AT40 is broken down to 4 era’s.
Casey Kasem 1970-1988
American Top 40 1970-1979
American Top 40 1980-1989
Shadoe Stevens 1988-1995
American Top 40 – 1988-1995 – Shadoe Stevens
Casey Kasem 1998-2004
American Top 40 – 1998-2004 (CHR)
Ryan Seacrest 2004-Ongoing
American Top 40 – 2004-2016 – Ryan Seacrest – (CHR)
American Top 40 – 2004-2016 – Ryan Seacrest – (HAC)
1970–88: First Casey Kasem era
American Top 40 began on the Independence Day weekend in 1970, on seven radio stations, the very first being KDEO in El Cajon, California (now KECR), which broadcast the inaugural show the evening of July 3, 1970. The chart data broadcast actually included the top 40 songs from the week ending July 11, 1970. The very first show featured the very last time both Elvis Presley and The Beatles had songs simultaneously in the Top 10. It was originally distributed by Watermark Inc., and was first presented in mono until it started recording in stereo in September 1972. In early 1982, Watermark was purchased by ABC Radio and AT40 became a program of the “ABC Contemporary Radio Network”. The program was hosted by Casey Kasem and co-created by Kasem; Don Bustany, Kasem’s childhood friend from Detroit, MI; radio veteran Tom Rounds; and 93/KHJ Program Director Ron Jacobs, who produced and directed the various production elements. Rounds was also the marketing director; the initial funder was California strawberry grower Tom Driscoll.
The show began as a three-hour program written and directed by Bustany, counting down the top 40 songs on Billboard’s Hot 100 Singles chart. The show quickly gained popularity once it was commissioned, and expanded to a four-hour-program on October 7, 1978, to reflect the increasing average length of singles on Billboard’s Hot 100 chart. The producing staff expanded to eight people, some of them still in the business: Nikki Wine, Ben Marichal, Scott Paton, Matt Wilson, Merrill Shindler, Guy Aoki, Ronnie Allen and Sandy Stert Benjamin. (Bustany retired from AT40 in 1989; since 1994, he has hosted a political talk show on listener-sponsored KPFK.) By the early 1980s, the show could be heard on 520 stations in the United States and at its zenith, the show was broadcast on 1,000-plus stations in some 50 countries. Kasem told the New York Times in 1990 “I accentuate the positive and eliminate the negative. That is the timeless thing
1988–95: Shadoe Stevens era
In 1988, Kasem left the show over contract concerns with ABC. Industry trade paper Billboard magazine reported that the main disputes between Kasem and Watermark/ABC were over his salary, because of declining ratings and a smaller group of stations airing the show. Casey’s final AT40 show, the 940th in the series, aired on August 6, 1988. At no point during that final show did Kasem ever let on that any changes were afoot. Instead, he closed the show by telling the audience to catch him on America’s Top 10, the weekly music video show he hosted on television.
Kasem was replaced by Shadoe Stevens, whose first American Top 40 show aired on August 13, 1988, on 1,014 stations. To introduce Stevens to the audience, a two-minute cold open was recorded to start the show with Stevens making his way to the studio through the show’s fictitious hall of history; Kasem was mentioned during the course of the open, as a “giant marble statue” of him helped guide Stevens to the studio. The change did not do much to stem the decline as loyal listeners did not take to Stevens as they had to Kasem.
To further complicate matters, Kasem returned to radio the following January as Westwood One signed him to a contract. On January 21, 1989, Kasem became a competitor to the show he helped launch when Westwood One premiered Casey’s Top 40, which used the weekly chart survey published by Radio & Records instead of the Billboard chart AT40 was still using. Many of the stations airing AT40 dropped it in favor of Casey’s Top 40, causing another significant drop in listenership.
In an attempt to win back an audience, AT40 tried new features, including interview clips, music news, top 5 flashbacks, and previews of upcoming chart hits (called the “AT40 Sneek Peek”). It also stopped using the Hot 100 chart, switching first to the Hot 100 Airplay chart and finally to the Mainstream Top 40 chart. Later still, the countdown would use what was called a “No Nuttin'” gimmick that drew criticism; at various points of the show, a song would start immediately after the jingle for its position on the chart was played and Stevens would not offer any commentary until it concluded.
ABC kept American Top 40 in its syndication lineup despite the continued lack of improvement in ratings, but in 1994 the network finally decided to look elsewhere. ABC announced it would be acquiring the Rick Dees Weekly Top 40, which was using the same charts that Casey’s Top 40 was, and that they would no longer carry American Top 40 as a result. The final AT40 for ABC aired on July 9, 1994, five days after its twenty-fourth anniversary.
Radio Express, founded by original show creator Tom Rounds, kept AT40 in production following the move by ABC as the program was still carried in foreign markets. It was under Radio Express that the show finally came to an end nearly seven months later in the remaining markets that were carrying it, which by this point consisted almost entirely of overseas affiliates. The very last original AT40 aired on January 28, 1995, and it ended with an extended last segment. As usual, the #2 song on the chart led it off; that song was “Another Night” by Real McCoy, which had been the #1 song one week earlier. Stevens then took a moment to thank the listeners for their support over the previous twenty-four plus years and played one last Long Distance Dedication, sent by him to the fans. After going into depth about his potential choices, Stevens revealed his selection to be “(So Tired of Standing Still We Got to) Move On” by James Brown. Stevens then gave a rundown of how many songs had been played over the series’ entire run to that point, with a final total of 552 different chart toppers, including the one he was about to play as it returned to the top of the chart that week. That song, and the last song played in the history of the original AT40, was “On Bended Knee” by Boyz II Men.
