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The AT40 logo used from 1984-1995.
"Radio plays 'em, record stores sell 'em, Billboard ranks 'em, and AT40 counts 'em down."

American Top 40 is a weekly, long-running (1970-1995, Un-Cancelled in 1998) syndicated radio program, originally hosted by Casey Kasem and currently hosted by Ryan Seacrest, which counts down the forty most popular radio songs (of the week) 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 best remembered for the emotional 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 for the Westwood One radio network, 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.note 

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, combined with results of listeners voting for their favorite songs online.

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 beginning in January 1989;
  • MTV's (later VH1's) Top 20 Video Countdown.
  • A short-lived Canadian equivalent called Canadian Top 40 existed during the 1970s and followed the AT40 formatics to the letter, but it appears it didn't catch on. In fact, AT40 itself was heard on a number of Canadian radio stations.
  • Casey's Countdown and Casey's Hot 20 (later American Top 20/American Top 10), spinoffs of Casey's Top 40 for adult contemporary radio stations.
  • The 1980s in particular brought a glut of similar countdown shows intended for CHR and/or adult-contemporary stations, including Weekly Top 30 (from radio program syndicator Drake-Chenault), John Leader's Countdown America, The 40 Satellite Survey hosted by legendary New York radio personality Dan Ingram, and Dick Clark's U.S. Music Survey.

Apart from first-run airings with Seacrest, Kasem-era reruns of the program, Casey Kasem's American Top 40: The '70s/'80s, are also syndicated weekly.

Now, on with the countdown.

"The tropes from coast to cooooooast!":

