Moss on: 'AT40' @ 40

Premiere Radio Networks has taken note that its program, the latest iteration of iconic “American Top 40,” is celebrating its 40th anniversary.

There’ll be a weekend (July 3–4) celebration filled with tributes to long-time host Casey Kasem and many looks back at great moments in the show’s history.

That’s certainly worth some congratulations and a thought or two.

Developed by Kasem (and a few others) and debuting on July 4, 1970, the show ruled the radio roost for decades and was a verifier of commercial success for musical artists. Kasem’s legendary voice (he was already a well-known voice before the show) and the show’s idiosyncrasies such as the biographies of artists and stories about the songs along with bits such as “long-distance dedications” made it more than just a string of songs playing on the radio.

There was a time when hearing your favorite artist’s new tune from the long-awaited new album hitting the “American Top 40” playlist was special. Most everyone of a certain age range had a good idea what was going to be playing on “American Top 40” or knew what had played on it. There was also a time when a cheap record player and half-a-dozen 45s could fill an afternoon. Times change.

The current host, omnipresent Ryan Seacrest, has manned the mic since 2004 when Kasem retired. Seacrest called the program “the soundtrack to life; it sparks emotions and memories, and has a huge impact on pop culture.” A bit hyperbolic? Maybe it’s the soundtrack to his life; in these days of increasingly niched, portable and personalized musical choices, such a claim, if it was ever true, seems impossible to make now … especially considering that so many of today’s “artists” seem to be more famous for being themselves, rather than for being entertaining singers, musicians or songwriters.

Yet there is something quaint about trying to find 40 songs that somehow illustrate America’s top 40 musical choices at any one time — no matter how stylistically, thematically and aurally they might diverge. As we split apart and become isolated in our self-defined iPod/personal music player bubbles, safe from anyone else’s tastes, AT40 tries to get everyone into the same room. At least for a few minutes.

Seacrest added: “This show is really special to me. Not only because it’s the biggest countdown in the world, but because it’s the one show I grew up listening to as a kid, so I take a lot of pride in hosting the program every weekend.”

But then a show flogging its Lady Gaga Superfan Search might want to some searching of another kind, soul-searching. But … times have changed.

According to Premiere, the show airs on nearly 500 stations, rates well in major markets in the 18–34 demographic and draws national advertisers such as GM, WalMart, Progressive Insurance, Fox Broadcasting and Netflix.

The show’s website is being “relaunched” with lots of goodies, celebrity news and even a link to the ubiquitous iTunes store.

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