It was April 2004… 96.1 KISS FM was only a mere 3 1/2 years old at that point (hard to imagine, isn't it?). I had been sent to Dallas for some meetings and radio nerdery. You know, the kind of meetings that was more like a convention than anything, but was a real swanky convention put on by the company that owns this station and many others across the United States. They gathered all the Program Directors for the many radio stations and threw a big bash in Dallas for everyone.
They trotted out a ton of A-list celebs and artists… I kid you not when I say that Boyz II Men was our dinner entertainment one evening, Lionel Richie the next night. Jessica Simpson sat at my table for dinner. I ran into Carson Daly in the hotel lobby.
Ryan Seacrest was just getting started with his American Idol run and had just taken over the morning show at our sister station KIIS-FM in Los Angeles from another legend, Rick Dees. All these guys were there.
And yet there was one guy who everyone in the room desperately wanted to meet… the guy in the pic above with (a very young faced and semi intoxicated) me: Casey Kasem.
Casey Kasem was the host of American Top 40 for what, a billion years? He INVENTED Top 40 radio basically, by being the first to really brand it into what it was and eventually became: the most successful radio format of all time, and one that's flourished on 96.1 FM and owned Northern Colorado radio since October, 2000.
I stumbled across Mr. Kasem in the hotel bar late that night, with a friend of mine, and we were shocked to see him by himself! People had been all over him all night and you couldn't get close, but here was our chance because he was finally left to be in peace. I thought for sure he was tired of being approached and chatted up, he took a TON of pics with a bunch of radio guys that night, but we figured we'd give it a shot anyway.
We walked up and introduced ourselves. I told him who I was and where I lived and was on the radio. This man then proceeded to blow my mind. Here's a legend in this business, a true hall of famed, radio icon with a resume that could sink a battleship due to its gross tonnage. And you know what he wanted to talk about? ME. Northern Colorado. KISS FM. And YOU.
I spent a good 15 minutes talking to him. Everytime I'd ask him a question about him, he'd flip it immediately around and ask about me and what it's like here. He asked how much we interacted with our listeners - on the air and in the community. He told me how important that was, and how you need to use the power of the radio to do GOOD where we live. To keep grounded, to stay humble and do the absolute best we can do on a daily basis to entertain, inform and serve our community, because not many people get that chance.
If you ask any of the KISS staff over the years, this was something I preached to them day in and day out, ever since that late night meeting in the hotel bar in Dallas. I don't think I ever told any of them that the lesson came from one of the greatest to ever sit behind a microphone: Casey Kasem.
He used to close each show with "Keep your feet on the ground and keep reaching for the stars." This is a lesson he practiced as much as he preached. He was a perfectionist. You've probably heard some of his bloopers over the years, and while hilarious when he blows up, keep in mind that this man wanted to deliver the BEST product every time he cracked the mic. But not for the ego of it. Because he truly felt you, the listener, deserved it. He was that good.
The radio industry lost an icon today. For one kid eventually turned grown up in Northern Colorado radio, his lesson is remembered and I'm thankful for the time he spent with me to teach it. That was very kind of him.
RIP Casey Kasem.