On With the Countdowns

After this post, we’re going on hiatus for a while, to work on things we get paid for, to spend some time with the family, and maybe even to disconnect from the Internet for a while. There should be a new post here on Tuesday, July 20.

Listening to American Top 40 last weekend, and the countdown dated July 10, 1976, I could remember hearing it when it originally ran 34 years ago. I could easily picture the 1976 me, sitting on my bed in my room upstairs at home, pencil and paper close at hand, writing down the titles and artists song by song. In those pre-Internet days, it was tough for a chart geek to get the information he craved. Our local newspaper would occasionally publish the Billboard Top 10, and I can remember running to the mailbox on the days I thought it was going to appear, and being crushed when it didn’t. What else was I going to do? It was either subscribe to Billboard or listen to Casey, although WCFL in Chicago counted down its survey on Friday afternoons (with Larry Lujack) for a while toward the end of its life as a Top-4o station.

AT40 never aired on a station I listened to regularly; I always had to search it out. Often, I’d catch it on an AM station from Rockford, Illinois, which cut its power at sundown, and which frequently left me trying to pick out fragments through the static in order to get the last of the countdown.

AT40 wasn’t the only countdown I was addicted to in 1976. I also listened religiously to something called The National Album Countdown, hosted by “Humble Harv” Miller, a veteran of KHJ and other Southern California stations. There’s precious little information about the show online, but Harv would count down the top 20 or 30 (I forget) albums on the Billboard chart, playing different tracks each week.

AT40 featured an album countdown on one show early in its history. According to Watermark on the Web, which is loaded with fascinating stuff about AT40 and other programs syndicated by Watermark, Inc., a special countdown dated August 5, 1972, was called “The National Album Countdown” and featured songs from the week’s top 40 albums. The show started with “Rock and Roll Crazies” by Stephen Stills and Manassas, and concluded with “Salvation” by Elton John from Honky Chateau. It included both the Stones’ Exile on Main Street and the Hot Rocks 1964-1971 compilation, Simon and Garfunkel’s Greatest Hits and Cheech and Chong’s Big Bambu, both of which were in the Top 10, a live album by Carlos Santana and Buddy Miles, classic albums such as Harvest, Eat a Peach, and Tapestry, and an inordinate number of records by the Osmonds—three in all. And it must have been fairly cool to hear Casey play “Thick as a Brick.”

Based on the cue sheet for the show, it looks as if Casey didn’t play a song from every album, and some of the choices seem mighty odd. Why would the show have omitted Billy Preston’s “Outa-Space,” a current hit that summer, and have included “Salvation” instead of either “Rocket Man,” which was on its way out of the singles chart, or “Honky Cat,” which was on its way in?

Just to complete the circle, Humble Harv filled in for Casey on AT40 on the show dated July 13, 1974. I don’t remember listening to that one—but it doesn’t mean I didn’t.

4 responses

  1. Ah, countdown shows. I grew up with KHJ in “Boss Angeles” in the late 1960s and early ’70s. Starting in fall 1968 (just before “Hey Jude” was released), when I was 10, I started writing down the weekly Boss 30 on Wednesday nights when it was unveiled by Sam Riddle. About year later, Humble Harve took over that duty. I kept listening and writing until sometime in 1972, when I started picking up the printed Boss 30 from a local record store. I finally stopped doing that by 1978. As for “AT40,” I started listening to Casey in early 1971. I can’t recall what Los Angeles station was carrying it, though. I didn’t write those down, but I was inspired enough to get my parents to give me a subscription to Billboard at Christmas 1972, a subscription I kept going until about 1985. I listened to “AT40” off and on for most of the ’70s.

  2. thomas m long jr | Reply

    Enjoy your time off JB. Sometime at the end of this summer, would love to treat you to a burger and beer.

  3. I also grew up listening to KHJ in LA, although I have spent most of my adult life living abroad. Humble Harve was the best. I also used to listen to KHJ Hot 30 countdown (was it on Wednesday evenings?) I used to tape the programs on cassette(with a microphone! no worrying about bitrates in those days !) . I remember the week where all of a sudden (1972? 1973?) Harve was pulled off the air because he was accused of killing his wife.
    If he did AT40 for Casey K in the mid 1970s or late 1970s that would mean that he was cleared of the charges. I always wondered what happened to him after he left KHJ
    . In the early 1970s AT40 was on a station at about 1020 on the AM dial – between KHJ (930) and KNX(1070). Somehow the call letters KGBS come out of my subconscious but I cannot be sure…
    AT40 was on Saturday mornings because I remember mowing the lawn while listening to it.
    Say hi to Roscoe Mitchell in Madison… Andrew Crocker will be coming back soon(next week)

    E

  4. I was a chart geek too. Stumbled upon countdowns periodically starting in ’74 (age 13), but found AT40 in August ’76 & was hooked. I worked every Sunday morning, so I paid a neighbor kids a couple bucks to write down as many songs as he could. After almost a year of this, I asked permission to bring my radio to work. I worked my butt off so that I could catch & write down as many songs as possible. Typically, I was getting almost all of them every week. By the early 80’s, I was riding my bike to the record store every week on the day the magazine arrived. If it was a day late, I was bummed. They would make it a point to tell me they don’t sell the magazine, but would let me look through the “store copy”. I would memorize the Top 40 from the Billboard Hot 100, ride back home & write down the songs. Typically, I would successfully remember all but 1 or 2 songs when I got home. Finally about 1983, I got a subscription to Billboard, then purchased all the charts going back to about 1955 through Joel Whitburn. I’ve not met many people like me over the years – only occasionally online. BTW, The NAC hosted by Humble Harv counted down the Top 30 albums every week. I could only find it on the radio for about 6 to 9 months, then it was gone (maybe Sep. ’76 to Jun. ’77). Kc

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