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Feet on the Ground

On Sunday afternoon, the San Diego Padres fell from the No. 1 slot they earned Saturday to No. 2, while the New York Mets rose [1] from No. 2 all the way to No. 1…at least if you considered the conclusion of their three-game series not so much a baseball game, but a definitive determination of where the most successful entries in Metropolitan Top 2 ranked.

Which I did, in light of prevailing circumstances.

With the possible exception of Bob Murphy’s, no voice that flowed through a radio speaker ever meant more to me than Casey Kasem’s. On Sunday morning, almost ten years after I learned — from listening to the radio, naturally — that Murph had passed at the age of 79, I was tuned into to SiriusXM’s weekly reairing of a vintage American Top 40 countdown (from this week in 1972, when Sammy Davis, Jr.’s “Candy Man” dislodged “I’ll Take You There” by the Staple Singers at the head of the Billboard chart), only to have it interrupted to inform me Kasem, 82, had died after a long illness [2].

Like Murph, Casey would warmly tell me about my favorite stuff in the world without a trace of overbearing judgment. They both got me terribly excited to hear what was about to come next, whether it was Frankie Taveras [3] taking off for second on a three-two count or Franke & The Knockouts [4] moving up five notches to No. 23. Whereas I had a rooting interest in whether the Mets placed first or second in any given game, I was more absorbed by the action on AT40 than I was its ultimate outcome. I wanted to know which single had debuted higher than any other this week; how many “foreign-born acts” we’d hear from today, including the two-man, two-woman group from Sweden that won the Eurovision Song Contest, ABBA; and whether Casey would be moved to read from the “AT40 Book of Records,” the all-time stats to which he’d go on behalf of the latest smash hit from the Bee Gees or Elton John the way Bob might reference Ty Cobb [5] or Maury Wills [6] when Lou Brock [7] stepped to the plate.

I loved when we reached the Top 10, the Top 5, the pause to learn what was on top of Billboard’s “other charts” (Soul, Country, Album), and whether the most popular song in the land was the same as last week or — with a drumroll — we as a nation had a New No. 1 Song.

Three hours with American Top 40, Casey promised, and we’d find out where our favorite songs stood on the “national music scene”. It should have been enough to hear our favorite songs and songs we might decide would be our favorites soon. I wasn’t on any national scene. I was in my bedroom on a Sunday morning, sitting with a notebook and a pencil taking it all down, taking it all in. Yet thanks to Casey, I was brought to the foot of a stage bigger than I’d otherwise imagine, discovering that the same songs I liked were liked by a lot of others. I somehow managed to have “popular” tastes, which felt extraordinarily validating when I was 10, 11, 12 and so on [8].

I understand how some fans of some artists grow disdainful when others who didn’t love “their” music when it first came along squeeze into what felt like an exclusive club. For them, not being alone [9] in their tastes anymore somehow makes experiencing the music less special. I was the opposite. I loved knowing that what I loved was loved by others. I loved learning that my favorite song of a given moment was the favorite song of the whole USA. I loved knowing that if I ever found myself in any of those towns in Minnesota or Oregon or Singapore whose AT40-affiliate call letters Casey shared, there existed an excellent chance that I would hear Paper Lace or Pilot or Maxine Nightingale, just like I would at home.

Casey Kasem made listening to the radio by oneself an inclusive act. Through the expertly detailed counting down, the detours into historical AT40 Extras and, yes, the Long-Distance Dedications [10] (even the ones that went infamously awry [11]), American Top 40 was for everybody. When it was over, my spot along the national music scene was secure for another week. Then, not long after Casey’d sign off with his sage advice about keeping my feet on the ground while I kept reaching for the stars, I might switch from the Non-Stop Music of 102 WPIX-FM (or later 99X) to 1050 WHN (or later 1130 WNEW or later still 570 WMCA) and hear Bob Murphy bring me the starting lineups of the Mets and their opponents. That was for everybody, too.

Not a bad block of Sunday programming.