LITTLE ROCK, Ark. — Nostalgia compelled Little Rock environmental consultant Shannon Lynn to pick up a 17-year-old set of American Top 40 LPs in 1995.
At age 12, Lynn discovered Casey Kasem's famous show and tuned in to the weekly broadcast throughout his high school and college years. But it had been years since he had heard the show when he found a 1978 broadcast at Arkansas CD and Record Exchange in North Little Rock.
When he got home, Lynn pulled out his record player to listen to the songs he'd heard in junior high.
"It was like a surreal time machine, just throwing you back," he told the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette (http://bit.ly/1xT1SL3).
He went back to the store the next day and picked up the remaining vinyl sets the store had. He taught himself how to convert the LPs to digital CDs and began scouring eBay for more shows and connecting with other American Top 40 enthusiasts on the Internet.
Though he started collecting for his personal listening, Lynn's audio restoration work and collection became lucrative. The hundreds of radio stations that broadcast the weekly countdown show were supposed to toss the LPs in the trash after each week's show. Most followed instructions. In its peak years, the broadcast was on more than 500 stations, but just a few dozen LP sets of each show may remain.
"It was totally accidental," Lynn said of his hobby-turned-business. He's also done remastering and restoration on other countdown shows and programming featuring Dick Clark, Elvis Presley and The Beatles.
Lynn connected with the self-described "countdown freak" Rob Durkee in the mid-1990s. Durkee had worked on the Shadoe Stevens-era show in the 1980s and 1990s and was in meetings with SirusXM, which was in search of programming for its "'70s on 7" and "'80s on 8" satellite radio channels. Kasem owned the rights to his old shows, but no one could remember how to interpret the numerical labels on the show's master tapes. Durkee suggested that the company could air Lynn's remastered shows instead.
"Those shows sounded immaculate," said Durkee, who has written a book on American Top 40 and converted old LPs to cassettes in the 1990s. "They sounded practically new. (Kasem) had so many listeners over the years - people want to hear his past shows."
Lynn said he expected Los Angeles radio executives would reject programming from "a guy in Arkansas," but he sent some samples of remastered shows. The executives liked what they heard and told Lynn to expect a call from Kasem to close the deal.
"He was just as genuine, sincere and pleasant as any time I had heard him on air," Lynn said of his first conversation with Kasem.
Lynn signed the radio deal in 2000. His remastered shows still air regularly on satellite channels. As he gained the trust of radio executives, he was allowed to do restoration work on the show's master tapes, which have higher-quality sound than the LPs sent to radio stations. Lynn discovered the mystery code on the tapes also was stamped on each of his labeled LP sets. The numbers corresponded to the year, quarter and week in which each show aired.
When Kasem died last month at 82, Lynn was one of just a few hundred people to receive an invitation to the private memorial service.
Lynn never met Kasem in person - they made business calls over the years, but Kasem was always traveling when Lynn visited Los Angeles. Lynn said he was surprised to get an invitation to the service. But when he introduced himself to Kasem's children, they recognized his name and thanked him for the restoration he'd done to their father's work.
Between collecting old LPs and working with the master tapes, Lynn has compiled an almost-complete collection of American Top 40's 1970-1995 run. There's just one hour missing: the third hour of the second show, broadcast on July 18, 1970.
"It's like the holy grail for everyone who's ever been intimate with the show," Lynn said.
Lynn said his favorite items in his collection include a 1970 poster promoting the show's release and a special extra LP show producers scrambled to record, press and ship to radio stations after John Lennon was murdered. The LP removed an untimely trivia question about posthumous Top 40 hits and added a Lennon tribute to the show's final hour.
While he's particularly passionate about the music from Kasem's years of hosting American Top 40, Lynn said he listens to all kinds of music on the radio. Coaching a youth fast-pitch softball team has helped him keep up with the current hits and the Ryan Seacrest-era American Top 40 broadcasts.
Lynn said he doesn't consider himself among the "purists" who dislike Seacrest's hosting, but he hopes one day to see Kasem inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame for his lasting influence in the music industry.
"To my generation, he was part of Americana," Lynn said.
Information from: Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, http://www.arkansasonline.com