As a disc jockey, professional announcer, and the voice of Shaggy on Scooby-Doo, Casey Kasem himself rewrote radio history in 1970 by launching America’s Top 40, a phenomenally popular four-hour countdown of Billboard magazine’s pop singles that quickly became a weekly habit of listeners worldwide.
A decade later, Kasem made the leap to television with America’s Top 10, a syndicated half-hour showcase for an emerging, highly addictive, and massively beguiling art form that would come to culturally define the years ahead: music videos.
America’s Top 10: May 11, 1980
Indeed, MTV didn’t just spring out of nothingness on August 1, 1981. Music videos had existed in various forms since at least the dawn of rock-and-roll, but come the ascension of new wave toward the end of the ’70s, the concept caught fire. Artists began routinely creating short films to go along with their music releases and once record companies recognized the promotional power of such clips, the revolution most definitely was going to be televised.
America’s Top 10: July 26, 1981
Enter Casey Kasem, then, on May 4, 1980. America’s Top 10 kicked off with announcer Charlie Tuna intoning, “From our Music News Center in Hollywood, here’s Casey Kasem.” Then, seated behind a desk on a pastel-hued set in front of a live feed of his crack team working over a wall full of various Billboard charts, Casey touted the episode’s feature stories, artist spotlights, or interviews with, say, John Cougar before he returned to being a Mellencamp.
America’s Top 10: August 29, 1982 – John Cougar interview
From there, he got to the business of revealing the week’s biggest hits from ten to one, and showing a music video plucked from the roster. Typically, the pop singles came first, followed by albums, and then a country or R&B chart.
America’s Top 10: February 26, 1984
Later on, Casey would read a question from a viewer such as “What family act in the rock era contained the most siblings?,” which he’d answer with a music video. In fairly short order, Casey loosened up and ditched the desk, but that elemental format remained in place for AT10’s entire run of a dozen seasons.
America’s Top 10: December 11, 1988
In the tradition of the “AT40 Extra” feature on his radio show, Casey would occasionally toss in a music video under the banner “Should’ve Been a Top 10 Hit.” Sometimes, too, the show would break the format with an “AT10 Special Edition” that might countdown the biggest Christmas songs of all time or the top ten rock-and-roll artists of the 1950s.
America’s Top 10: April 18, 1992
At the dawn of the 1980s and even deep into the rest of the decade, cable TV was far from the ubiquitous presence it would become. For traditional broadcast viewers who ached for MTV, America’s Top 10 supplied a weekly music video balm, as did NBC’s Friday Night Videos, local channels such as New York’s U68, and HBO’s Video Jukebox. On top of that, AT10 also boasted the man of the half-hour, Casey Kasem.
Friday Night Videos
By the way, #1 song thirty years ago today, which America’s Top 10 celebrated via music video, was “Call Me” by Blondie. The song had, in fact, reached the top spot on April 19 and would remain at number one for the next six weeks, all the way until May 24. As “Call Me” came from the American Gigolo soundtrack, its clip pioneered another ’80s phenomenon: the movie tie-in music video.
“Call Me” – Blondie