American Top 40
(commonly abbreviated to AT40
) is an internationally-syndicated
, independent radio program
created by Casey Kasem
and Don Bustany
. Originally a production of Watermark Inc.
(later a division of ABC Radio
), it is now distributed by Premiere Radio Networks
in the United States
, New Zealand
, the Philippines
, the United Kingdom
, and several other territories worldwide.
Co-creator Casey Kasem hosted the series from its inauguration on July 4, 1970 until August 6, 1988, and again from March 28, 1998 to January 3, 2004. Its other two regular hosts have been Shadoe Stevens (1988-1995) and American Idol's Ryan Seacrest (since 2004). Over 50 celebrities—among them radio personalities, game show hosts, and even charting artists—have substituted for these three throughout the show's run. Radio announcer Charlie Van Dyke filled in for Casey a record 31 times in the 1980s.
As its title implies, AT40 counts down, the forty most popular songs in the U.S., from #40 to #1. The show used Billboard charts in its early years, then switched to those from Radio and Records upon its late 1990s return. The charts on Seacrest's version are based on request data from Mediabase, and affiliates carrying the series.
1970-1988: First Casey Kasem era
American Top 40 began on the Independence Day weekend in 1970, on seven radio stations. It was originally distributed by Watermark Inc., and was first presented in mono until it started recording in stereo in September 1972. In early 1982, Watermark was purchased by ABC Radio and AT40 became a program of the "ABC Contemporary Radio Network". The program was hosted by Casey Kasem and co-created by Kasem; Don Bustany; Tom Rounds; and legendary 93/KHJ Program Director Ron Jacobs, who produced and directed the various production elements. Rounds was also the marketing genius; the initial funder was California strawberry grower Tom Driscoll.
The show began as a three hour program written and directed by Bustany, counting down the top 40 songs on Billboard's Hot 100 Singles chart. The show quickly gained popularity once it was commissioned, and expanded to a four hour program on October 7, 1978, to reflect the increasing average length of singles on Billboard's Hot 100 chart. The producing staff expanded to eight people, some of them still in the business: Nikki Wine, Ben Marichal, Scott Paton, Matt Wilson, Merrill Shindler, Guy Aoki, Ronnie Allen and Sandy Stert Benjamin. (Bustany retired from AT40 in 1989; since 1994, he has hosted a political talk show on listener-sponsored KPFK.) By the early 1980s, the show could be heard on 520 stations in the United States and around the world in 50 countries.
Features of the Kasem-era shows
During Kasem's run as host, the AT40 show had a number of popular and distinguishing features:
- Bios & stories: Most segments of the show included two countdown songs. Often Kasem would introduce the second song in the segment with a "story" about the song and/or its recording artist. Here is an example from the week of October 8, 1983:
- Stunning achievement for 33-year-old New York born Jim Steinman. Jim was writing musicals when he was going to Amherst College in Massachusetts. But not just your basic rock & roll tunes, but words and music for a full-blown musical called the Dream Engine. That show was seen by a man who heads up the New York Shakespeare Festival Joseph Papp and he was so impressed, that he bought the rights to it and commissioned Jim Steinman to write another musical. Jim came up with a show called More Than You Deserve. And it was at auditions for that show, that he met a singer calling himself Meat Loaf. The two men started working together and that collaboration resulted in Jim's writing and arranging songs for Meat Loaf, including the big hit "Two out of Three Ain't Bad". In 1981 Jim Steinman released his first solo album Bad for Good. It featured the Top 40 hit "Rock and Roll Dreams Come Through". But so far it seems as though the thing that Jim Steinman does best, is write and arrange songs for other artists. And his latest productions are his biggest yet: The number 2 and the number 1 song this week. Probably first time on the chart for one individual. We just heard the number 2 song he wrote and produced for Air Supply, "Making Love out of Nothing at All". Now here is the other one, the one at the very top. (drumroll) The most popular song in the land, for the second consecutive week is a hit written and produced by Jim Steinman. At number 1 Bonnie Tyler's "Total Eclipse of the Heart."
- "Number" jingles: Occasionally a song would be preceded by a brief audio clip of a group of singers announcing the song's position on the chart (e.g. "Number 40!"). This was especially common for the first song played in each hour of the show, but was usually not done for the #1 song (which was usually introduced with a drum roll), or for songs preceded by a story. The "number" jingles were updated and re-recorded from time to time, and by the mid-1980s the show had begun using two sets of "number" jingles: the standard set, to be used with up-tempo songs; and a softer alternate set, usually used with low-key or romantic songs.
- Chart trivia: AT40 also featured several question letters in each show, where a listener would write to ask a chart trivia question. Sometimes these letters led to an extra song being played, though this became less common as songs increased in length in the 1980s.
