Cass Corridor’s own Casey Kasem

Casey Kasem

Casey Kasem

Remember Casey Kasem? If you do, you’re probably among that group of us who mumbles our age when asked. But whether you actually remember the days of Casey Kasem, or know enough about music history to know the significance of the man who single-handedly revolutionized the music industry with his Top 40 format (some would say for the best, others not so much), perhaps not as many know that Kasem is from Detroit.

But not just Detroit. The larger-than-life radio personality, who ruled the airwaves for more than 30 years from 1970 on with a worldwide listenership that at its peak reached nearly 8 million, was raised right here in the Cass Corridor (it definitely was not Midtown at the time).

But not just in the Cass Corridor. Casey Kasem’s childhood home was located in the exact spot where the El Moore parking lot and Green House are now situated.

“It was kind of an early, one and a half story Victorian. Almost like that Corktown kind of look. Wooden structure, no brick. It was your classic 1860s/70s kind of structure,” says the Green Garage’s own Ken Flaherty, also in charge of the El Moore Gardens, who has begun to compile a rather massive amount of information and documents related to Kasem.

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“Kasem’s father bought the house out of bankruptcy in 1944. We found that out. So Casey lived there until around 1951 or ’52, when he went to the Korean War.

“He was involved in a bunch of early TV and radio and stuff, went to the Korean War, and his dad died in a car accident right around here in about 1952-53, while he was in the War, as far as I can tell. He came back in 1955. He didn’t go back to Alexandrine — he had his own apartment. And he was a DJ at WJLB.”

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Note where it says “Kasem Kemal C announcer WJLB r (residence) 2615 Nebraska, Apt. 308”

Many thanks to Flaherty for the following timeline of Casey’s life while in Detroit:

  • 1932: Kemal Amin Kasem was born on April 27 in Detroit to Lebanese Druze immigrant parents, who had settled in Michigan, where they worked as grocers. Kasem was named after Turkish leader Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, whom his father admired.
  • 1944-52: Lived at 646 W. Alexandrine
  • 1952-54: Served in Korean War, was a DJ and announcer for the Armed Forces Radio network
  • 1954: Back in Detroit at Wayne State, worked in Flint. He spent time in Detroit (doing such shows as The Lone Ranger and Sergeant Preston of the Yukon)
  • 1955: His father died in after a car crash on the way to see him act in a play
  • 1956: He lived at 2615 Nebraska, Apt. 308. Hosted WJBK’s, “Casey at the Mike”
  • 1957: left for Cleveland, Oakland, then LA

“The Detroit Polk directories were not published from 1945 to 1952 due to the war(s),” says Flaherty. “No Kasem addresses on Alexandrine were found in these documents….only on Cass and Taylor. We did find Kemal’s address on Nebraska Ave in the 1956 book, presented as an announcer on WJLB.”

After graduating from Northwestern High School, Kasem worked as a production assistant at a Detroit radio station and held several radio jobs while attending college at Wayne State University. He later worked for the Armed Forces Radio Network and was the morning man on Radio Station Kilroy in Taegu, Korea, entertaining the U.S. troops in the Korean War.

Later in life, Kasem used his fame to promote a variety of causes he believe in. Here’s some information about his activism courtesy of Wikipedia:

“Kasem was a devout vegan, supported animal rights and environmental causes, and was a critic of factory farming. He quit the Scooby-Doo show in 1995 when asked to voice Shaggy in a Burger King commercial, returning in 2002 after negotiating to have Shaggy become a vegetarian.

“Kasem was active in politics for years, supporting Lebanese-American and Arab-American causes, an interest which was triggered by the 1982 Israeli invasion of Lebanon. He wrote a brochure published by the Arab American Institute entitled “Arab-Americans: Making a Difference”. He turned down a position in season three of Transformers because of the show’s plot portraying “evil Arabs”. He also called for a fairer depiction of heroes and villains, on behalf of all cultures, in Disney’s 1994 sequel to Aladdin called The Return of Jafar. In 1996, he was honored as “Man of the Year” by the American Druze Society. Kasem campaigned against the Gulf War, advocating non-military means of pressuring Saddam Hussein into withdrawing from Kuwait, was an advocate of Palestinian independence and arranged conflict resolution workshops for Arab Americans and Jewish Americans.

“A political liberal, he narrated a campaign ad for George McGovern’s 1972 presidential campaign, hosted fundraisers for Jesse Jackson’s presidential campaigns in 1984 and 1988, supported Ralph Nader for U.S. President in 2000, and supported progressive Democrat Dennis Kucinich in his 2004 and 2008 presidential campaigns. Kasem supported a number of other progressive causes, including affordable housing and the rights of the homeless.”

But what Kasem will always be known for is America’s Top 40. What is not quite as well known is how much effort this took, and what kind of dogged work ethic it required to do what Kasem did.

“He did 40 records,” Flaherty says. “Every week. For 18 years. You’re gonna have to do the math, but it’s a pretty big number. And after those Top 40 were picked, they had to be distributed to every radio station and market in the country. Because there was no satellite back then, it was all done with LPs. So literally every week he put together 3 LPs that were pressed for radio stations, they weren’t commercially distributed. And they were sent to the local affiliate that paid for the license for American Top 40 and then these all had Casey’s voice, they had the commercials already on them, and so he did this every week, 40 records a week, without a break for 18 years.”

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Radio Club group photo, K. Kasem, third row, far left in the pattered shirt buttoned all the way up. This stunning image shares so much about Detroit at this time. (Click to enlarge.)

About Keith Owens

Keith Owens is a freelance writer, columnist, blogger and musician whose most recent work has been featured in Model D Detroit, BLAC Detroit, and the national political affairs blog PoliticusUSA. He has also published three novels through Detroit Ink Publishing (www.detroitinkpublishing.com), the eBook publishing company he co-founded with his wife, Pamela Hilliard Owens. Keith and Pam live in a 100-year-old home in the Historic Boston-Edison District a few miles north of the El Moore.

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