Casey Kasem and American Top 40
In anticipation of an episode during the next season of the Retroist Podcast, I have been listening to old episodes of American Top 40 with Casey Kasem.
Casey launched and then hosted the show from 1970 through 1988. He was then replaced by Shadoe Stevens from 1988 until the show was canceled in 1995. Three years later, Casey would come back as host and be a part of American Top 40 until 2004.
It was quite a run and for most people, it would be career-defining work, but Casey’s career was much broader than just the legendary countdown show.
About Casey Kasem
Casey knew from an early age that he wanted to work in radio and in High School and College got valuable experience. This experience served him well when he joined the Army, where he would perform as a DJ on the Armed Forces Radio Network in Korea.
When he got out of the army, he would continue his work on the radio and would start to do work outside the medium, most famously in the world of animation.
Kasem would contribute his unique vocal skills to dozens of projects, most famously as Shaggy Rogers in many Scooby-Doo TV shows and films. But he also contributed his talents to pop-culture touchstones like Battle of the Planets, Josie and the Pussycats, The Transformers, and many more.
Casey worked consistently throughout his life, but even when he was in the midst of his biggest successes, he would turn down work to stand by his principles.
Casey Stands By His Beliefs
In Kasem’s life, two instances where he took stands for what he believed to be important, stand out. The most famous happened in the mid-Nineties.
Casey was a vegan, and he quit his most famous role as Shaggy after they asked him to do a commercial for Burger King. He would eventually return to the role, only when the character was turned into a vegetarian in 2002.
They would release a commercial without Kasem. Here you can see it in 1996 pushing a line of toys that includes the unfairly maligned Scrappy-Doo.
The other stand he took involved Kasem’s involvement in Transformers the Animated Series. As a Lebanese-American, he was concerned that the show contained offensive caricatures of Arabs and Arab countries, and he would leave the show because of it.
According to an interview from 1990.
A few years ago, I was doing one of the voices in the TV cartoon series, Transformers. One week, the script featured an evil character named Abdul, King of Carbombya. He was like all the other cartoon Arabs. I asked the director, ‘Are there any good Arabs in this script for balance?’ We looked. There was one other — but he was no different than Abdul. So, I told the show’s director that, in good conscience, I couldn’t be a part of that show
Unfortunately for fans, when Casey left the show the characters he voiced were relegated to background players for the rest of the series.
Bluestreak, Cliffjumper, and Teletraan I
Kasem voiced four characters on Transformers the Animated Series, Bluestreak, Cliffjumper, Teletraan I, and Doctor Arkeville. After dropping out of the series, all four of these characters were given secondary roles or never appeared again on that series.
My first Transformers Toy was Cliffjumper, which turned me into an instant fan. So his disappearance was a real puzzle at the time. Fortunately for fans of all 4 of these characters, they would continue to show up in the Transformer comics, movies, video games, and animated shows that would follow. Just never with Casey’s voice attached to them.
My early Transformer collecting started with Cliffjumper (thanks Nana) and ended with the mighty Grimlock (thanks paper route). After all of this Transformer reading, I started looking at how to possibly fill out my collection online. As you might guess, Transformers prices are pretty high right now.
What would you pay for a Transformer you really wanted? Would you pay $12,000?
Pepsi Optimus Prime
On eBay that is how much you will pay for a new MISB AFA graded version of the Pepsi Optimus Prime. Not to be confused with a later Pepsi Optimus Prime, this version was offered as a mail-order offer from Pepsi during the Eighties.
The only difference from the Prime you would find in the store would be the Pepsi logo on the box and some Pepsi decals you would apply to the toy.
Besides the Optimus Prime tie-in, Pepsi also released six non-affiliated and kind of generic “Pepsi Transformers” around 1985.
They also released this great transforming Robot/Soda Machine commercial that same year.
I have yet to find a transforming soda machine, but I do live in a city that once housed a magical mysterious soda vending machine.
Seattle Mystery Soda Machine
When I visited my sister in Seattle in the 1990s, one of the things she took me to see was a mysterious vending machine that dispensed random sodas at the push of a button.
At just 75 cents a can, it made for some tasty, affordable mystery. This Soda Machine, resided in Seattle’s Capitol Neighborhood, endured for decades, its owners and stockers shrouded in mystery.
Then one day, it was gone.
No one knows exactly where, but it does have a Facebook page where it occasionally posts photos of itself traveling the world.
Will it return? No one knows, but I hope so, since the city of Seattle is a lot less magical without it.