- Long Distance Dedication: This feature had evolved from a spoken-word 45 single that Kasem had recorded in 1964, "Letter from Elaina". The LDD feature began in August 1978, two months before the show expanded to four hours (the first LDD was "Desiree" by Neil Diamond). Most shows featured two long distance dedications; one would be taken care of during each half of the show. (Sometimes a song currently in the countdown would also be requested as a LDD; in such cases, Kasem would typically read the dedication first, and sometimes not even announce the song's chart status until after the song was played.) This feature endured on AT40 into Shadoe Stevens' run as host of the show, from 1988 to '95, and has also followed Casey (first as the "Request and Dedication") on his Westwood One shows and then back as the LDD when he returned to AT40 in 1998.
- Top Three recaps: Beginning the weekend of February 24-25, 1979, a recap of the previous week's top three songs started off each AT40 episode. Originally all three songs would actually be played before the countdown began in earnest, but when time constraints became an issue, Kasem would simply announce the #3 and perhaps #2 songs and play only the #1 song; or just announce all three songs before beginning the current week's countdown. By mid-1983, abbreviated recaps had become the norm.
- Dropoffs: Generally during the first hour on most shows, Casey would announce songs that had left the top 40 that week.
- #1's on other Billboard charts: Casey would give a rundown on songs and albums that have made #1 on other Billboard charts. These would typically be announced during the Top 10, often before the #1 song on AT40.
- Predicting next week's #1 song: For a time in 1973, Casey would try to predict what the #1 song would be on the following week's countdown.
- Great Radio Stations: Once an hour, generally halfway into the hour, Casey would give a list of three or four radio stations that carry AT40, beginning each list with "American Top 40" is heard in the fifty states and around the world every week on great radio stations like.... Usually at least once a program, a foreign AT40 affiliate, or a mention of Armed Forces Radio, is given, usually as the last station in the list. In addition, new AT40 affiliates are mentioned at the top of one of the hours (never the first hour).
- Special Reports: Occasionally, Casey would do a special report on a particular subject involving the music industry, usually related to a particular song or artist on that week's countdown. For example, when Musical Youth were in the countdown in 1983, Casey did a report on the history of reggae music.
- Whatever happened to...: Casey would periodically do a segment giving an update on an artist who hasn't been on the charts for some time.
- AT40 Archives: Also in 1978 after the show expanded to four hours, each of the first three hours ended with the "AT40 Archives" segment that featured a number one song of the past. From October 1978 to June 1980 the number one songs of the 1970s were featured in the "AT40 Archives", and from June 1980 to November 1981 the number one songs of the 1960s were featured. The "AT40 Archives" feature was gone by the end of November 1981; for a short time in 1985, however, the show did feature a segment known as the "AT40 Hall of Fame" spotlighting a noteworthy artist (who may or may not have been charting that week).
- Commercial bumpers: Many commercial breaks generally have a singing jingle at the start and end of the breaks. At the start of each break is generally the singers singing either "Casey's coast to coast" or "The hits from coast to coast"; both were used interchangeably. The end of the breaks are marked by the singers singing the name of the program, "American Top 40".
- Bumper music: The end of each hour's worth of programming would typically be indicated by an approximately one-minute-long piece of nondescript bumper music. For the first few years of the program, the bumper music was merely the AT40 theme, but beginning in 1978, different pieces began to be used. One of the more notable pieces of bumper music, used from November 1975 to January 1984, was titled "Shuckatoom Theme from American Top 40" on the cue sheets (but never named on the air), composed by TM Productions' Jim Kirk (and published by Watermark's Markwater Music, a BMI affiliate). The "Shuckatoom" was spoken by jingle singers at a break towards the end of the song, which in its entirety ran for approximately 2:30, according to the cue sheet. Like the "number" jingles and the AT40 theme music, this musical segment was occasionally updated and re-recorded, but its only distinguishing feature was the occasional use of the AT40 theme as a leitmotif. This bumper music was typically and often cut off before it ended by the local station carrying the program, usually to give the station identification before starting the next hour, and was also used by stations to "pad out" the show so that it would always end on time.
- Sign-off: After the #1 song was played, the bumper music would begin playing, and over that, Kasem would typically give that week's chart date and read the end credits, then sign off with what would become his, and the show's, unofficial motto: "Keep your feet on the ground, and keep reaching for the stars." In the early years of the show, he usually added "and keep your radio tuned right where it is"; this phrase had returned to the show by the time the AT40 brand name was revived in the late 1990s (Kasem had used it also on "Casey's Top 40" and its Adult Contemporary-format spinoffs).
Although the show's format obviously implied an average of ten countdown songs per hour (once the show had gone to a four-hour format), this was not rigidly enforced; however, by the mid-1980s it had become increasingly rare for the final hour of the show to have any more than the top eleven or any fewer than the top nine songs left to play. The songs' run times determined how many would comfortably fit into each hour. The show bent to fit the Billboard rankings which, to many listeners, were sacred, and some songs had to be edited (in addition to whatever edits had been done for single release), with a verse and/or chorus chopped out, in order to fit into the show. But Casey and his producers never lost sight of the fact that the same music was being played on other stations everywhere, and that the stories behind the songs were the chief reason that listeners tuned to AT40.
