Kemal Amen Kasem knows how to tell a story; he's made his living from it for quite a while. As a disc jockey 30 years ago he was in Buffalo, working at WBNY. Today "Casey's Top 40" is heard around the world (locally on WMJQ-FM). One thing is certain: Kasem is outspoken both on the air and off.
You sound like my next-door neighbor, yet you've made millions.
I never thought of myself as an announcer, and yet I became the voice of NBC for four years. And that used to shock me. I was always somebody who could tell a pretty good story.
You are opinionated. Does that come from your parents?
They never tried to smother anything I felt, even if I was wrong. But I was a gambler when I was a kid, wanting to take chances. I can remember the first time -- my parents were going to be divorced -- I spoke publicly. We were at a small banquet, and my mother was on one side of the table and my father was on the other side, and a man named Sam, who was always telling me what to do, said, "Why don't you stand up and make a speech about how important it is for your parents to get together?" And I did. I stood on a chair and I gave that speech and they got together. Didn't last, but I wasn't afraid to fail.
You'll be hitting 60 soon. What are you looking forward to?
Becoming more of an activist. I don't think I've reached my stride yet. And I'll be doing that 20 years from now, too. I want to make a difference in the world, like Martin Luther King.
Do you listen to the radio much?
I listen to a lot of tapes. I listen to speeches. I listen to Martin Luther King. I listen to Malcolm X. I listen to tapes that teach.
Would you call yourself a cerebral type?
As long as cerebral doesn't mean intellectual. I'm someone who I'd like to think has a little bit of wisdom that he gets through common sense. When I think of intellectuals, I think of people like the Chomskys and the Naders, but I'm not in that class.
You're a vegetarian, but now and then don't you crave a steak?
The thought makes me sick. My mother used to make me eat meat.
Was your mother healthy?
Very healthy. The only thing that killed her was smoking. I smoked five packs a day for 17 years. When the report came out that said I was going to get cancer, I quit. Like Gandhi said, the only way you can stop a bad habit is if it's interfering with something you want more. I knew I was going to be successful, and I was smoking day and night. Here I was, the No. 1 disc jockey in town after three months. I worked hard; people thought I was a hermit. I usually lived in a slum, low-cost housing. And I thought that just about the time I was to be peaking, professionally, I'd be dying. So I said: "To hell with it. I'm not going to be killing myself for 15 years and then die.
You're a father for the second time around. What do you plan on doing differently?
I spend more time with her. Every day I play with her. I make sure that before the day is over she sees my face. She flirts with me, and she's only 4 months old. She can even raise her eyebrow. She's like a soul who's been here. For all I know she may be my mother. I believe in reincarnation. My mother died about five years ago.