Our Regularly Scheduled Program, Already in Progress

Sometimes we make things too complicated, when a simple answer is staring us right in the face.

Starting in October 1978, American Top 40 went from a three-hour show to a four-hour show. The average single had gotten longer throughout the 1970s, and it became too difficult to fit 40 of them into a three-hour window. But four hours was a bit too long sometimes, and as a result, AT40 added various features to pad out the show. It was in this period that Casey Kasem’s fabled Long Distance Dedications were born. The show began spotlighting past Number-One hits on a regular basis, and even added a countdown of the previous week’s top three at the beginning of the show.

Flash forward to the new millennium, and the repeats heard around the country every weekend. How to handle the four-hour shows? Although I’d never heard one myself, I’d been told they exist, but how they’d be cut I couldn’t figure. Taking out the top-three recap would get you 12 minutes or so; taking out the long-distance dedications and other stuff might get you another 12, tops. But that still wouldn’t be enough.

But I was making things too complicated, when a simple answer was staring me right in the face.

The show airing this past weekend, featuring the chart from November 3, 1979, simply picked up with the second hour of the show—American Top 32, in other words. One advantage to this, in the minds of some program directors, is that it eliminates the lowest reaches of the chart, which frequently contains an odd mix of records that have failed to stand the test of time. But positions 40 through 33 on the November 3, 1979, chart are reasonably solid, at least by typical first-hour standards, although you’re likely to hear only a couple of them on the radio now:

40. “Better Love Next Time”/Dr. Hook
39. “Half the Way”/Crystal Gayle
38. “Street Life”/Crusaders with Randy Crawford
37. “Dreaming”/Blondie
36. “Victim of Love”/Elton John
35. “Fins”/Jimmy Buffett
34. “Lonesome Loser”/Little River Band
33. “Dream Police”/Cheap Trick

(Picking up with Number 32 wasn’t a foolproof way to scotch the dreck, though: “Rainbow Connection” by Kermit the Frog was sitting at Number 29.)

I must not have heard Casey much in the late 70s. The jingles and production elements didn’t sound familiar at all, and Casey himself seemed especially amped in the segments I heard—a far cry from the FM-radio whisper he sometimes used in the early 1970s. It’s as if he was conscious of being America’s Voice—which, by the late 70s, he was, ubiquitous on commercials and as a TV voiceover guy—and he needed to sound as bright and cheery as he did when shilling a product. (That sounds harsher than I mean it, but I’m not sure how else to describe his sound on this particular show.)

If presenting the late 1978 and 1979 shows in this fashion is the only way to get them on, I’m OK with it. (As long as they don’t do what a station in Minneapolis is said to have done a few years back when rerunning the countdowns on its own—blowing off the last hour.) It’s not as if there isn’t precedent for it. Over this past New Year’s, the countdown featured the Top 40 of 1976, but was actually the last three hours of a longer show (eight hours, I think) that counted down the year’s Top 100.

Recommended Reading: If you like to conjure with fabulous concert bills from the 60s and 70s, you might enjoy It’s All the Streets You Crossed So Long Ago, which has collected concert ads by the dozens. (H/t Kinky Paprika.)

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3 responses

  1. our local affiliate changed formats (now they’re Jack) and dropped Casey’s countdown show. Rats! I loved #40 through say, #15 because those tunes are so forgotten as to be extinct these days. It was a thrill hearing “Neanderthal Man” by Hotlegs and “Small Beginnings” by Flash over the airwaves, probably first time for me since they were on the charts.

    And I discovered the great “This Heart” (rediscovered I should say as it came back to me upon hearing it) by Gene Redding from the summer of ’74.

    As for Jack, well our version is heavy on 80’s with a smattering of 70’s and 60’s warhorses only (Magic Carpet Ride, Touch Me etc). The Pet Shop Boys to Head East’s “Never Been Any Reason” is one particularly bad transition that I recall.

    1. My station, Magic 98, airs the countdowns Saturday mornings from 6 to 9AM and Saturday nights from 9 to midnight, US Central. Stream it at magic98.com.

  2. Here’s a website I’ve bookmarked that keeps track of stations playing the AT40 shows each weekend:

    http://radiotime.com/options/p_117092/American_Top_40_-_The_70s.aspx

    The really cool thing about it, is if I get too busy to hear the show at my regular time, there’s always another one I can catch later.

    I was a little bummed to hear they cut the first hour out of the show. What I like about Hour 1 is the way some really long-forgotten gems occasionally pop up. Yes, there is some crap, but sometimes (especially in the 1980s shows, which I listen to as well) something comes up that I had either missed the first time or forgotten altogether.

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