Welcome to another article in our History of Radio series! For this piece, we're doing a mix of broadcasting history and our standard Top 10 fare with a list of 10 influential radio personalities who have shaped the course of the airwaves.
Some of the people below have passed away, some are still building their legacies, and others have slightly controversial reputations. But they all have one thing in common: they've made gargantuan contributions to the medium of radio. Without them, broadcasting may have lost its pulse.
Ready to learn which faces we'd place on our Mount Rushmore of broadcasting? Keep scrolling to find out!
1. Alan Freed
Rock 'n' roll would not be the beloved genre it is today if it weren't for Alan Freed. This disc jockey was most popular during the 1950s and helped break down racial barriers during the time by leading Black and white kids to listen to the same music. Freed spent his time DJing WAKR Akron, WJW Cleveland, and various New York stations before he died in 1965. His passion for rock helped earn him a spot in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1986, as well as on the Hollywood Walk of Fame in 1991.
2. Casey Kasem
You may know him as the first actor to voice Shaggy from Scooby-Doo or Dick Grayson/Robin in Super Friends. But we know Casey Kasem as the man who popularized American Top 40. That format we have today – stations playing the 40 most popular songs in the country – would not be around if Kasem hadn't created it on his radio show. Kasem began hosting the original American Top 40 on the weekend of July 4, 1970, and remained there until 1988. He then spent nine years hosting another countdown titled Casey's Top 40, beginning in January 1989 and ending in February 1998, before returning to revive American Top 40 in 1998. Along the way, spin-offs of the original countdown were conceived for country music and adult contemporary audiences, and Kasem hosted two countdowns for the latter format beginning in 1992 and continuing until 2009.
3. Wolfman Jack
This broadcaster did more than just appear in George Lucas' American Graffiti. As his name would suggest, Wolfman Jack was a very charismatic radio personality who gained most of his fame during the 1970s. He was famous for the gravelly voice which he credited for his success, saying, "It's kept meat and potatoes on the table for years for Wolfman and Wolfwoman. A couple of shots of whiskey helps it. I've got that nice raspy sound." He worked on the radio stations WYOU, KCIJ, and XERF before really getting into the mainstream through work on NBC-TV's late-night music series, “The Midnight Special.” He also appeared on KDAY and WNBC radio.
4. Jocko Henderson
Wolfman Jack was influenced by this extremely talented disc jockey. Jocko Henderson was a pioneer of hip-hop and a radio personality on a variety of stations throughout the Baltimore, Philadelphia, and New York areas. He was perhaps the biggest Black DJ to pop up during the disc jockey golden age, and was known as the “Ace from Outer Space" by fans. In the 50s, 60s, and 70s, he was revered for his rhythmic tapping, buttery baritone, and musical intro raps – which were some of the earliest rap bars ever broadcast. (Questlove has described Jocko Henderson as "unofficially the first MC.) He also had the energy to do mornings in New York and afternoons in Philadelphia!
5. Alison Steele
She may be the only lady broadcaster on our list, but The Nighbird helped get everyone into a deep, peaceful sleep during her night shifts on WNEW-FM. Alison Steele was a radio personality in New York City during the late 1960s and 1970s. Her original show featured progressive rock and artists associated with the counterculture of the 1960s, combined with listeners' calls and Steele's own unique brand of mellow DJ patter. She brought poetry and mysticism to every broadcast she did. Steele also worked in television for many years in a variety of roles including performer, writer, and producer. She returned to WNEW in 1982 for another three years, and then joined New York's WXRK in 1989 for another six. Steele was eventually honored with the Billboard award for FM Personality of the Year in 1976. She was the first woman to receive it.
6. Ryan Seacrest
A modern radio legend! You may know Ryan Seacrest for his hosting work on American Idol, Dick Clark's New Year's Rockin' Eve, or Live with Kelly and Ryan. But despite his several TV appearances and soon-to-be hosting gig on Wheel of Fortune, Ryan Seacrest is a radio man first. It was January 2004; Seacrest became the new host of American Top 40, formerly hosted by Casey Kasem. The show was syndicated by Premiere Radio Networks. In February 2004, Seacrest became host of Los Angeles radio station KIIS-FM's morning show, replacing long-time host Rick Dees. His show, On Air With Ryan Seacrest, has been a big hit since 2004. Seacrest renewed his contract with Premiere and KIIS parent company iHeartMedia in September 2021, a contract that will last through the end of 2025.
7. Howard Stern
This shock jock has been captivating listeners for years now. Howard Stern is best known for his radio show The Howard Stern Show, which gained popularity when it was nationally syndicated on terrestrial radio from 1986 to 2005. He has since broadcasted on Sirius XM Radio since 2006. Stern landed his first radio jobs while at Boston University. From 1976 to 1982, he developed his on-air persona through morning positions at WRNW in New York, WCCC in Connecticut, WWWW in Michigan, and WWDC in Washington, D.C. He worked afternoons at WNBC in New York City from 1982 until his infamous firing in 1985. But it was because of that firing he was able to begin a 20-year run at WXRK in New York City. His successful morning show entered syndication in 1986 and aired in 60 markets and attracted 20 million listeners at its peak.
8. Hy Lit
Not enough people talk about Hy Lit, who was a notable broadcaster in the Philadelphia radio scene. Lit was based in the Philadelphia area from the 1950s until 2005. In his long 50-year career, Hy Lit broadcast from WIBG, WDAS/WDAS-FM, WKBS-TV, WIFI, WSNI/WPGR, KPOL, WKXW, among many others. His last station was 98.1 WOGL, where he broadcast from 1989 until his resignation in late 2005. He was known as "the Jet Jockey on Flight 99," which was the frequency for the WIBG radio station.
9. Robert W. Morgan
Now let's talk about an underrated DJ from the West Coast! Robert W. Morgan was best known for his work at several stations in Los Angeles, California, in particular KHJ-AM. Until his departure from KHJ in October 1970, Morgan had commanded unparalleled radio ratings in Los Angeles. Morgan's 1972 return to his former time slot in Los Angeles saw a significant spike upward for KHJ until he departed just a year later. Morgan also did morning shows at KMPC-AM, KIQQ-FM, and KMGG-FM. He finished his career at KRTH-FM, where he retired for health reasons in 1997 (he would die from lung cancer a year later).
10. John Peel
Last but not least we have John Peel; a pioneering disc jockey in UK radio. He was the longest-serving of the original BBC Radio 1 DJs, broadcasting regularly from 1967 until his death in 2004. Peel was one of the first broadcasters to play psychedelic rock and progressive rock records on British radio. He is widely acknowledged for promoting artists of many genres, including pop, dub reggae, punk rock and post-punk, electronic music and dance music, indie rock, extreme metal, and British hip hop. Peel's Radio 1 shows were notable for the regular "Peel sessions," which usually consisted of four songs recorded by an artist in the BBC studios, often providing the first major national coverage to bands that later achieved fame.
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