly picked up on the basic music radio countdown Bible. Keeping the countdown focused on the music, the big hits and artists and no irrelevant Hollywood Gossip or sleaze of any kind. If you want a current Top 40 countdown show that is closer to Casey Kasem and lays off the gossip, Sean ‘Hollywood’ Hamilton is your man.
Hamilton also took the music radio countdown to another level when he combined the countdown template with the nonstop club mix show. The latter of which became a popular Saturday Night radio staple since the mid to late 1980’s. That countdown/mixshow hybrid that Hollywood created is titled The Remix Top 30 in which the popular hits are mixed back to back, beat to beat for three hours and only two commercial breaks an hour. Hamilton eventually signed with Premiere Networks whose parent company iheart Media bought out AMFM Radio Networks. Hamilton had to step down from the Rhythmic version of show as host of the show (the Rhythmic Version is hosted by DJ Pup Dawg who does evenings at WJMN aka Jam’n 94.5 out of Boston), but still serves as Executive Producer of all three shows.
10. The Crook & Chase Countdown: Most professional relationships come and go but when it comes to Lorianne Crook and Charlie Chase,they have been a professional couple since 1983, and still going strong. For the record Crook is married to TV producer Jim Owens and Chase is married to Karen Chase and C&C have been faithful to their spouses just as long as they have been working together. Crook & Chase’s professional partnership began with the Entertainment Tonight style show called “This Week in Country Music” which by title was a weekly Country Entertainment News program. The show first aired on broadcast syndication but eventually Crook & Chase moved to cable TV outlet TNN back in its Nashville days. Eventually the duo would host a Country Music radio countdown of their own which started up in 1990. Currently their radio countdown is distributed by iheart Media’s Premiere Networks.
In spite of being hip to the times and getting clearance in metropolitan markets in Chattanooga TN, Boise ID, and their biggest being our Nation’s Capitol, The Crook & Chase Countdown gets more clearance on rural Country Music stations and appealing to audiences that are truly about the Country and the heartland. Crook & Chase were inducted into the Country Radio Hall of Fame in February 2013, and in February of this year they were honored with the Bob Kingsley Living Legends Award which was named after one of their direct competitors in the Country Music radio countdown game. Still they deserve their place in the Nashville Music business. They have garner the respect and trust of many Country music fans and truly connected to where they are and their lifestyle.
9. The National Music Survey: This countdown was created and first hosted by the man who known as the world’s oldest teenager due to his hosting duties on the music-performance show “American Bandstand.” In the early 1980’s he was still hip enough to compete with his colleague and friend Casey Kasem (Clark filled in for Casey on a AT40 broadcast on March 25, 1972 and taught him to not to record in real time). Dick Clark’s National Music Survey was launched in 1981 and distributed by Mutual Radio. The show featured the top 30 songs on Top 40 radio every week, and was one of the competitors of American Top 40 to give it a run for money and stations. By the mid 1980’s Clark stepped down as host as he was launching a new radio network and taking over a countdown program that the company recently acquired. Charlie Tuna took over as host of The National MusicSurvey and eventually focused on Adult Contemporary radio stations and Mutual was bought out by the original Westwood One, but Tuna could not compete with his former host and Dick Clark himself would come under Westwood One soon enough….now let us talk about that show Dick Clark took over.
8. Countdown America (including Dick Clark’s US Music Survey): Countdown America was another early 1980’s countdown that was giving American Top 40 a run for stations and money. The show was first disturbed by the late RKO Radio Networks and was hosted by John Leader. By the mid 1980’s RKO Radio Networks was sold to the first version of United Stations Radio Networks and Leader left for Westwood One to host Countdown U.S.A. Eventually Leader found his niche in voicing movie trailers. Meanwhile Dick Clark took over as host of Countdown American and eventually took the program to Adult Contemporary stations and was able to find success with the show in that respected format. United Stations merged with Transtar radio networks becoming Unistar and eventually Unistar folding into Westwood One (1.0).