  • Audience Participation: You can vote for your favorite song at the show's official website; the results will be factored into the countdown.
    • The "Long Distance Dedication" was added in 1978 to make the show more interactive.
    • Casey also often answered listener questions on the air about certain chart factoids - for example, which artist had the most million-selling singles; the highest-debuting song in chart history; and so on.
  • 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 removed any songs from the countdown 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 Geto Boys down to a little over one minute. The popularity of records such as that was likely a big reason why AT40 eventually switched from the Billboard Hot 100 to a Billboard airplay-only chart in early 1992, since controversial rap records typically didn't get enough pop airplay to appear on airplay-only charts. (For what it's worth, rap records like "Mind Playing Tricks on Me" and "Me So Horny" never were played by Casey Kasem himself as they didn't appear on the Radio and Records chart that formed the basis of Casey's Top 40.)
    • For the majority of its run on the show, Kasem didn't announce the title of George Michael's "I Want Your Sex" (though it's unclear whether this was because of a personal objection on his part or a corporate mandate from ABC. He did announce it the first couple weeks as well as when it fell out of the Top 40, and during the year-end countdown for 1987).
    • The show also never played "Cocaine" by Eric Clapton, even though Billboard listed it along with its A-side, "Tulsa Time", and Casey only mentioned "Cocaine" the first week "Tulsa Time" appeared on the show.
  • Catch-Phrase:
    • Casey Kasem's well-known sign-off during his years as host: "Keep your feet on the ground, and keep reaching for the stars!"
      • Occasionally (and, on Casey's Top 40 and Kasem's other shows for Westwood One/AMFM, always) followed by "...And keep your radio tuned right where it is."
    • "AT40 originates in Hollywood", or a variation.
    • "I'm Casey Kasem." A variation, "This is Casey on American Top 40", appeared sporadically.
    • "And the countdown continues/rolls on."
    • "We're counting down to... [insert tease about song or artist]. Details coming up!!"
    • "Radio plays 'em, record stores sell 'em, Billboard ranks 'em, and AT40 counts 'em down."
      • Or on Casey's Top 40: "Radio plays 'em, Radio and Records ranks 'em, and we count 'em down on Casey's Top 40."
    • "Up ___ big notches to number ___."
    • "Every week, American Top 40 is heard in the 50 states and around the world [or "coast to coast and around the world"] on great radio stations like...*[lists 3 or 4 affiliate stations]*"
      • A few variations were used on Casey's Top 40 such as: "Wherever you are and wherever you go, you can hear Casey's Top 40 every week on great radio stations like..."
    • "Once a week on AT40 [or Casey's Top 40, Hot 20 etc.] and you know how your favorite songs are doing on the national music scene, like the latest hit by ____..." followed by a description of the song's chart movement.
    • Often used as an intro to the final hour of the show: "We're headin' into the home stretch now on American Top 40, counting down the most popular songs in the U.S.A. and getting closer and closer to No. 1."
    • "Now as we continue with our countdown of the 40 biggest hits in the U.S.A., I'd like to welcome ___new stations to the AT 40 family...*lists new affiliates*"
    • "___ songs debuted this week on AT40, so that means ___ songs fell out to make room for them. The droppers are... [lists titles and artists of the songs that fell out of the countdown, or, if there were a lot of debuts, sometimes only the titles]. Those songs fell out of the countdown. Now we're up to another debut..."
      • Listing the "droppers" from that week's countdown became a regular part of the show in late 1983; prior to that, Kasem would usually mention how many debuts there were but not the songs that fell out. The practice of listing the "droppers" continued on into Casey's Top 40 and the second generation of AT40 although Kasem usually listed only the titles of the deleted songs by then and not the artists.
    • (Before responding to a listener submitted question) "A listener from __listener's location__ wants to know . . ."
    • (After responding to a listener submitted question) "There's your answer. Thanks for writing in. Now on with the countdown!"
  • Commercial Break Cliffhanger: Virtually every extended artist story or listener question read by Casey was preceded with a briefer description before the segment, ending the description with "Details coming up!". After a commercial break and another song, Casey would then provide the full segment.
  • 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.
  • Early Installment Weirdness: America's Top 10 started out as a faux newscast, with Casey sitting behind an anchor desk in a suit. After a few shows they switched to a more relaxed style with a sweater-clad Kasem sitting cross-legged in a chair or standing by a monitor.
  • The '80s: When the show was arguably at the height of its power, although it actually started in The '70s.
  • Every Episode Ending:
    Casey Kasem: And there you have 'em, the 40 biggest hits in the U.S.A., according to Billboard magazine for the week ending [insert issue date].
    • Casey Kasem always ended his episodes saying "Keep your feet on the ground, and keep reaching for the stars." For a brief time in the late-'70s and early-'80s, he would add "...and keep your radio tuned right here", to help keep listeners loyal to the station airing AT40.
      • Casey also used a variation of this phrase to sign off every episode of Casey's Top 40, which premiered in 1989, a practice which carried over to his adult-contemporary countdown shows for Westwood One/AMFM.