1998–2004: American Top 40 returns; second Casey Kasem era
Towards the end of 1997, Casey Kasem acquired the rights to the American Top 40 name. Once this happened he sought to rebrand Casey’s Top 40, which was about to reach its nine-year anniversary on Westwood One, as American Top 40 but Westwood One would not allow Kasem to make the change. Kasem responded by abruptly resigning from Westwood One following the weekend of February 21, 1998 and began looking for a new syndicator to carry his other two countdowns for adult contemporary stations as well as help him revive AT40.
While Westwood One initially continued to air all three of Kasem’s countdown programs without his involvement and would eventually rebrand them to remove his name (Westwood One later decided to discontinue them altogether in March 1998), Kasem (as mentioned above) signed with AMFM Radio Networks, which was owned at the time by Chancellor Media, to carry the revived AT40 and his other two countdowns.
Kasem’s new AT40 premiered on March 28, 1998 on many of Chancellor’s Top 40 stations. Chancellor also brought Kasem’s AC countdowns back that weekend after their month-long absence, with both now being branded as American Top 20.(see Spin-off programming below). Following the merger between Chancellor/AMFM and Clear Channel Communications (the predecessor of what is now iHeartMedia) in 1999, AT40 and other syndicated shows from AMFM Radio Networks were transferred into Premiere Radio Networks, which continues to syndicate the show as of today.
The resurrected American Top 40 kept the Radio and Records CHR/Pop chart previously used for Casey’s Top 40 and was used as the basis for the show for the majority of this period. The only exception was a brief period from October 2000 to August 2001 when an obscure Mediabase chart was used. This chart had a rather ambiguous recurrent rule, which would see songs removed weekly from the chart from as high as #10. By the time Kasem’s last show aired, the show had gone back to using Mediabase’s charts.
Kasem’s last show as host of AT40 aired on the weekend of January 3/4, 2004. His final #1 was Outkast’s “Hey Ya!”.
2004–present: Ryan Seacrest era
The first Ryan Seacrest era logo used from 2004–2014
On January 10, 2004, Ryan Seacrest took over the hosting duties of American Top 40 from Kasem, although Kasem would continue to host American Top 20 and American Top 10 until his retirement in July 2009. With the host change, AT40 underwent a makeover, using a new theme song and introducing several new features. These extras included interviews with celebrities (which were not restricted to musical or countdown artists), a gossip section, and an update on movies screening in cinemas. Other extras inducted on a regular basis include “AT40 Breakout”, a song predicted to crack the chart within the next few weeks (formerly known as the “Out of The Box” hit); “Request Line”, a segment in which Ryan Seacrest will play a song requested by a listener; “Double Play”, a former hit from the artist just played; “AT40 Sleaze” (inspired by the “Dees Sleaze” segment of the Rick Dees Weekly Top 40 radio show); and “AT40 Rewind”, a hit song from the past decade or so. In between songs, Seacrest and his guest hosts often make deadpan one-liners while writers and producers can be heard laughing frequently, including the security guard “Roger”. Additionally, Seacrest initially opened most shows by playing the previous week’s #1 song, as Kasem often did in the 1980s; this was discontinued after 2006, but in mid-2009 Seacrest began including a shorter recap segment in the show’s introduction, in which he would play brief segments of the previous week’s top three hits. In December 2004, the Hot AC version of the show debuted, giving both Seacrest and Kasem competing countdowns in the same format until 2009.
The show also began using a new chart that used no recurrent rule. On the first show with Ryan Seacrest, this led to several older songs reappearing after having dropped off many weeks earlier. Over the long term, it meant songs could spend long runs for about a year on the chart even after they went to recurrent status on other published charts. “Here Without You” by 3 Doors Down set a longevity record in 2004 for the CHR show by lasting 50 weeks before finally falling off. In 2006, “Scars” by Papa Roach would go on to tie the record. In 2011, Taio Cruz set AT40’s all time longevity record with his song “Dynamite”. This hit remained on the chart for 72 weeks, from July 2010 to November 2011. On the Hot AC version of AT40, “Love Song” by Sara Bareilles set the all-time record in 2009 at 103 consecutive weeks. American Top 40 also became more interactive, involving online song voting and e-mail. In December 2006, the series’ website was revamped, and the online song voting was discontinued in favor of publishing the Hot AC chart. The website also includes a toll-free number where fans can make requests and “shoutouts”, as they would to a local radio station, and by 2009 replayed clips of shoutouts became part of the show. Online song voting was later reinstated, with results of votes on American Top 40’s website factored into the chart rankings. AT40 was also expanded to social media through Twitter and Facebook where listeners from around the world will request a song to be included in the AT40 Extra segment, as well as their own mobile application which is available for free download on the Apple AppStore for iOS devices and on Google Play for Android devices.
In March 2010, Premiere Radio Networks announced that “American Top 5,” a condensed daily top-5 countdown, would begin airing as part of the daily radio program On Air, also hosted by Seacrest.
In March 2016, the show underwent some minor changes. “Tell Me Something Good”, a segment from Seacrest’s weekday show On Air, was added to American Top 40. Additionally, any “extra” songs that aired during the show are announced by Seacrest before playing. The following month, the show resumed mentioning some of its affiliates around the world during the show. AT40 also debuted a brand new custom jingle package produced by TM Studios of Dallas Texas, complete with chart number jingles and extra beds. The new package debuted early April 2016.
As of 2016, American Top 40 is produced by Claudine Cazian and engineered by James Rash.