In 1994 Clark helped launch a new incarnation of United Stations Radio Networks but his countdown program for AC radio could no longer be called Countdown America. From that point, the show would be called Dick Clark’s US Music Survey which was named after the network and his old National Music Survey program from the 1980’s. Countdown America/US Music Survey during the Dick Clark era features the top 30 (later 20) hits on the Mainstream AC chart along with a weekly spotlight feature on a single artist, and highlights of past hits that appealed to its audience. Clark never did start a Hot AC version of Countdown America/US Music Survey due to his committed to “Rock Roll and Remember” for Classic Top 40 stations. However, US Music Survey came to an end in 2004 when Clark suffered his stroke.
7. Country Countdown USA: In the early 1990’s Westwood One’s Gary Landis wanted to build a country music countdown show in which the radio talent and a single Country Music Superstar would co-host every week. Westwood One eventually choose Lon Helton who was Country Music editor at Radio & Records at the time. Today he continues to host CCUSA and is editor of the Mediabase Country Chart and publisher of Country Radio trade site Country Aircheck. However, most Country music superstars could not commit to such a program so they did the next best thing.
The Co-Host position would be a revolving door of different Country Superstars every week. Helton and the superstar co-host of the week would banter about themselves and it did not sound as scripted as competing countdown shows were. The guest hosts during the first year of the show included Reba McEntire, Trisha Yearwood and Kix Brooks & Ronnie Dunn. The former of that popular duo would get his chance to host a radio countdown himself. The concept of changing Country Superstars co-hosts worked and CCUSA has become a popular countdown program on Country radio ever since.
6. Rick Dees Weekly Top 40: Dick Clark’s National Music Survey and Countdown America might have tried to give Casey Kasem’s American Top 40 a run for the money, but one was truly able to threaten AT40’s dominance in the Top 40 countdown world. That pop music countdown that truly did it was the Rick Dees Weekly 40. Dees who achieved stardom with his #1 pop hit “Disco Duck” and breaking into the RKO Radio chain via its station in Memphis when its main competitor let him go over the song. Dees moved to Los Angeles in 1979 working mornings at KHJ in its twilight years. After KHJ bowed out of the Top 40 format, Dees would eventually be hired for mornings at KIIS-FM and became the station’s and overall market’s top star and helped with KIIS-FM’s marketing machine. Had it not been for ABC Radio’s demands on its affiliates especially when it came to commercial loads, The Weekly Top 40 might not have happened. WT40 was created in response to ABC Radio stripping the LA Top 40 powerhouse of its rights to AT40 and giving it to a competing station.
Wally Clark who was the GM of KIIS-FM along with then Program Director Gerry DeFranciscodecided to create a brand-new countdown program instead of shopping for an established one (like The National Music Survey or Countdown America at the time) and build that countdown around KIIS-FM’s Rick Dees. Instead of stories about the songs and artists as many countdowns of the day did, Dees would incorporate his brand of humor, celebrity gossip, live guest interviews, and contests as he counted down the Top 40 hits of the week. Dees appeal to the Top 40 listeners of the 1980’sproved that he was here to stay. The Weekly Top 40 is not as popular in America as it was back in the 1980’s and 90’s but still doing well in the international radio market and fans can get the show on Google or Apple apps via his website at rick.com. WT40 is also offered in repeats as well, highlighting complete classic Rick Dees Weekly Top 40 broadcasts which were popularized by the re-airing of old American Top 40 shows from the 1970’s and 80’s.
5. American Top 20/10: This is the first of three countdowns that I have counted separately in which “The Legend” of the music radio countdowns have hosted. That being of course Casey Kasem. American Top 20/10 is a continuation of the Adult Contemporary spinoffs from Casey’s Top 40. That being Casey’s Countdown for Mainstream AC, and Casey’s Hot 20 for Hot AC stations. In 1998 both those versions became American Top 20 and featured either the top 20 Mainstream AC hits or the Hot AC hits. Plus Casey’s signature Long Distance Dedications and classic hits from recent years. These shows are the credited creation of Casey Kasem and his friend and partner Don Bustany. American Top 20 was part of AMFM Radio’s deal to revive the great American Top 40 brand and allow AT20 for his older audiences.
