Radio Column for March 13, 1998

Casey Kasem, the man synonymous with top-40 radio countdowns, is returning to the program that made him famous: American Top 40, courtesy of Chancellor Media's brand-new AMFM Networks.

It's been ten years since Kasem was the star of AT40. In 1988 he left the program that he and former KHJ programmer Ron Jacobs originated back in 1969 and was replaced by Shadow Stevens. Kasem went on to another syndicator to launch similar countdown shows but -- and this is completely my opinion -- it was never quite the same, either on "Casey's Countdown" OR Steven's edition of AT40.

If all goes according to plan, American Top 40 will be on the air by the end of the month. AMFM is already advertising the fact that Chancellor's KBIG/Los Angeles, Big 105/New York and KIOI/San Francisco are set to carry the program. Or programs, as "American Top 40" is an umbrella for three different shows: American Top 40 for top-40 stations, American Top 20 for "Adult Contemporary" stations, and America's Top Hits for either, to be run as a special feature.

That's if all goes according to plan. No sooner had the ink dried on the agreement than Kasem's current/former employer Westwood One filed suit against Kasem and AMFM, charging Kasem with breach of contract and AMFM with aiding and abetting the breach. WW1 wants production halted until the suit is settled, as well as $10 million in damages (about $1 each from every Chancellor-owned station ... har har har). Kasem had two years left on his contract with WW1.

American Top 40 has not been heard since ABC Radio Networks stopped production of the program in 1994.

Digital Display

USA Digital, a consortium of Westinghouse, Gannett and Lucent Technologies that has been working on developing and solving the problems of digital broadcasting on existing AM and FM frequencies, has some new competition.

Digital Radio Express has been working on an FM digital system for about two years, and hopes to begin testing soon. On the drawing board is an AM digital system that is much further off. By comparison, USA Digital has been testing both an AM and FM system, but has had trouble overcoming problems with interference and dropouts.

According to Digital Radio Express president Norman Miller, the system "is viable and will demonstrate performance vastly superior to that demonstrated by the other systems" including USA Digital's.

Hogwash, say supporters of USA Digital. "We're not just doing demonstrations," said CBS Radio Director of Engineering Glynn Walden, who has worked closely with USA Digital. "We've done demonstrations, now we're building a real system, totally integrated with AM and FM."

More on this as it develops ...