1988-1995: Shadoe Stevens era
In 1988, Kasem left the show due to contract concerns with ABC. Industry trade paper Billboard
magazine reported that the main disputes between Kasem and Watermark/ABC were over his salary, because of declining ratings and a smaller group of stations airing the show. Casey's final AT40 show aired on August 6
. At no point during that final show did Kasem ever let on that any changes were afoot, and simply omitted the phrase "join me next week" while closing the show.
Kasem was replaced by Shadoe Stevens, whose first American Top 40 show aired on August 13, 1988, on 1,014 stations. Kasem joined the Westwood One radio network less than a year later to start a rival show, Casey's Top 40. Many AT40 listeners were upset by Kasem's departure and, as a result, many stations dropped American Top 40 in favor of Casey's Top 40 once it hit the airwaves on January 21, 1989. In an attempt to win back an audience, several new show features were tried. These included interview clips, music news, top 5 flashbacks, and previews of upcoming chart hits (called the "AT40 Sneek Peek).
Casey's Top 40 was based on the Contemporary Hit Radio/Pop tracks chart in Radio & Records magazine, which at the time was the same chart source as Rick Dees' Weekly Top 40. American Top 40 was briefly canceled in the USA on July 9, 1994, when then-owner ABC withdrew the show and acquired the rights to rival Rick Dees Weekly Top 40. The show ended up in the hands of Radio Express (its overseas distributors since the 1980s), and was also canceled in the remaining foreign markets on January 28, 1995. These foreign markets replaced it with a similar format called The World Chart Show, originally hosted by Joe Cipriano and Adrienne Walker. (That show is still broadcast as of , with Lara Scott as host.)
1998-2003: American Top 40 returns; second Casey Kasem era
American Top 40
was revived on March 28
, when original host Casey Kasem pitched the idea to his network Westwood One
to rename "Casey's Top 40" as "American Top 40", after getting the rights to the name from ABC, since Shadoe's AT40 had been off the air for over two years. Westwood One
refused, so Kasem took himself and the AT40 name to AMFM Radio syndication (AMFM, once owned by Chancellor Media
, was later absorbed into Premiere Radio Networks
The resurrected American Top 40 kept the Radio and Records CHR/Pop chart previously used for "Casey's Top 40" and was used as the basis for the show for the majority of this period. The only exception was a brief period from October 2000 to August 2001 when an obscure Mediabase chart was used. This chart had a rather ambiguous recurrent rule, which would see songs removed weekly from the chart from as high as #10.
2004-present: Ryan Seacrest
On January 10
, Ryan Seacrest
took over the hosting duties of American Top 40
from Kasem, although Kasem would continue to host American Top 20
and American Top 10
. With the host change, AT40
underwent a makeover, using a new theme song and introducing several new features. These extras included playing the previous week's #1 song at the beginning of the show (although that was later discontinued), a gossip section, and an update on movies screening in cinemas. Other extras inducted on a regular basis include "AT40 Breakout", a song predicted to crack the chart within the next few weeks (formerly known as the "Out of The Box" hit); "Request Line", a segment in which Ryan Seacrest will play a song requested by a listener; "Double Play", a former hit from the artist just played; "AT40 Sleaze" (inspired by the "Dees Sleaze" segment of the Rick Dees Weekly Top 40
radio show); and "AT40 Rewind", a hit song from the past decade or so. In between songs, Seacrest and guest hosts often makes deadpan one-liners while writers and producers can be heard laughing frequently.
The show also began using a new chart that used no recurrent rule. On the first show with Ryan Seacrest, this led to several older songs reappearing after having dropped off many weeks earlier. Over the long term, it meant songs could spend long runs for about a year on the chart even after they went to recurrent status on other published charts. "Here Without You" by 3 Doors Down set a longevity record in 2004 for the show by lasting 50 weeks before finally falling off. In 2006, "Scars" by Papa Roach would go on to tie the record. American Top 40 also became more interactive, involving online song voting and e-mail. In December 2006, the series' website was revamped, and the online song voting was discontinued. However listeners can vote on the AT40 breakout songs via ratethemusic.com
Due to schedule reasons, some songs are shortened by removing some verses and the bridge.
As of , American Top 40 is produced and engineered by Claudine Cazian and Sal Cocio. There are two versions of American Top 40 with Ryan Seacrest: one for CHR/Pop stations, and another for Hot AC stations. The Seacrest incarnation is heard on over 400 radio stations worldwide , most recently on the Philippines, when Magic 89.9 has replaced the Magic 30 with the AT40 ].
Reairing of older shows
From January 2001 to December 2002, many radio stations aired reruns of 1980-1988 episodes under the title American Top 40 Flashback. The show was syndicated by Premiere Radio Networks. In its early weeks the shows were the original four hour format of an American Top 40 episode, but after the first month and a half the show was reduced to three hours. Although American Top 40 Flashback ceased in December 2002, radio station WMMX in Dayton, Ohio continued to carry American Top 40 Flashback on Saturday mornings until the premiere of American Top 40: The 80s.
