Casey Kasem had a unique connection to Buffalo.
BUFFALO – Casey Kasem had a unique connection to Buffalo.
He got fired here.
"He never really went into details," said Matt Wilson, who worked with the radio icon as a producer for the American Top 40. "Probably wasn't following the format or something."
Kasem, who died at the age of 82 this weekend, soothed the country with his low-key style for almost 40 years, famously telling listeners to "keep your feet on the ground and keep reaching for the stars" at the conclusion of every broadcast. But before he built his nationwide brand, which also included stints as the voice of Shaggy on "Scooby-Doo," Kasem worked at WBNY-AM in Buffalo in the late '50s.
He wasn't here very long, though, and it didn't end on the best of terms. Wilson said Kasem only revealed to him that WBNY fired him for insubordination, presumably a clash of styles with management.
Dan Neaverth, a Buffalo radio legend in his own right, left WBNY for WKBW radio just a few months before Kasem arrived. Although he never worked directly with Kasem, he admired his creativity and innovation from afar as a competitor. Before Kasem came along, for example, Neaverth said he'd never heard anyone use something called the "cart machine," which placed audio clips on tape for disc jockeys to drop into broadcasts at any time.
"He was one of those people that you knew: Buffalo wasn't big enough for him, for his talent, and his drive," Neaverth said.
Kasem spent only about a year in Buffalo— if that. Neaverth estimates that Kasem probably began working in Buffalo in 1959 (although, a half-century after the fact, he can't pinpoint the precise year).
"And then, the next thing I know, he's out in California," Neaverth said. "And the rest is history, of course."
Wilson, coincidentally a Buffalo native himself, worked on and off with the American Top 40 from 1978 to 2009. He remembers Kasem as a strong mentor and a terrific actor, who convinced listeners for years he knew anything and everything about the Top 40 Countdown.
In reality, Kasem could probably barely tell the difference between The Police and Celine Dion, according to Wilson. Anything after the '60s usually escaped him.
"He couldn't tell you who sang what," Wilson said. "But he was such a good actor, he was just that believable and had that much conviction."
After Kasem's fame grew, Neaverth said he occasionally ran into him at music conferences.
"He was always very impressive. Easy guy, easy to get along with, he never carried himself like a big star. And to us, he was a big star," Neaverth said. "We realized how successful he was."
"Casey was one of those people that, anyone who ever left a message, he would return their call. Everybody. Didn't matter if he knew them or not," Neaverth said. "Fantastic person, fantastic mentor for me."