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Bob Skurzewski: Casey Kasem found fame, but remained down to earth

It seems that Casey Kasem, his illness and his family struggles have made news daily, either online or in the newspapers. I knew of him well before he became ill and the family feud began, a disagreement on his care.

I should point out that while Casey and I are not personal friends, we associated with each other while Terri and I were writing “No Stoppin’ This Boppin’ - Let The Good Times Roll,” a look at Buffalo’s rock ’n’ roll era. Through help from his daughter, Kerri, I received several phone calls from Casey allowing me to interview him about his career.

He said he was surprised that a book like ours about Buffalo’s broadcasting heritage had never been done before. He added that he worked at WBNY with Lucky Pierre, Art Roberts, Mark Edwards, Dick Carr, Joey Reynolds and others.

Casey Kasem is a household name today, more because of his syndicated show called “American Top 40” than his days as a DJ. His began his radio career as a disc jockey and, while many know the name, few recall that he spent time in Buffalo as “Casey at the Mike” on WBNY-AM, playing the Top 40 hits of the day. This was in 1960 when it was the first radio station to consistently format Top 40 rock and roll.

He used “drop-ins” and “wild tracks,” short funny audio bits that yelled at him with sayings like “you said it!” and funny sound effects that he created dialogue around. His on-air sidekicks were “Happy” and the “Girl with No Name.”

Casey must have been comfortable with me, as he provided his personal contact information, permitting me to call when I had a followup question. We talked about the business of broadcasting and how it could be insecure, and of course the opposite, how his fame soared with “American Top 40.”

He also kept some personal information private and that included details about the time he was fired from WBNY for insubordination. He never revealed the reason he was let go. He took the station to court and after the ruling, jokingly said it took three months to figure out how the judge ruled against him.

Air checks was the other reason we were in contact with each other. They are audio tape recordings of radio shows and I had some of Casey’s from WBNY. We each had bits and pieces of different ones and traded them. Later, when I found his air checks from other radio stations around the country, I sent those along. He thanked me for them and in appreciation I also received two of Casey’s autographed photos.

Then there were his voices used in many cartoons. He’s best remembered as the voice of Shaggy and Robin, Batman’s sidekick. He was a very active broadcaster, and appeared in low-budget movies. Like his contemporaries, Casey released several 45 rpm singles.

In my dealings with him, I found him to be a nice guy who found fame and fortune but remained down to earth.

He was inducted into the National Association of Broadcasters in 1985 and the Radio Hall of Fame in 1992, and has a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame at 6931 Hollywood Blvd.

Kemal Amin Kasem passed away on Father’s Day, June 15, at age 82.

Casey’s signoff through most of his career and at WBNY was “Keep your feet on the ground, and keep reaching for the stars.”