Radio program

Podcast project explores letters read on ‘American Top 40’ radio show

Emma Murray. (UIS photo)

An Iowa State University professor creates a podcast that follows the topics of letters written to the host of the popular syndicated radio show “American Top 40.”

Emma Murray says she got the idea for a podcast during a trip to Council Bluffs while listening to a replay of the program in 2018. “I heard this letter which was submitted in 1983 in August by a woman from Cedar Rapids and I was like I was betting I could find that person,” she said. “And that’s where it all started. Love the radio, love those letters that were written by people around the world in Casey Kasem’s program and ended up finding that person from the 1983 episode and carried on from there.

Kasem would dedicate a song to the person who wrote the letter based on what they had to say. Murray is an assistant professor of English and began working with his students on the project last fall. She says they’re creating a database of the “Dear Casey” letters that aired on the show.

“There are over 2,600 letters that have been written – so we’re building a database to find these people one by one, contact them and tell their stories about – okay, you wrote this letter between 1978 and the early 2000s – where are you now? “, she says.

Murray says it’s been fun talking to people about their old letters. “The response was interesting. Most people think, ‘Ah, I didn’t think anyone would care about my letter,’ but people did,” she says. “And it’s so diverse and just the human experience, love, loss of love. Mental health is a very popular topic. And kind of cool to see that in the 70s. We talked about it, even with today and the mental health stigma.

The Iowa Arts Council and the National Endowment for the Arts are funding this project. The first podcast in this series will air on in late August.

(By Pat Powers, KQWC, Webster City)