Casey Kasem's American Top 40 — The 70s and 80s
On August 4, 2006, XM Satellite Radio began replays of the original 1970s and 1980s AT40 shows with Casey Kasem that were digitally remastered by Shannon Lynn of Charis Music Group The event began with a weekend long marathon of original shows, with AT40 then being added as a regular show on two of XM's Decades channels, "The 70s on 7" and "The 80s on 8".
XM "70's on 7" currently runs AT40 each Saturday at 12PM with an encore the following Wednesday at 10PM. Likewise, "80's on 8" runs AT40 each Sunday at 12PM with an encore the following Thursday at 10PM (all times Eastern). Most show dates roughly correspond to the current day and month of real time. (This was not always the case. During the first few months of AT40 on XM, only a limited number of episodes were ready to be run, and as a result their programming schedule tended to be more fluid and random than it is now. Sometimes each channel would even air two different episodes per week, one in each time slot.) The mix of AT40 episodes being run on XM include the year-end countdowns, which are typically run in two parts: the first half (#100-#51) in one time slot, and then the second half (#50-#1) in the following time slot. The AT40 specials are also part of XM's rotation; for instance, "AT40 Goes to the Movies" aired prior to the 2007 Academy Awards on February 24, and "The Top 40 Acts Of The 80's So Far", which aired on XM 80's the first week of July 2007. The first AT40 special, "Top 40 Recording Acts of the Rock Era," aired on May 12, 2007 on the 70s channel after XM intended to air a countdown from May 1, 1971, not realizing that that week was a special that contained mostly 50s and 60s music. The confusion can be traced to Charis, who had a regular countdown show listed for that date.
From October through early November 2006, oldies radio station KQQL in Minneapolis/St. Paul, which is owned by Clear Channel Communications, ran a series of American Top 40 episodes from the 1970s. Aside from one week, when the station attempted to air a four-hour episode from 1979 in the three-hour timeslot (resulting in the show getting cut off at #11 and the top 10 not being heard), this test run was largely successful. Because of the success, Premiere Radio Networks decided to launch " Casey Kasem's American Top 40: The 1970s" into national syndication featuring the three hour shows from 1970 to 1978 and three hour edited versions of the four hour shows which aired from 1978 to 1979. The extras and Long Distance Dedications were edited out of 1978 to 1979 editions of the '70s show. Also, some of the extras featuring older songs are removed and replaced with new extras, generally from the same year as the show that week, with intros and outros either by Kasem or by Ed McMann. Occasionally, an extra which was edited out of a show is made into a new extra segment. These extras are used at the discretion of the station and are usually aired by stations which do not air an hourly newscast. KQQL was the first to sign on, airing programs beginning on December 30, 2006 (after the Christmas music hiatus). WBBG in Niles, Ohio and KQLL in Tulsa, Oklahoma, also owned by Clear Channel, picked up the show shortly thereafter. KQQL and WBBG air AT40 twice each weekend-- once on Saturday morning, and again on Sunday, while KQLL only airs it on Sunday morning. WODS FM in Boston, MA is airing the edited version Saturday Nights at 11pm. WRRR-FM in St. Mary's, WV, began carrying the show in September, 2007. More stations are expected to sign on in the near future.
The 1980s version, featuring the Casey-hosted shows from the 1980s, premiered on April 8th 2007 on stations such as WMGA FM in Huntington, West Virginia (Noon-4pm ET every Sunday), WKIM FM, Memphis TN (KIM FM) and on WMMX in Dayton, Ohio, replacing the American Top 40 Flashback reruns. The shows are available in either their full original four hour format (which WMGA offers), or an abbreviated three-hour version similar to the old Flashback shows (although no stations currently air this version). The first show rebroadcast was from March 5, 1983. More stations are expected to add the show in the near future.
In March 2008, XM Satellite Radio rebranded the XM broadcasts with the "Casey Kasem's American Top 40" name and logo used for terrestrial broadcasts, although XM still airs the unedited commercial-free broadcasts, while Premiere Radio carries edited and recut broadcasts with commercials. All the classic AT40 shows currently featured on XM and by Premiere Radio Networks have been digitally remastered from the original vinyl LPs by Shannon Lynn of Charis Music Group
Chart data used by American Top 40
AT40 used the Top 40 portion of the Billboard Hot 100
singles chart from the show's inception in 1970 to November 23
. The chart was widely regarded as the industry standard in tracking the most popular songs in the country, and was thus a natural choice to be used. While using these charts worked well for the first half of the 1970s, as music changed during the decade, and disco became popular on the charts, some rock stations began to drop the show because of complaints from program directors that AT40 was "playing too many songs not on their playlist."
This gradually became a wide schism as rock splintered into a half-dozen formats in the early 1980s. Historians have noted that no one station actually played all of the songs on Billboard Hot 100 list, because they represented overlapping formats -- hard rock, mainstream rock, heavy metal, dance, new wave, punk, pop, easy listening/adult contemporary, country, and so on. Stations tended to specialize in only one or two of these formats, and completely ignore the others. As a result, AT40's weekly playlist could be very diverse in the styles and formats of the songs played.
