Avon resident treasures memories of Casey Kasem, American Top 40
By Mark Ambrogi
Pete Battistini had a sincere long distance dedication to host Casey Kasem and his American Top 40 (AT40) show. In fact, he assembled such a complete collection of the shows that Kasem once had to see it for himself at Battistini’s Avon home in 1997.
As a teenager growing up in Gary, IN., Battistini, age 62, says music had always been a big part of his life. He first heard AT40 a year after the show launched in 1971 when visiting his grandparents in Terre Haute, IN.
“It gave me a chance to develop a little more interest in music,” he said. “I heard artists and songs I normally wouldn’t hear on the local station. You could listen for three hours and not hear same show repeated.”
When Battistini returned home, he searched for a station that played AT40. A friend told him a place in Chicago was picking it up, but that it didn’t air until 1 a.m.
Undeterred, Battistini began recording the three-hour program and continued to do so every week until 1978, when the show went to four hours.
“Plus the music was changing,” Battistini said. “I kept listening for a while but stopped recording it. By the time we got to the late ’80s, I was disconnected from the music.”
Battistini continued to collect the shows from other sources, however. He had been given copies of AT40 recordings by radio stations that no longer needed them. He also purchased them from the stations and on eBay.
“When it got to the point where I was only missing one (from 1972), Carol got in touch with Casey because I needed it to complete my collection. He sent his assistant into his inventory and they found the one I was missing and sent it to me. That was for my birthday 14 years ago.”
Battistini had every episode from Oct. 1971 when the show was put on vinyl each week for the radio stations. Prior to that, the show was sent on reel-to-reel tapes and many were recorded over.
Carol said she enjoyed the thrill of the search.
“We would set a vacation destination then search the area for radio stations that carried the show,” she said. “On our first anniversary, we drove to Carbondale, Ill., because there was a station there that thought they might have some shows. We went to their basement and loaded up the trunk and back seat with recordings.”
Battistini said this was how he got 125 shows for free.
One of his prize possessions is a reissued vinyl copy of the first show from July 1970, autographed by Kasem.
“That is the most special program I have,” he said.
The first time Battistini met Kasem was at a brief meeting at a radio conference in Chicago, Ill. in 1981. However, he didn’t really get to know him until Battistini and Carol met Kasem for breakfast at the Beverly Wilshire Hotel in Beverly Hills, CA. in 1994.
Battistini had sent Kasem an Indianapolis Star article about his collection. Kasem called Battistini after receiving it.
“He was as nice as can be,” Battistini said. “I talked to him on the phone many, many times.”
Kasem, the co-creator of American Top 40 and the voice of Shaggy on “Scooby-Doo,” died June 15, 2014, at age 82. Battistini was invited to his private memorial service by Kasem’s brother and three children from his first marriage.
Kasem was afflicted with Lewy body dementia, a progressive brain disorder. His three children and second wife, Jean Thompson, waged a public battle for control of Kasem’s health in his final months.
Two nights before his death, his long-time assistant called Battistini.
“The assistant had a conversation with Pete with Casey there, asking different things about the show,” Carol said. “He was thinking if Casey heard it, he would appreciate that.”
“Casey would always say Pete remembers more about American Top 40 than Casey does,” she added.
Kasem left American Top 40 in 1988 after a contract dispute with ABC Watermark. He spent the next nine years hosting a similar show, Casey’s Top 40, for Westwood One radio network. Meanwhile, Shadoe Stevens took over as host of AT40 until it was canceled in Jan. 1995.
In March 1998, Kasem acquired the rights to the show he helped create and relaunched American Top 40 after it had been off the air for three years. He remained its host until Ryan Seacrest took over in 2004.
Although AT40 is still on, Battistini ended his collection in 2013 when radio stations stopped using compact discs in favor of digital downloads.
Battistini published two books: “American Top 40 with Casey Kasem (The 1970s),” which he later followed up with a 1980s version. He is the first to admit it was labor of love, not money.
For more, visit at40book.com.