The year is 1985. It’s Sunday night and the weekend refuses to terminate thanks to the power of radio. Atlanta’s Z-93 is on the dial and radio-comedic performer Rick Dees, with his bold yet balmy delivery, is counting down forty of the most popular songs collected in the USA. Against the hour of 11:00 PM, the countdown moves toward the number one position as listeners from Conyers to Cumming claim victories or lower their heads in defeat as their favorite songs rise and fall on the strategically calculated chart. Finally, after a 3-hour marathon of parody and music trivia, a number one song is crowned, signaling the checkered flag that the weekend has officially come to a close.
The Rick Dees Weekly Top 40 Countdown Show made its debut in September 1983 and continues to broadcast worldwide in 27 countries, including the ocean seas across the Armed Forces Network. He’s received a Marconi Award, a Grammy-nomination, and a shiny star on Hollywood’s Walk of Fame – three accolades that would certainly enhance one’s ego. Inarguably one of the most influential and distinguished media voices, Rick Dees remains humble, unshaken by his eminent reputation. Last weekend, the veteran of syndicated radio made a rare Atlanta issuance as the Master of Ceremonies for Furkids, a Georgia-based charitable, non-profit organization that provides a cage-free, no-kill shelter for rescued cats and dogs.
While Dees’ career reaches a pinnacle milestone in broadcast history, several Weekly Top 40 countdown broadcasts of Eighties countdown shows have recently been uploaded at his official website, eponymously addressed at www.rick.com. For the first time ever, these rare recordings, in their original broadcast formats, are now available with a point and click. Each collection contains a wealth of 7-inch singles, some of which haven’t been played on FM nor satellite radio since making their exit off the chart. His 'Dees Sleaze' segments weren't always held accountable, but they certainly were some of the show's most entertaining slices of pop star gossip. Add Dees’ chummy Dick Clark-like persona with in-studio guests like Mike & the Mechanics, Wang Chung, and Rick Astley, and it is transparent that the Rick Dees Weekly Top 40 Show set the bar for radio production unmatched by other weekly countdown shows.
Currently, there are two dozen Weekly Top 40 shows available from the Eighties vault, starting from early 1985 through late 1989. According to the site, an expansion of shows is in the works. These are amazing artifacts for anyone that craves retro nostalgia and are quite revealing of how contemporary music has transitioned from studio originality to television popularity. Another revelation is how discrepant the calculation of chart placement is compared to how chart placements are determined today. Throughout the 1980s, between two and seven songs would typically enter and leave a radio station’s Top 40 songs list. Chart runs might be only a week or two, or several months. In the heyday of Top 40 Songs, only the biggest hits of a given year would remain on the charts for 15 weeks or more. Today, Top 10 singles are lucky if they make a maximum of 6 weeks on the chart. From this notion, one might draw on the hypothesis that as technology changes, so does our lack of patience.
Last Saturday evening, the iconic voice of the Eighties brought his vitality to the stage as he emceed this very special occasion. Furkids cares for approximately 600 cats and dogs at the organization’s shelters and adoption centers –including participating Pet Smart & Petco locations. The closed-ticket event took place at the beautiful ballroom of the Cobb Energy Performing Arts Centre honoring founder Samantha Shelton. Like the former Price is Right’s granddaddy host Bob Barker reminded us, Dees was in town supporting our friendly furlines through the Furkids initiative to help end pet overpopulation in Georgia through sterilization, high-quality adoption and by providing valuable spay/neuter services and pet care education to people in the community. During its ten years, Furkids has rescued and altered more than 7,000 animals.
The Retro Beach caught up with Rick Dees, who can now be heard on one of 99x’s sister stations Journey 97.9 FM. It would be a shame to have missed this opportunity to show our appreciation for his work in radio and thank him for his recent gift to fans of that survived on ‘80s Top 40 radio.