One solution for the AT40's producers was to air frequent specials (at least three or four times a year) that concentrated on the classic music of the past, such as Rock in the Movies, Top Hits of the Seventies, and so on. But as Top 40 stations evolved into CHR, they began to avoid syndicated shows like AT40, preferring to stick with their own special niche formats.
By the early 1990s, many songs, mostly rap or heavy metal/grunge songs, would appear on the chart being fueled by single sales, and had received low airplay; several were very long, others were too controversial or risqué for mainstream airplay. These songs would generally only be aired in brief snippets during the show.
Because of this, American Top 40 began using the Top 40 portion from the Hot 100 Airplay chart in lieu of the Hot 100. These songs generally scored much higher radio airplay, and some were not even released as singles (such as "Steel Bars" by Michael Bolton). During this time, a few songs made big debuts, including 2 that almost debuted in the #1 spot: "I'll Be There" by Mariah Carey, which entered American Top 40 at #4, and "Erotica" by Madonna, which entered at #2.
In January 1993, American Top 40 switched charts again, this time to the Billboard Top 40 Mainstream chart. This chart had more Top 40 Mainstream hits but fewer urban/dance/rap songs.
AT40 did not always use the official year-end chart from Billboard during the 25 years that they used their charts. In 1972, 1973, 1977, 1980, 1981, 1982, 1983, 1984, 1990, 1991, 1992, 1993 and 1994, AT40 compiled their own year-end chart. These charts were very close to Billboard's, but AT40 would go with a mid-December to early-December time period where Billboard's survey year varied from year to year. AT40 matched Billboard's number one song of the year every time except in 1977, 1984, 1990 and 1993.
Radio & Records magazine
With the show's revival in 1998, a new chart was implemented, the top 40 portion of Radio and Records
CHR/Pop top 50 chart, which was already in use on Casey's Top 40
. This would also be a first time a recurrent rule
was used on the show, albeit indirectly. Songs that were below #25 and had exceeded 26 weeks in the top 50 were removed, and these removals, if they occurred in the top 40, would be reflected on the appropriate week's program. In 1999, the rule was modified to further restrict long chart runs. Songs falling below #20 with at least 20 weeks in the top 50 would now be removed.
On October 21, 2000 American Top 40 began using an unpublished chart on a weekly basis for the first time in its history. The chart seemed to be a variant of the CHR/Pop chart provided by Mediabase, the data provider to Radio & Records. The most noticeable feature of this new chart was its ambiguous recurrent rule. Songs would be removed regularly from within the top 15, seemingly regardless of the number of weeks it had spent on the chart. This chart lasted until August 11, 2001, when AT40 returned to the Radio & Records Pop chart. The return coincided with another modification in the recurrent rule; songs would be removed below #25 after 3 consecutive weeks without a bullet (an increase in radio plays). This change would be short-lived, and in November 2001, Radio & Records returned to the 20 weeks/below #20 rule, which remained in place for the remainder of Kasem's tenure.
Adult Contemporary countdowns (AT20 and AT10)
Since the early 1990s, Casey Kasem has also hosted two other shows counting down the top adult contemporary
hits of the week. He has continued to host both shows even after Ryan Seacrest took over the reins of American Top 40
Kasem's countdown for Mainstream and Soft Adult Contemporary radio stations debuted in 1992 under the name Casey's Countdown. Originally Casey's Countdown consisted of 25 songs, but in 1994 it was shortened to 20. With the revival of the AT40 brand name, the AC chart became American Top 20. In March 2004, the Mainstream AC edition was shortened again, this time from twenty to ten songs, and has since been known as American Top 10.
Another show for Hot Adult Contemporary radio stations debuted in November 1994, since the Hot AC or "Adult Top 40" format was rapidly growing in popularity at the time. The original name of the show was Casey's Hot 20. Like its sister Mainstream AC show, it, too, was renamed American Top 20 once AT40 was relaunched (resulting in two different shows being entitled "American Top 20"). The Hot AC version remains a top 20 show to this day.
Originally both AC shows were three hours in length and included many AT40 staple features, including chart "extras" and Long Distance Dedications (known as "Requests and Dedications" during the Westwood One years), as well as spotlight features on number one hits of each chart week from years past. AT10 continues to feature Long Distance Dedications, and some additional features that were staples on the original AT40 have been re-added to both shows over the last several years, including the "Book of Records" and "Whatever Happened To...?" AT10 also features additional chart extras under the banner of "AT10 Spotlight," built around a particular theme (the theme for the first week of the revamped AT10 in 2004 was "Band Members Gone Solo").
As with the Top 40 show, both Casey's Countdown/AT20/10 AC and Casey's Hot 20/AT20 Hot AC initially used the AC charts published by Radio & Records from their inception until 2003, except for a brief period in 2000-2001 when both used unpublished Mediabase 24/7 charts. From 2003 to August 2006 (when R&R stopped using Mediabase to compile its charts), both shows used the Mediabase charts. Now the AC shows once again are based on unpublished charts.