These shows also do not use the Billboard data to highlight any of the classic extras featured on these versions of Casey’s countdown unlike the revived American Top 40 does and thus another reason why I am counting AT20/10 as a separate show. AMFM folded into Clear Channel’s (now iheart Media) Premiere Networks in 2000 and by late 2003 they decided to have Ryan Seacrest host the flagship AT40 program and Casey would continue with AT20. The Mainstream AC version of AT20 became American Top 10 in 2004 and only features the ten popular Mainstream AC currents of the week while keeping the focus of that format on older titles. With more extras to play, AT10 introduced Spotlight extras in which those specific songs of the week were built on a common theme. That can range from the top solo men of the 1990’s, songs from albums that had five+ singles released, hit singles form a certain year, or the honoring the music’s superstars during the years Casey was active in counting down the hits which was his final spotlight for AT10. AT20/10 was great for Casey’s twilight years of hosting and counting down the popular music of his day with the audience that grew up with him.
It showed that he loved what he did. His failing health coupled with the popularity of the re-airing of his classic AT40 shows from the Watermark era would bring to an end of AT20/10. All and all he said it best at the very end of his final chart run on both versions. “I’d like to share with you something I’ve learned over the years: Success doesn’t happen in a vacuum. You’re only as good as the people you work with, and the people you work for. I’ve been lucky, I’ve worked for and with the very best!” Yes Casey, you did work for and work with the best. Did not always get along and certain relationships ended along the way, but he had people that worked for him and believed in him along with a loyal fan base.
4. Casey’s Top 40 (Including Casey’s Countdown & Casey’s Hot 20): From 1989 through 1998 Casey’s Top 40 was the vehicle in which the Countdown Legend could feature the top 40 pop hits of the week using the CHR chart data from trade publication Radio & Records which was owned by Westwood One when Casey’s Top 40 started. While the drama at ABC Radio was sad, this change in Casey Kasem’s run of playing the popular hits was a good one. This mark the first time that Casey was doing a survey based only on radio station airplay rather than a combined chart of radio airplay and sales of popular singles to the public as Casey was doing during the Watermark era of AT40. While Casey’s Top 40 was a copycat of American Top 40, it had its superstar. Sure, he had to call the Long Distance Dedications something else like “Requests And Dedications” and you could not mention that “Rapture” was the first Rap hit to go to number one (it did not go to number one the Radio & Records CHR chart). The age of narrowcasting came and AT40 was yet to truly feel its impact, and Casey would feel it too but survive. Some might call this a betrayal, but most of Casey’s fans forgave and understood what he had to do.
Norm Pattiz who was the founder of the original Westwood One was determined to bring Casey Kasem to his network while Casey himself was determined to stay associated with the American Top 40 brand. Casey would fail in that goal thus allowing Pattiz to achieve his goal of bring in Casey and having him compete with his former show. Westwood One also saw the eventually need to narrowcast Casey especially when Casey’s Top 40 had stations that were not Top 40 stations but Adult Contemporary stations. In order to keep those stations and allow them to be consistent, Casey’s Countdown was launched in 1992 and featured the top 25 songs on the Mainstream AC chart. In early 1994 R&R launched a Hot AC chart and a few monthslater Casey would cover that chart with “Casey’s Hot 20.” At the same time Casey’s Countdown would only feature the top 20 Mainstream AC hits of the week. While it was great to have Casey’s name in the title, even he realized that people still associated him with American Top 40. Even Casey himself seemed to prefer American Top 40 as well. Eventually Casey parted ways with Westwood One (1.0). This program however kept Casey in the Countdown business when many in the radio business tried to write him off…they could not.
