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Casey Kasem, America's No. 1 Deejay, Has Had It with Being Heard and Not Seen

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What was the only recording group to have the top five songs on the chart at the same time? (The Beatles, natch, in 1964.) And what two artists had No. 1 hits only after they died? (Bzzzzz! Time’s up. Otis Redding, Sittin’ on the Dock of the Bay, and Janis Joplin, Me and Bobby McGee.)

Okay, now here’s a real toughie. Who, by incorporating such pop-schlock trivia into his American Top 40 radio show, signed up 500 stations and has become the most widely syndicated disc jockey in America? Hint: he’s also the faceless voiceover behind more than 300 radio and TV commercials a year, from Shasta to Hoover to Heinz ketchup, as well as the bell-toned promo announcer on NBC heralding upcoming events. The answer to all of the above is deejay-dubber extraordinaire Casey Kasem, 46, whose mellifluous tones and ingratiating energy—not to mention 5’8″ of tightly coiled ambition—have made him the most-listened-to voice in America.

That peculiar pinnacle, he finds, is rewarding—and frustrating. “It’s the easiest business to work in,” admits Kasem, who reaps well over $450,000 a year for spending just a dozen hours a week on his narrating chores. But even his half-a-million Beverly Hills manor house is little solace to Kasem. “What I really want to be,” he says, “is an actor.”

So far his efforts to replace the Voice with the Face have produced guest-star bits on TV shows like Charlie’s Angels and Quincy, plus eight lowbudget feature films. He just opened in Disco Fever, starring whatever-happened-to Fabian.

The son of immigrant Lebanese grocers, Kasem (whose real first name is Kemal) grew up in Detroit and broke into radio while at Wayne State University by working on the old Lone Ranger and Sergeant Preston of the Yukon series. After serving a Korean war stint creating radio dramas for GIs, he station-hopped around the U.S., was fired from a Buffalo station for “insubordination—I told them how to run it,” briefly studied acting in New York and actually appeared in some grade-B biker films in the late ’60s.

Casey syndicated his radio show while working as a top deejay in Los Angeles in 1970. “I credit God with giving me the idea for Top 40,” says Kasem, a Druze who attends the Hollywood Congregational Church. He wasn’t handed instructions in stone, though, because some years before he found Who’s Who on top of a garbage can and hit upon the idea of the trivia quiz on stars’ bios. Kasem also gives co-credit for his subsequent voiceover success to then producer and now California Lt. Gov. Mike Curb, who steered him toward commercials. In return, Casey narrated Curb’s TV spots gratis during last year’s campaign and says flat out: “Mike’s going to be President of the United States someday.”

At home Casey’s wife, Linda, 31, a former bank officer, handles his accounts and their three children. His way of relaxing includes watching the 11 p.m. news while pumping away on an Exercycle. Ironically, Casey’s pleasures do not include listening to music. “I’d rather read magazines or watch TV. The dullest thing in the world is waiting for your scene,” he admits. “But the most exciting thing is seeing yourself on the screen and then getting compliments.”