In 2005, WLTW-FM in New York City commissioned a shortened one-hour version of American Top 10 featuring only the current hits of the week and eliminating the "extras."
In December, AT10 focuses on Christmas Music due to the fact that many of its affiliates broadcast a holiday/Christmas music format around the holiday season.
From 1980 to 1992, a video version of the show entitled America's Top 10 was aired in syndication to television stations across the United States. Kasem hosted this version from 1980 to 1989. When Kasem left American Top 40 in 1988, he remained as host of America's Top 10 until the end of 1989, when he would be replaced by Siedah Garrett and later Tommy Puett. Kasem returned by 1991, and the show ran until 1992.
Based on the success of American Top 40
, Kasem and Don Bustany created a spinoff top 40 countdown for Watermark for Country Radio called American Country Countdown
, patterned after Kasem's program. "ACC" premiered in 1973, and was hosted by radio personality Bob Kingsley
from 1978 until 2005 when Kix Brooks
of the Country Music Duo Brooks & Dunn
took over, and has been doing so since.
After Kasem left ABC, the network launched American Gold, a spinoff oldies countdown (featuring far fewer songs, and often focusing on a particular artist) hosted by Dick Bartley.
The American Top 40 format was adapted in an Australian show titled take40 Australia similarly counting down the top 40 songs in the country.
Censorship, offensive songs and affiliate standards
Casey Kasem and Watermark's policy regarding putting American Top 40
together was to always play the 40 most popular songs in the United States and never to ban a record from the countdown. However, whenever songs with potentially offensive lyrical content made the top 40, Watermark would send out memos to affiliated stations alerting them of the presence of that song in the countdown and sometimes provide stations with suggestions on how to edit the song out of their AT40
broadcasts. Some songs which received this treatment included "Kodachrome
" by Paul Simon
" by The Police
, "Ain't Love A Bitch
" by Rod Stewart
, "Paradise by the Dashboard Light
" by Meat Loaf
, and perhaps most infamously, Chuck Berry
's number-one hit "My Ding-a-Ling
" (which put some stations in the odd position of having to air AT40
without playing the number one song).
Another example of this policy dates from 1978, when Billy Joel's "Only the Good Die Young" was on the charts. Due to the nature of the song (Joel singing about urging pre-marital sex by a teen Catholic girl, Virginia), AT40 had placed warnings in shipments to warn affiliates in highly Catholic populated areas along with a special break in the countdown for stations to substitute another song in its place. The affiliates usually used the suggestion, though some did not and no major complaints were ever heard. Many of these memos have been reprinted in Pete Battistini's book, "American Top 40 with Casey Kasem (The 1970s)."
Although Kasem and his crew never banned a song from airplay on the countdown, there was at least one instance in which Kasem refused to announce the title of a song on his show. When George Michael's "I Want Your Sex" hit the Billboard charts in the summer of 1987, Kasem refused to announce the name of the song; only its artist. Also, as had been done with previous controversial hits, due to the song's suggestiveness, the show's structure was altered slightly, so stations could opt out of the song. This pattern was also evident during the 1987 Year End countdown. The only times Casey announced the title of the song on AT40 was during the 6-27-87 show, during the week-ending episode of September 26, 1987, when it dropped out of the Top 40, and during the Top 100 of 1987 show; Shadoe Stevens, his successor, however did mention the title on the show from July 31, 1993 as part of the Flashback feature, as it was in the top 5 from that week in 1987.
As has been mentioned previously, many rock radio stations in the late 1970s adopted anti-disco stances, and this, too, was reflected in the way some affiliates edited AT40. For example, one 1979 show featured a story about disco saving New York; again, the show was structured so that anti-disco stations could edit the story out of the show.
More famously, on the weekend of July 7-8, 1979, Cleveland, Ohio AT40 affiliate WGCL (now WNCX), instead of carrying the "American Top 40 Top 40 Disco Songs" special because of being an anti-disco radio station, did its own version of American Top 40 using the July 7, 1979 Billboard chart as the source with Townsend Coleman handling the hosting duties for Casey Kasem. The special Cleveland-only American Top 40 episode did not feature the AT40 Archives, extras, or Long Distance Dedications — just the top 40 singles of that week, which was preceded by a recap of the previous week's top three. Most of the songs played were longer album versions or 12-inch extended versions. Through clever editing, Coleman also took the "Casey's Coast to Coast" jingle (pronounced "K-C's Coast to Coast") and spliced in a "T," to provide an appropriate "TC's Coast to Coast" jingle.