JK: In the Eighties, your weekend countdown show was extremely successful, heard by millions across the US. It’s still considered as the pinnacle of Top 40 countdown shows, offering a humorous edge that complimented the zany collage of artists that became radio stars thanks to MTV. When you made your debut as host of Weekly Top 40, how engaged were you in the music-scene of that year and did the influx of freshly original artists like Culture Club and Men at Work keep it all interesting week after week?
Dees: “I have made it my mission to be very engaged with every artist. After all, the
odds of having a #1 hit are against most artists. Giving fresh music that human element has been the catalyst for Weekly Top 40 Countdown excitement for all these years. I mean, can you imagine how I felt when Madonna asked me if metal made her look fat?”
JK: Although the practice seems antiquated with media so accessible today, back in the Eighties, listening to you countdown the hits was very fulfilling and gratifying. Like fans cheering for their favorite sports team, is it flattering when people tell you today that they listened to your show with great anticipation, hoping that their favorite band’s single would rise up the chart?
Dees: “It's hard to believe, but I have listeners all over the world who actually make wagers on what hit will be number one! It was heartbreak for some when Michael Jackson beat out Sting for the top spot on the countdown.”
JK: What are your favorite Eighties memories from hosting the Weekly Top 40? Who are some of the artists, popular or not, that you interviewed that will forever bond you with a memory and why?
Dees: “There are so many 80's memories, plus the 90's and today. We are lucky enough to have the longest continuously running countdown of the hits in the history of contemporary radio. Probably, the most vivid memories are attached to my friendship with Michael Jackson. I was 20 feet away from him when his hair caught on fire during the filming of that soft drink commercial in Los Angeles at the Shrine Auditorium. I remember Michael trembling in shock as the medical team surrounded him. He was wearing inexpensive white socks.”
JK: How highly produced was the Weekly Top 40? A three-hour weekend radio show must have taken several hours to record and edit. Exactly how does the host fill time when tracks are being played? One would perceive that waiting for each track to conclude would be prosaic week after week. What exactly goes on when the mic is off when music is being played for the audience?
Dees: “The Weekly Top 40 Countdown is the most intricately produced music countdown of all time. Our lead technician, Paul Liebeskind, along with
our head writer Lon Weyland and producing team of Joe Kieley, Michael Steele, Mike Ramos and Kevin Dees have memorized this adage: How you do ONE thing is how you do EVERYTHING. Since I love a variety of music, I listen to every song for the emotions, lyrics, and the ‘feel’. Then I ask the same question the listener asks: Could this song go all the way to number one?”
JK: When the Weekly Top 40 made its debut, the vinyl single was the top-selling format. Did you mourn the death of the vinyl record being that you are a renowned deejay, transitioning through several format changes over the past four decades? What exactly happened to those hundreds of wax singles that made your top 40 countdown back in the Eighties? Does a Rick Dees’ library of Top 40 music exist?
Dees: “Vinyl is so cool! I hope (you) know that the quality of the original direct-to-vinyl discs is still the world standard for the highest audio quality. I still have a collection of the original vinyl master discs of every Rick Dees Weekly Top 40 that was produced in the 80's! We have painstakingly digitized every vinyl disc and the audio quality is perfect. They sound like the first time they aired back in the 80's.”
JK: Undeniably, the Eighties were visionary. Imagery, in many ways, overshadowed the music. Of all the artists in the decade, who was the best-dressed?
Dees: “When I close my eyes, I can still see Prince walking into our studios wearing tight leather chaps with his buttocks is exposed. David Bowie had some really fine Savoy tailored suits.”
JK: Will all of the Rick Dees’ Weekly Top 40 vault of Eighties’ countdown shows ever receive a respectful resurrection? Is this something you would support?
Dees: “(Many) of the Countdown shows (have been) digitized in perfect quality and ready to enjoy. The 80's, 90's and today. And it's free! We're 300 stations in the U.S. and 125 countries worldwide, plus Armed Forces Radio.”
JK: Bangles, Bananarama or Neither?
Dees: “Bangles----I still love Walk like an Egyptian!”
For more information on Furkids please visit www.furkids.org
For a list of available Rick Dees Weekly Top 40 1980s Shows online, please visit www.rick.com
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