    • A typical Casey's Top 40 ending from the 1990s:
    Casey: And there you have 'em, the 40 biggest hits on the pop chart according to Radio and Records, the industry's number one newspaper. [Gives mailing address for listeners wishing to send in questions or Requests and Dedications] This program is a presentation of the Westwood One Radio Networks... [lists program staff]. I'm Casey Kasem. Until next week, when once again we'll count down the 40 biggest hits in the U.S.A., keep your feet on the ground and keep reaching for the stars, and leave your dial tuned right where it is.
    • Shadoe Stevens always ended his episodes with "So until we meet again, this is your best friend, D'Shadoe. Bye bye out there."
  • Invincible Hero: In certain eras when a new song by certain artists debuted you could count on it eventually hitting the Top 5 if not #1, particularly if the song happened to debut on the Hot 100 within the Top 40, which, unlike today, was unusual in the '70s and '80s. Even if you liked the song you had to hunker down and get ready to hear it every single week for the next few months . Good examples are anything by the Gibb brothers in the late 70s or Michael Jackson in the 80s.
    • Averted with songs that entered the Hot 100 within the Top 40 and ultimately failed to even reach the top 10, such as "It's Raining Again" by Supertramp and "All Right" by Christopher Cross, both within a few months of each other in 1982-83.
    • The highest debuting song in AT40 history came when "Erotica" by Madonna entered the chart at No. 2 in 1992 (the show was using the Billboard Hot 100 Airplay chart by that time, not the Hot 100 itself). It was also a partial aversion of this trope, as it began dropping down the survey almost immediately.
  • Long List / Top Ten List: Forty songs, plus a couple of extras, in four hours (originally three).
    • Year-end countdowns were usually even longer, usually (but not always) stretching to 100 songs, even with the lack of extras and with many of the songs edited for time constraints (year-end shows were typically presented in two four-hour sweeps with 50 songs each).
  • 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.
  • New Year Has Come: The special year-end "Top 100" countdowns, spotlighting the top 100 songs of the year. An abbreviated countdown of 40 songs was introduced in 2010 and extended to 50 tracks in 2016.
    • AT40 actually didn't feature a year-end Top 100 survey until 1974, as the year-end countdowns during the early years of the show were either a Top 40 (1971 and 1973) or a Top 80 (1970 and 1972).
      • Often the show would also compile its own Top 100 list rather than use the one prepared by Billboard. Billboard counted a song's entire chart life on the top 100, resulting in some surprisingly high year-end rankings for songs like Moving Pictures' No. 29 hit "What About Me?" which spent a long time on the top 100 though not a long time in the top 40. AT40 eliminated the confusion by taking only the single's chart life within the top 40 into account.
    • Other exceptions came at the end of a decade: the year-end survey for 1979 was a Top 50 so that the show could make room for a special countdown of the Top 50 hits of the 1970s. Similarly, Casey's Top 40 kept 1989's year-end list to a Top 40 and then offered a countdown of the Top 40 number-one songs of the 1980s (from the Radio and Records chart, not Billboard's).
  • Nothing but Hits: The entire premise of the program. Averted in hindsight by the syndicated reruns, featuring hit songs of their day which have long since dropped off the charts.
    • The Long Distance Dedications were usually songs that had been Top 40 hits, but there were a few exceptions (typically ones with very dramatic stories).
  • Opening Narration: Many of Kasem's shows during the 1970-88 AT40 era featured some variation of the following:
    Casey Kasem: Hello again, everybody, and welcome to American Top 40. My name's Casey Kasem, and I'm all set to count down the 40 biggest hits in the U.S.A. According to the official Billboard survey, these are the records that you're buying and radio stations are playing all over America this week. So let's warm up with our recap of last week's Top Three...
    • Casey's Top 40 version:
    Casey Kasem: Hello again, everybody, and welcome to Casey's Top 40. My name's Casey Kasem, and I'm all set to count down the 40 biggest hits on the pop chart. Our rankings come from the official survey of radio stations from coast to coast; the survey is conducted by Radio and Records, the industry's number one newspaper. Well, we have ___ debuts, including the latest hits by ____ and ____. But before we start countin' 'em down to No. 1, let's take a look at the songs that topped the chart last week. At number three, ____ by ____. At number two, _____ with _____. And at number one last week, ____ by ____. Now ____'s going for a ____ big week at number one; can he/she/they make it? Only one way to find out - let the countdown begin!
  • 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 was Un-Cancelled after its first run ended in 1995).
  • 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. Songs that weren't typically played on the Top 40 radio format despite being in the literal Top 40 (for a variety of reasons, such as being too heavy) also received this treatment on the show, including Metallica's "Enter Sandman" and Nirvana's "Smells Like Teen Spirit". This practice decreased as the 90s went on and as the show switched to airplay-only charts, and songs like Soundgarden's "Black Hole Sun" were played in their normal radio edits.