Occasionally, between 1971 and 1991, American Top 40
would air special countdowns in place of the regular American Top 40
countdown show. These included1
- "Top 40 Recording Acts of the Rock Era 1955-1971" (Weekend of May 1-2, 1971)
- "Top 40 Christmas Songs" (Weekend of Dec 25-26, 1971)
- "Top 40 Songs of the Rock Era 1955-1972" (Weekend of July 1-2, 1972)
- "Top 40 Albums of the Week" (Weekend of Aug 5-6, 1972)
- "Top 40 Artists from Sept 1, 1967 to Sept 1, 1972" (Weekend of Sept 30-Oct 1, 1972)
- "Top 40 Songs from March 1968 to March 1973" (Weekend of Apr 7-8, 1973)
- "Top 40 Disappearing Acts" (Weekend of July 7-8, 1973)
- "Top 40 Recording Acts of the Rock Era 1955-1973" (Weekend of Oct 6-7, 1973)
- "Top 40 Christmas Songs" (Weekend of Dec 22-23, 1973)
- "Top 40 Hits of British Artists 1955-1974" (Weekend of Apr 6-7, 1974)
- "Top 40 Acts of the 1970s, So Far" (Weekend of Jul 6-7, 1974)
- "Top 10 Producers of the 1970s" (Weekend of Oct 5-6, 1974)
- "Top 40 Disappearing Acts" (Weekend of Apr 1-2, 1975)
- "Top 40 Rock 'n' Roll Acts of the 1950s" (Weekend of Oct 4-5, 1975)
- "Bicentennial Special: #1 July 4 Songs of the Past 40 Years" (Weekend of Jul 3-4, 1976)
- "Top 40 Songs of the 'Beatle Years'[1964-1970]" (Weekend of Oct 2-3, 1976)
- "Top 40 Girls of the Rock Era 1955-1977" (Weekend of July 2-3, 1977)
- "Top 40 Movie Songs 1960-1978" (Weekend of Apr 4-5, 1978)
- "Top 40 Acts of the 1970s, So Far" (Weekend of Jul 1-2, 1978)
- "The Top 40 Songs of the Disco Era 1974-1979" (Weekend of Jul 7-8, 1979)(Repeated on weekend of Jul 5-6 2008 with stations choosing either The full four-hour show or a Top 30 three-hour show)
- "The Top 50 Songs of the 1970s" (Weekend of Jan 5-6, 1980)
- "AT40 Book of Records" (Weekend of Jul 5-6, 1980)
- "Top 40 Beatles Hits of All Time" (Weekend of Jul 4-5, 1981)
- "Top 40 Acts of the 1980s, So Far" (Weekend of Jul 2-3, 1983)
- "Giants of Rock" (Weekend of Jul 5-6, 1986)
- "Top 40 Hits of the 1980s, So Far" (Weekend of Jul 4-5, 1987)
- "Top 40 Newcomers of the 1980s, So Far" (Weekend of May 30-31, 1988)
- "Triathlon of Rock 'n Roll" (Weekend of Jul 4-5, 1988)
- "World Tour" (Weekend of May 27-29, 1989)
- "AT40 Book of Records, 1980s Edition" (Weekend of Aug 31-Sept 4, 1989)
- "Top 40 American Acts of the Previous 10 Years" (Weekend of Jul 1-2, 1991)
Additionally, the top songs of the year were counted down at the end of every year. In 1970 & 1972, AT40 counted down the year's top 80 hits. In 1971 & 1973, they only counted down the top 40 because of their top 40 Christmas Countdowns those two years. Beginning in 1974, the top 100 songs of the year were counted down and was done so every year with few exceptions. In 1979, they did the top 50 songs of that year and followed it with the top 50 songs of the 1970s. This was done again in 1999, except only the top 40 of the year and decade were aired. The year-end shows were counted down over a two week period (although stations could edit the shows into one long show) until 1983, when the year-end show ran just one week for eight hours. In 1992, the year end countdown was temporary back to its two-week format, in 1994 (the last year of the old AT40) the year end countdown was only 50, and with the AT40 return in 1998 the year end countdowns were the 2 week format (except for 1999 when it was 50).
A new show must be produced every week, meaning that occasionally a substitute host must fill in. Substitutes for Ryan Seacrest have included:
Some well-known guest hosts for Casey Kasem have included:
Shadoe Stevens' guest hosts for his American Top 40 reign included:
Notable songs played on American Top 40
- The first song played on the first American Top 40 in 1970 at #40 was "The End of Our Road" by Marvin Gaye. It would remain and peak at #40 on the second episode of the AT40 countdown.
- The first #1 song on American Top 40 's inaugural 1970 broadcast was "Mama Told Me Not to Come" by Three Dog Night.
- The first top 10 countdown on the first American Top 40 featured songs by both Elvis Presley ("The Wonder of You") and The Beatles ("The Long and Winding Road"). These are the top two artists of the entire rock era according to AT40's original source, Billboard magazine.
- Rick Dees had the #1 song "Disco Duck" on American Top 40 in 1976 long before Dees would launch a rival countdown show, Rick Dees Weekly Top 40.
- When American Top 40 expanded from three to four hours in October 1978, the #1 song was "Kiss You All Over" by Exile.
- When Shadoe Stevens replaced Casey Kasem in August 1988, the #1 song was "Roll With It" by Steve Winwood.
- When American Top 40 switched from the Billboard Hot 100 to the Billboard Hot 100 Airplay in November 1991, the #1 song was "When a Man Loves a Woman" by Michael Bolton.
