Remembering Casey Kasem, Radio’s Grooviest Voice
The voice of Casey Kasem means two separate things for two separate generations. There are those who know him mainly as the voice of the Top 40 show, a weekly four-hour radio program that acted like a progenitor of Pandora radio, and those who know him as the voice of the preternaturally hungry Shaggy from Scooby Doo.
Kasem didn’t create the concept of a Top 40 hit, but he did engender the homogenization of pop music, taking what was once a series of localized or regional styles and making them accessible coast to coast. Before Spotify and Pandora and Youtube and iTunes, when Americans had vinyls and big, thick knobs on their static-rife radios, there was American Top 40. Kasem’s show at once broadened people’s aural palettes, unveiling different styles they’d otherwise never heard before. The negative effect, of course, was inadvertently making ubiquitous the same few popular songs, a trend that was deepened by MTV and the music video revolution, and acted as the precursor to classic rock, pop, and other specialized radio stations.
Kasem can’t be blamed for this, of course. His was an unpretentious, accessible, and altogether loving style of DJing, never talking down to listeners, never telling them what to like or what to dislike; he simply took the top 40 songs, a fairly standard and unbiased way of choosing what to play, and he played it over his far-reaching airwaves.
Kasem is perhaps better known as Shaggy to those who grew up in the post-radio era, as well as those who were of a certain age when the original Scooby Doo, Where Are You? graced television sets in living rooms in the late ’60s. The Hanna-Barbera cartoon was a love-budget affair rooted in the counter-culture movement, its characters bell-bottomed youngsters who solve ostensibly supernatural mysteries. Ksaem’s Shaggy is best friends with a talking, albeit speech-impaired, dog, and the cowardly but lovable duo, perpetually craving munchies and defying physics, always came out the victors at the end of each episode.
Scooby and the crew have appeared in countless spinoffs and movies since the original show, and Kasem provided the voice of Shaggy from 1969 up to 1997, and again from 2002 to 2009, at which point he became the voice of Shaggy’s dad. Thanks to Cartoon Network, another generation of children grew up with the various exploits of Scooby, Shaggy, Daphne, Velma, and Fred, and Kasem’s voice has permeated 40 years and countless childhoods.
It’s worth mentioning that, contra Kasem’s repeated assertions that there were no drug references in Scooby Doo, much has been made of the arguable influence of marijuana in the original cartoon — after all, Shaggy was a beatnik, with that grody goatee, saggy t-shirt, constant munchies, and the fact that his best friend is a talking dog. The live-action films, in which Matthew Lillard plays Shaggy, were originally written to include several aimed-at-adults jokes poking fun at Shaggy’s stoner qualities, though all were cut as to avoid a PG-13 rating. (Example: “Mary Jane, that’s my favorite name!”) Kasem always denied the possible pot proclivities of the Mystery Inc. gang, as did the show’s creators, but as children grew into college students, Kasem’s character grew from an innocent goof to a possible blazed goof.
Casey Kasem was of a bygone era, but his singular voice and vast influence will continue to survive on reruns and on the radio. The next time you’re up all night to get lucky and you hear a Top 40 hit and curse the constant redundancy of the radio, remember that Casey Kasem used the Top 40 to make music accessible for an entire country. Zoinks.