3. American Country Countdown: The longest running and consistent music radio countdown on the planet. ACC was created as a spinoff of American Top 40 by Casey Kasem, Don Bustany, and Tom Rounds, and created when ACC’s distributor Watermark Inc. was finally able to get out of red and into the black and AT40 proved to be successful. ACC’s original host was Don Bowman who was a jack all trades. Singer, Songwriter, comedian, yes radio personality. Prior to hosting ACC, Bowman filled in for Casey on the June 16, 1973 broadcast of AT40 in which he admitted that Casey was sick and that he Bowman is more Country than Rock or Soul. That broadcast kind of served as a backdoor pilot of ACC and come October 6, 1973; Bowman hosted the very first ACC program in which it featured what would be the last #1 Country hit for Ray Price. ACC was produced at first by Bustany but by the Spring of 1974 he wanted to focus more on AT40 so he hired Bob Kingsley (who recently programed a Country music station in LA) to take over on production duties.
Kingsley would also fill in for Bowman when that needed to be called for. Good thing that he did cause by May 1978, Bowman stepped down as host and Kingsley was ready to take over and multi-task as producer and host of ACC for the next 27 years. Under the Kingsley era, ACC won syndicated program of the year for 15 years straight in the Country Radio format by Billboard Magazine. Kingsley won syndicated personality of the year by the Country Music Association in 2001 and 2003. Kingsley is consisted to be the Casey Kasem of Country Music Radio, but like Casey he would have to part ways with the brand that Casey co-created. In 2006 ABC Radio brought on Kix Brooks of Brooks & Dunn fame to become the new host of ACC and help take the show in a younger direction. The Kix Brooks era of ACC proved to be more successful than ABC Radio’s attempt to modernize AT40 with Shadoe Stevens in the late 1980’s/early 1990’s. Today the show is now owned by Cumulus Media via the current incarnation of Westwood One. ACC truly has a long future ahead, and should continue to remain in production for years to come.
2. Bob Kingsley’s Country Top 40: This program while separate from now sister show American Country Countdown, it’s a continuation of Bob Kingsley’s legacy of counting down the hits in Country Music. When Kingsley departed ACC, he took most of not all of his staff with him who worked with him over the years. In addition to the top country hits and previous hits form Country artists, Kingsley plays listener requests, takes listeners into the CT40 Vault, and highlights the weekly CT40 Milestone in which a classic song, birthday, or a recently passing of Country performer or songwriter is featured. More recently Kingsley was finally accepted into the National Radio Hall of Fame. While originally Kingsley severed ties with ABC Radio and signed with Jones Radio to do CT40, his show would wind up in the same stable with American County Countdown as both came under the distribution of Cumulus Media’s current incarnation of Westwood One radio networks. Kingsley is nearing 80 years of age, and his voice is not what it used to be. However, it seems likely that Kingsley will continue to countdown the Country hits until he is passes on from this life.
1. American Top 40: You know and I know that this one had to be on top of it all. This was the show that Casey Kasem and Don Bustany along with Tim Rounds (and his then independent company Watermark Inc.) and one-time KHJ program director Ron Jacobs made a reality. AT40 was the show that took the Top 40 countdown that was originally done by the local stations and presented a “Coast To Coast” rundown of what was the most popular music in America. AT40 started out with humble beginnings on July 4, 1970. That very first show was done in real time, and due to mistakes and errors along the way it took about 18 hours to record a three-hour show. The premiere broadcast aired on seven stations.
One year later it was cleared worldwide on 118 radio stations. In the early 1980’s 520 American radio stations carried AT40 and at its peak of popularity it was heard on over 1,000 radio stations in 50 countries. As the show grew, the listeners took interest in the chart data and many wrote in to the show asking questions about certain data on various hits and then some. By 1978, one special letter was received and was featured on the August 26, 1978 show. It came from a young man named James who lived in Louisiana and fell in love with a girl named Desiree. In the letter James tells Casey that she had to move to Germany because her father was serving in the American Army. Ironically Neil Diamond wrote and recorded a song that was titled “Desiree.” It was released as a single on November 1977 and the timing of it was perfect for James. He heard the song and thought about his love interest. He took a chance and wrote AT40 requesting the song and dedicating it to the girl he knew named Desiree in hope that she would hear the song. Well Casey and the AT40 team decided to do just that and timing was perfect to add the “Long Distance Dedication” feature to AT40. After that song was played Casey encouraged the listeners to write similar letters requesting songs as long as they were hit songs.