- When American Top 40 switched from the Billboard Hot 100 Airplay to the Billboard Top 40 Mainstream chart in January 1993, the #1 song was "I Will Always Love You" by Whitney Houston.
- The last #1 song on American Top 40 in January 1995 before its 3-year hiatus was "On Bended Knee" by Boyz II Men.
- The first "Long-Distance Dedication" ever played was Neil Diamond's "Desirée".
- Before playing the #1 song on the final original-run episode of American Top 40, Shadoe Stevens played a special Long Distance Dedication to his fans: "So Tired of Standing Still, We Got to Move On" by James Brown. As Stevens did his closing at the end of the show, the song "Happy Trails" by Roy Rogers was played in the background.
- When American Top 40 returned in March 1998, the #1 song was "My Heart Will Go On" by Celine Dion.
- The #1 song on Casey Kasem's final AT40 show in January 2004 was "Hey Ya" by Outkast. It stayed at #1 when Ryan Seacrest replaced Kasem.
- The song that spent the most weeks at #1 on American Top 40 was "The Sign" by Ace of Base which spent 14 weeks at the #1 spot in 1994, yet, ironically, only spent 6 weeks at #1 on the actual Billboard Hot 100. The song that spent the most weeks at #1 after Ryan Seacrest replaced Kasem was "We Belong Together" by Mariah Carey which spent 14 weeks on the chart at #1 in 2005.
- For a 14-week period between January and April, 1975, a different song was #1 every single week. This run both began and ended with #1 songs by Elton John.
- Two songs spent 50 weeks on American Top 40 after Ryan Seacrest took over: "Here Without You" by 3 Doors Down in 2004, and "Scars" by Papa Roach in 2005-2006. Also, two songs spent 46 weeks in the chart: "You and Me" by Lifehouse in 2005/2006, and "Since U Been Gone" by Kelly Clarkson in 2004/2005.
- Since AT40 returned to the air in 1998, Christina Aguilera is the artist with the most top ten hits inside the countdown, with her total currently at 11.
- The hightest debut on American Top 40 "Check On It" by Beyonce, which debuted at #1. However, in 2008, host Ryan Seacrest announced that "4 Minutes" by Madonna featuring Justin Timberlake, held that title when it debuted at #12.
- Guest hosts Dick Clark and Mark Elliott once had countdown shows of their own. Clark was host for Dick Clark's National Music Survey (1981 to 1985), Countdown America (1985 to mid-1990s, replacing original host John Leader) and U.S. Music Survey (mid-1990s to 2004, when Clark suffered a stroke and was incapacitated). Elliot's show was Weekly Top 30, which ran from 1979-82 and eventually morphed into the Rick Dees Weekly Top 40, which still airs as of 2006.
- From 1992 to 1994 two radio stations still carrying American Top 40 had to carry customized versions of the show: WPLJ in New York City aired the show with the urban/dance/rap songs mentioned but not played and were replaced here and there by Hot AC leaning extras, and KUBE in Seattle, Washington aired AT40 with a few songs that did not fit the station's Top 40 Rhythm format omitted each week. It has also been reported that WSTR in Atlanta, Georgia, being an anti-rap station and a very Adult Contemporary-leaning CHR, edited "Another Night" by Real McCoy (a Eurodisco record with rap breaks) out of its broadcasts of Casey's Top 40 in 1994, even while the song was at #1 on the show (which used the Radio & Records CHR/Pop chart).
- Casey Kasem's longest hosting streak without a substitute lasted 85 weeks - from the weekend of February 21, 2004 to October 1, 2005. The weekend of October 8, 2005 featured radio veteran Charlie Tuna as guest host. Tuna filled in for Kasem again in August 2006.
- While recording an episode of the show in 1985, Kasem was aghast to discover he would have to read a Long Distance Dedication to a listener's dead dog, immediately following an upbeat song in the countdown. He went ballistic, berating the show's writers and producers over the poor segue in a profanity-laced tirade completely at odds with Kasem's normally strait-laced, easygoing on-air persona. Although the incident obviously was not aired (and the misplaced dedication was presented as scripted), it would eventually surface as a bootleg outtake and provide an amusing footnote to Kasem's original run as AT40 host. (Full audio clip, censored)
- During one week in August 1983, with guest host Keri Tombazian filling in, American Top 40 accidentally had played the #38 song as "Pieces of Ice" by Diana Ross (which had fallen to #45 that week) instead of playing the correct #38 song that week, "It's Inevitable" by the British group, Charlie. This is the only known case of AT40 playing an incorrect countdown song. Casey Kasem acknowledged and apologized for the slip-up on the following week's countdown.
- Durkee, Rob. American Top 40: The Countdown of the Century. ISBN 0-02-864895-1. New York City: Schirmer Books, 1999. Accessed December 10, 2007.
- Battistini, Pete. American Top 40 with Casey Kasem (The 1970s). Authorhouse.com, January 31, 2005. ISBN 1-4184-1070-5.