American Top 40 – the legendary radio program which counted down the week’s popular hits from number 40 to number 1 on the Billboard Hot 100 and gave us the Long Distance Dedication, marks its 40th anniversary on July 4 – the exact day the program was born back in 1970, when it was heard on only seven stations. Two years later, AT40 would have more than 200 affiliates across the country and by the end of the 1970’s, would be heard all around the world.
The program has been through almost every musical genre you can think of the last four decades – from Disco to New Wave, from Rock to Hip-Hop, from Grunge to Crunk and kept track of artists such as The Bee Gees, The Jackson 5 (and of course, Michael’s solo career), Whitney Houston, Prince, Madonna, Duran Duran, Janet Jackson, Mariah Carey, Eminem, Justin Timberlake, Alicia Keys, Usher, and Lady GaGa, as each become superstars.
In Chicago, American Top 40 has aired on WDHF, WBBM-FM (before the Hot Hits/B96 era), WLS-AM, WYTZ-FM (Z95), WBUS-FM, and its current home, WKSC-FM.
Ryan Seacrest, the show’s current host, will look back at four decades of chart-making hits on the special broadcast, which also includes this week’s Top 40 songs (the countdown airs Sunday from 7-11 a.m. locally on WKSC.)
American Top 40 was co-created by Casey Kasem, who hosted the show from July 4, 1970 to August 6, 1988, when he departed the show he created after failing to come to terms with ABC Radio on a contract renewal (Kasem would start another countdown show titled Casey’s Top 40 with Westwood One in January 1989.) He would be replaced by Hollywood Squares announcer Shadoe Stevens on August 13, 1988 who hosted the show until its cancellation in January 1995 (the show ended a few months earlier in the U.S. in July 1994.)
When ownership rights reverted back to Kasem and co-creator Don Bustany, Kasem left his Westwood One show and launched a new version of American Top 40 in conjunction with AM/FM Radio Corp. (now Clear Channel-owned Premiere Radio Networks) on March 28, 1998 with Kasem again as host. On January 10, 2004, Ryan Seacrest took over as host, but Kasem continued to host AT40’s Adult Contemporary spinoffs (American Top 20 and American Top 10) until July 4 of last year, when Kasem retired from the grind – exactly 39 years to the day AT40 premiered.
The success of American Top 40 spawned numerous imitators – some successful (Rick Dees’ Weekly Top 40, which began in 1983 and is still going strong)… and some not so (remember Dan Ingram’s Satellite Survey?)
American Top 40 is best known for counting down the forty most popular songs from Billboard’s Hot 100 pop chart, but in 1991 switched to an all-airplay chart from the magazine in order to cut down on the number of raunchy Hip-Hop, Rap, and Heavy Metal songs prevalent on the Hot 100, which many of AT40’s client radio stations did not want to play. When the show returned in 1998, it used the CHR/Pop Airplay Chart used in the now-defunct Radio & Records magazine and complied by Mediabase. Today, AT40 uses Mediabase’s Top 40 Airplay Chart and can be found on All Access’ website.
And for those who want to listen to the very first American Top 40 broadcast from July 4, 1970, you’re in luck – Premiere Radio Networks’ American Top 40: The ’70’s is broadcasting it this weekend. For showtimes and streams where you can listen to the broadcast, click here, and use the drop-down buttons to select AT40: The ’70’s and the time zone you live in (for example, in Chicago, use -6 for Central Daylight Time.)