Kemal Amin “Casey” Kasem (April 27, 1932 June 15, 2014) was an American disc jockey, radio personality and actor, best known for being the host of the music radio programs American Top 40, American Top 20, and American Top 10 from 1970 until his retirement in 2009, and for providing the voice of Norville “Shaggy” Rogers in the Scooby-Doo franchise from 1969 to 1997, and again from 2002 until 2009.
He was born Kemal Amin Kasem in Detroit in 1932, the son of Lebanese immigrants who owned a small grocery store. His youth in the 1930s and 40s coincided with the golden age of radio drama, and Detroit radio was bursting with locally-produced, nationally-distributed shows such as The Lone Ranger.
Kasem often credited his love of storytelling and American Top 40 delivery to his acting days in Detroit.
He started out on the air as an intern actor on the Detroit Public Schools radio station WDTR while he was still a student at Northwestern High School. While attending Wayne State, he earned his first paycheck, working as an usher at a WXYZ quiz show.
Kasem auditioned for acting roles on radio dramas, and appeared on a few, including Challenge of the Yukon. (He eventually appeared on a few Lone Ranger programs as well).
After service in the Korean War, Kasem returned to Detroit and worked bit jobs in radio drama until he scored the nighttime slot job on music station WJBK, the first Top 40 station in Detroit, in 1956. Still considering himself an actor, he used scripted routines and sound effects on his show, dubbed Casey at the Mic.
Kasem left Detroit and WJBK in 1957 for Cleveland and WJW, Alan Freeds old station.
After Cleveland, Kasem worked at radio stations in Buffalo, N.Y., Oakland, Calif., and finally, Los Angeles, where he ended up on KRLA in 1963. There he dropped the comedic bits, under the gun from a program director who wanted a streamlined delivery and less schtick.
Determined to do more than just station identifications, weather and song titles, Kasem started adding biographical tidbits about each artist, delivered in that warm, avuncular voice. It was a format that worked, evolving until he brought it to a national audience with American Top 40, which debuted on July 4, 1970.
His AT40 success had been helped along by Kasems success as a voiceover artist, a career he had pursued in Los Angeles while doing his music disc jockey jobs in the 60s.
Susan Whitall, “Casey Kasem credited ‘American Top 40’ delivery to days in Detroit”, Detroit News, June 15, 2014.
Kim Salarski, “Casey at the Mike”, Michigan History, July/August 2015, pp.21-25.