I missed an absolutely huge anniversary over the holiday weekend and have been grievously late in finally getting to it.
If you follow here closely you know that there has likely been no bigger pop culture influence on my life than AT40.
I remember my parents and their friends listening to the show in the late 1970s. Once I got my own radio, AT40 became an integral part of my weekends. Often I would listen to both the morning broadcast and the evening repeat. I would also watch Solid Gold or America’s Top 10 to catch their countdowns. When we got cable, watching MTV’s weekly Top 20 video countdown was required viewing.
By the late-80s my tastes were changing and adult contemporary music was taking over the top 40, so I listened to the countdown less-and-less. Like most people my age, my tastes drifted to hip hop and grunge and alt rock, genres that (at the time) had almost no chance to make the charts. Occasionally I would come across AT40 while driving, and I might listen for a few minutes before moving on to another station, or popping a CD into the player. By then Casey was gone, anyway, replaced by Shadoe Stevens, so there was no real nostalgic reason to listen.
Even as AT40 got further in the rearview mirror of my pop culture life, it still had an impact. I was a dedicated list maker of my own, for sure having a year-end favorites list and occasionally making ad hoc lists of my favorite songs of the moment. Friends were annoyed by me saying things like “This is my third-favorite song,” or something dumb like that. That all came from Casey and AT40.
And AT40 became a part of my life again as I passed into adulthood. There was that weekend in Iowa when I heard an old countdown and thrilled my then fiancé with my ability to guess the top four songs of the week.1 A few years later, living in Indianapolis, I came across a station that played those old countdowns and would listen occasionally. That was a temporary arrangement and the countdowns disappeared again, until right about the time L was born, when the station that currently broadcasts the classic AT40s picked them up. For nearly 12 years now listening to pop music countdowns from my childhood has again became a Sunday ritual. A couple years back I found the iHeart radio channel that broadcasts countdowns from the 1970s and 1980s constantly and made it a favorite that I listen to while in the kitchen the way others listen to NPR or talk radio.
And, of course, all that modern listening helped create my Reaching for the Stars series, which I hope you enjoy.
Since AT40 arrived a year before I did, I don’t know if music lovers were already obsessed with making lists or if we can credit Casey for warping our minds. I think there’s something about being a music freak that makes you want to rank and order songs and albums, whether it is to rate them by quality or simply to physically organize them. But Casey and AT40 certainly pushed my generation toward being neurotic about those lists.
I’ve been obsessive about a lot of things in my life. That’s how my mind works. But no obsession has been longer, or more consistent, than my obsession with ranking songs. I owe it all to Casey’s dream of sharing the top songs in the country with America every weekend.
1. She was not thrilled.