That LDD feature took off like a rocket. In October 1978, AT40 went from three hours to four hours a week as the music of the day had songs that lasted longer than three minutes and ending nearing four minutes and then some.It should not be any wonder that Casey Kasem and American Top 40 were inseparable even if they were through most of the 1990’s. Speaking of which, when Casey Kasem left AT40 in 1988, his successor was Shadoe Stevens who at the time was the announcer of the John Davidson era of Hollywood Squares. ABC Radio (which acquired AT40 and sister show American Country Countdown) hoped that Shadoe would give AT40 youth appeal and challenge Rick Dees who has proven to be a strong contender against Casey Kasem…even through Casey proved to be tough in his own right. However, it was AT40 that suffered and Stevens was micro managed all throughout his stint on the final years of the original run of AT40 and by 2005 once all the personality was sucked out Shadoe (as he claimed when Shadoe was a guest on Howard Stern’s radio show) coupled with the show’s domestic cancelation in the Summer of 1994 and the overall cancelation in January 1995; he was happy to be to free of AT40 after he and the crew wished the show and the fans “Happy Trails.” ABC Radio decided to let their rights to the show lapse and Casey Kasem and Don Bustany got the rights back. In late March 1998, Casey signed a new distribution deal with upstart radio syndicator AMFM Radio Networks and American Top 40 with Casey Kasem was back on the air…even if it felt like that Casey never left. The revived AT40 with Casey as host of the show would only last about six years. In 2004 Ryan Seacrest would take over as host of American Top 40 while Casey Kasem would focus on his AT20/10 spinoffs until July 2009.
Under Seacrest AT40 did continue to feature the hottest hits of the day while Seacrest injected his love of Hollywood gossip and celebrity interviews. The Long Distance Dedications stuck with Casey and were never picked up by Seacrest once Casey ended AT20/10. It may not be the AT40 that we grew up with, but Seacrest is a host that was able to keep the show going and iheart has allowed Seacrest’s personality to be what it is. That alone has kept American Top 40 going since Seacrest took over the show. Ryan Seacrest however understands the show’s roots and does respect its original host and co-creator Casey Kasem. In fact, on the first AT40 show that he officially hosted he paid his respect to Casey at the beginning (after playing the #40 song of the week) and at the very end of the show. He also did a tribute to Casey on his program and on the AT40 website after he passed around June 2014. American Top 40 is in good hands. It’s just not our AT40 anymore.
And there you have them, the Top 20 Music Radio Countdowns of all time decided by Don McCullen, but I am not finished just yet.
Honorable Mentions: For starters, we have the current “Side Show Countdown” with Nikki Sixx (of Motley Crue fame) in which the top 20 Active Rock or Alternative Rock tracks are highlighted every week. After a time, this show might just make an updated version of this piece and with Sixx’s nightly show “Sixx Sense” it should happen soon.
There are some discontinued countdowns I want to mention as well. Christian Countdown U.S.A. with Bob Sauer which predated “20: The Countdown Magazine” (he would later host The CCM Countdown which would later be hosted by Christian Music performer Gary Chapman). Top 40 Satellite Survey with Dan Ingram which was a sister show to M.G. Kelly’s Top 30 USA featuring long time WABC Musicradio personality Dan Ingram who Counted Up the top hits on Top 40/CHR radio format; Westwood One’s Countdown USA which John Leader hosted after his stint on Countdown American only to step down as future Gavin Top 40 editor Dave Sholin took over for the rest that respected show’s run. The Weekly Top 30 with Mark Elliot (who would make a good living being the voice of the Walt Disney company after being Casey Kasem’s token fill in the 1990’s), and “The Weekly Country Music Countdown” which was the underdog of Country Music countdowns but had a great run through the original United Stations, Unistar and Westwood One radio networks.
Well the best way to end this is with Casey Kasem’s famous sign off phrase; “Keep Your Feet on the Ground and Keep Reaching for the Stars.”