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Kemal Amin Kasem

casey-kasemA quirky eclecticism of musical subgenres created the ‘national consensus’ that was American Top 40, observes Jon Pareles in The New York Times (6/15/14). Eventually, the impetus to identify national hit records had a homogenizing effect, as it reduced “the variety that makes American music so vital.” Radio station programmers wanted “a more consistent sound” and “wild stylistic swings from song to song” risked “tune-outs from demographic groups that marketers covet.”

As host of American Top 40, the late Kemal Amin ‘Casey’ Kasem “took pains to exclude no one,” the implication being that to make the pop charts, “a song had surfaced from within its particular subculture — a place, a style, a genre — to draw new attention from outside … the more subcultures the better; each one is a laboratory of ideas, and the more opportunities they have to reach an audience, the better.” At the same time, it provided “a weekly gauge of all-American solidarity.”

“In the pre-Internet era,” American Top 40 “was what digital culture now calls a filter: a shortcut to the important stuff.” Originally, it was based on the Billboard charts, but today relies on Mediabase, “a chart of radio airplay,” focusing only on songs “considered radio friendly” — which is “one good reason tempos, rhythms and production styles in the current Top 40 are so depressingly uniform across nominally different genres — pop, hip-hop, dance music, R&B, even country.” The show is now hosted by Ryan Seacrest.