Keep your feet on the ground, and keep reaching for the stars.American Top 40
is a weekly, long-running
(1970-present, with a three-year hiatus in The Nineties
) syndicated radio program, originally hosted by Casey Kasem
and currently hosted by Ryan Seacrest
, which counts down the forty most popular
radio songs in the United States.
In addition to playing the week's most popular songs, AT40
frequently included various extra segments. Perhaps most famous among these was Kasem's "Long Distance Dedication": a write-in request from a listener for a particular song, always sentimental in nature, typically directed at a person the listener had not seen in a considerable amount of time (such as a long-distance romantic couple, wife to overseas-based military husband, someone's birth parent on the other side of the country, etc). These particular segments were probably best remembered for the almost narmish
tone with which Kasem would read the requests on air.
In 1988, Kasem left the show and was replaced by Shadoe Stevens
. The change, as well as an altered format, went over poorly, and AT40
was eventually cancelled in 1995. Kasem, though, had in the meantime started up a rival program
, Casey's Top 40
, and eventually managed to acquire the rights to the American Top 40
title, and the show was Un-Cancelled
in 1998. Kasem subsequently retired from the program in 2004; Ryan Seacrest took over hosting duties and helms AT40
to this day, though on an especially busy week for the host/producer/cable network owner/''Today Show'' contributor
, a guest host (usually a top-charting artist) will do the show for Seacrest instead.
Song-ranking data was originally derived from Billboard
Magazine's "Hot 100" pop/rock singles chart before switching over to Radio and Records
(which Kasem had used in his competing program) in 1998. Currently, songs are ranked by data from Mediabase.
In the mid-1980s, American Top 40
also had a Music Video
equivalent: America's Top 10
, which was basically the last hour of the radio program — that is, the ten most popular songs on the Billboard
chart — translated to television, using clips from the songs' videos, natch. Other similar programs have included:
- Weekly Top 40, hosted by radio personality Rick Dees;
- Casey's Top 40, hosted by Kasem himself when he left AT40 in 1988;
- MTV's (later VH1's) Top 20 Video Countdown.
Reruns of the program, mostly from the mid and late '70s, are syndicated weekly on "oldies" stations, typically late Saturday night or early Sunday morning.
American Top 40 provides examples of:
- Bowdlerization: Chuck Berry's "My Ding-A-Ling" was replaced with a different song in several markets when it reached #1 in 1972, and reruns of those weeks' programs have featured a different song in the #1 position in certain markets.
- To clarify, the show itself never cut any songs because of content concerns, but allowed local stations to do so if they wanted. They also occasionally created their own in-house edited versions of songs, for content or time purposes (or both, sometimes). Most infamously, they edited "Mind Playing Tricks on Me" by The Geto Boys down to a little over one minute.
- Catch Phrase: "Keep your feet on the ground, and keep reaching for the stars!" in the Kasem years.
- Dramatic Timpani: A drumroll was used before Kasem announced the week's No. 1 song. A longer one was used on year-end programs, before revealing the year's No. 1 song.
- The Eighties: When the show was arguably at the height of its power, although it actually started in The Seventies.
- Long List / Top Ten List: Forty songs, plus a couple of extras, in four hours (originally three).
- Long Runner: The program debuted in 1970 and has been going strong ever since. Well, except for that hiatus in the mid-1990s.
- Montages: A staple of the year-end programs during the 1970s (1974-1978), and then again sporadically in the 1980s; this was simply the No. 1 songs during the past year, often in chronological order. Casey would tease that somewhere included was the No. 1 song of the year – except for 1975, when not only were the songs not necessarily in order, but the year's top song (Captain and Tennille's "Love Will Keep Us Together") was not included, which Kasem pointed out shortly before playing the song.
- Nothing But Hits: The entire premise of the program. Averted in hindsight by the syndicated reruns, featuring hit songs of their day which have been all but forgotten by now.
- Previously On: Starting in February 1979, Kasem played back the top 3 songs from the previous week's show to lead off the countdown. This segment eventually would be shortened to feature just the No. 1 song of last week, and by the end of Kasem's original run (in 1988) and on into the Shadoe Stevens-era, the host would simply announce the songs at and near the top of the charts before beginning the show.
- Quietly Performing Sister Show: American Country Countdown is radio's longest-running, continuously produced syndicated program, outlasting AT40 (whose current run dates from 1998, the year it returned from a three-year hiatus).
- Rearrange the Song: Some songs would be cut in half to control the show's running time; this typically happened to songs that were on their way down the charts.
- Spin-Off: American Country Countdown, a country music-version of AT40 that premiered in 1973 and is still going strong today. The current host is Kix Brooks (one half of the long-running duo Brooks & Dunn); before him were original host Don Bowman (who once guest-hosted AT40) and later, Bob Kingsley (the host at the height of ACC's run).
- What Happened to the Mouse? and Chuck Cunningham Syndrome: An occasional feature was "Whatever Happened To ... ?" where Casey would profile a one-hit wonder, or early prolific star of the rock era who suddenly disappeared off the charts, quit recording, etc. Casey would simply explain what said artist (or group, as appropriately) had been doing in recent years, if they were involved with current projects, and so forth.
- One of the most popular "Whatever Happened To ... ?" stories was of The Singing Nun, a Belgian singer christened Jeanine Deckers who recorded the French language-recorded "Dominque" and had a huge No. 1 hit in the United States in late 1963. Casey's stories on Deckers would always explain that The Singing Nun gave all royalties to the convent but later left the Catholic church in the late 1960s, and later the Belgian government made a claim for back taxes to the tune of $63,000 ... more than Deckers could afford, and no documentation existed that she had donated anything to charity. (The common stories are that her attorney failed to document it and/or that the Catholic church had either destroyed all records of it after they and Deckers broke ties, or that they simply did not have any more responsibility for her and did not have the funds.) Updated several times through the years, the final chapter came in 1985 when Casey announced that Deckers had died (of suicide) at age 51.
- Two entire specials were based on the What Happened to the Mouse? concept – one in July 1973 and the other in April 1975 – where Casey played the biggest singles by one-hit wonders during the rock era. The 1975 special had a slightly different chart, with a few different songs added and a different No. 1 song.
- Whole Episode Flashback: A 1975 episode, celebrating the show's fifth anniversary, was a rebroadcast of the very first AT40 from July 4, 1970. The only difference was Kasem occasionally inserting a bumper reminding listeners that this was indeed a program from 1970, and pre- and post-show remarks.