  • Series Continuity Error: When "With a Little Luck" by Wings debuted at #17 in 1978, Casey said it was the highest debut in the show's history. Oops! Several songs had already debuted at a higher position, and the record holder was actually "Theme From Shaft" by Isaac Hayes, which debuted at #9 in 1971.
    • On occasion listeners wrote with corrections to erroneous information given on the show, and the corrections were often read on the air by Casey.
  • Shout-Out: Casey gave one to his own Scooby Doo Where Are You character on one show, giving part of the introduction to one song in his "Shaggy" voice.
  • Something Completely Different: The special countdown episodes were still countdowns, but the two "Book of Records" specials (1980 and 1989) dropped the countdown format entirely.
  • 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).
    • Casey's Countdown (premiered 1992, originally 25 songs long and later shortened to 20), later renamed to American Top 20 (simultaneously with the return of AT40 in 1998), even later renamed to American Top 10 (with the "bottom 10" replaced by more extras). Hosted by Casey, all three programs were essentially American Top 40 for the Adult Contemporary market - or more accurately, Casey's Top 40 for the AC market, since they also used Radio and Records charts.
    • There was also Casey's Hot 20 (premiered 1994) for "hot adult contemporary" or "adult top 40" radio stations, which was *also* renamed to "American Top 20", although the two AT20s remained distinct shows based on different charts.
      • Even after relinquishing AT40 hosting duties to Seacrest, Kasem continued hosting the AC countdown shows until his retirement in 2009.
    • Previously, a similar program, America's Top 10 (also hosted by Casey), had aired from 1980 to 1992; unlike the former shows, AT10 was a music video showcase and aired on television.
  • Spiritual Successor: Casey's Top 40, created the year after Casey left AT40 and running from 1989-1998. The program even used the "Casey's Coast to Coast!" bumper that had been present in AT40. The biggest difference was the use of an airplay-only chart from Radio and Records magazine rather than the Billboard Hot 100.
    • Casey even referred to his new show as CT40 (no relation to the current Country Top 40 country-music countdown show hosted by Bob Kingsley, the original host of AT40 sister show American Country Countdown) during its first few months on the air, which quickly drew the ire of AT40 distributor ABC/Watermark, who sued Westwood One to stop this practice.
  • Third-Person Person: Especially in promos, Shadoe Stevens would often refer to himself by his nickname, "D'Shadoe".
  • Vocal Evolution: Casey's vocal tone shifted several times over the years, which he later acknowledged, though he said it wasn't intentional. In the first few years he had a laid-back, vaguely hipster-ish style, then shifted to a warmer, more friendly approach. His late 70s/early 80s persona has been called "Disco Casey": slick, energetic and enthusiastic. After that he settled into a more avuncular and authoritative style.
    • The number call-outsnote  would follow something similar, switching from a full choir-type early on. To a more youthful, five-voice group alternating with a (newly recorded) seven-voice choir, depending on the tempo of the song. The Shadoe run further changed them to accommodate a more hip hop style.
    • The musical styles of the show's jingles and theme music also changed over the years. The program's theme music during the late 1970s and early 1980s (all the way up to the end of 1983) was a disco piece called "Shuckatoom." A completely new jingle package was introduced in 1984 which featured a more synth-pop style more in keeping with the hits of the day. The next year saw another rearrangement of the theme song, along with new jingles added to the pre-existing 1984 package. New packages debuted in 1987 and 1989, and the familiar theme was rearranged for the last time in 1992.
      • The early Casey's Top 40 jingles were not dissimilar to the mid-1980s AT40 package, but eventually the show added more jingles with a hip-hop/dance or alternative-rock flavor. Casey's Hot 20 used the same jingle package as Casey's Top 40, but the jingles on Casey's Countdown were softer and more subdued, as befitting the adult contemporary format. The resurrected AT40 and its accompanying AC shows all used a similar-sounding music package to CT40/20 until Ryan Seacrest took over, though Kasem's other shows continued to use the package, with occasional updates, until his retirement in 2009.
  • 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.
      • With one of the "Whatever Happened To ..." artists profiled in the original 1973 special, that artist was deleted from the 1975 updated special. It seemed that Janis Ian, whose 1967 hit "Society's Child" was played for the 1973 show, had just released a new single, "At Seventeen," and although it had yet to make the Hot 100, there were already strong vibes about the song. (It also didn't hurt that Janis Ian had appeared on the LP and adult-contemporary singles charts in the years since "Society's Child.") The good feeling was justified: The song became a long-running hit in the summer of '75, eventually peaking at No. 3.
  • 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.
  • Writing Around Trademarks: When Kasem started Casey's Top 40 he was able use the same segments that he'd done on AT40 but he couldn't use the same names. So for example, the "Long Distance Dedication" became the "Request & Dedication" (introduced with an instrumental jingle, a new feature on the new show).
    • Also, Kasem often referred to the show as CT40 in the early years, which sounded a bit too close to "AT40" and was eventually done away with.
  • Younger and Hipper: There was a major overhaul in this direction after Shadoe Stevens replaced Casey Kasem.

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